Group formed to combat water pollution that is being blamed on farmers

Elevated fecal coliform bacteria counts in Nooksack River, which flows into local tributaries such as Sumas Canal in Abbotsford

Manure runoff is seen contaminating a waterway in Whatcom County.

Manure runoff is seen contaminating a waterway in Whatcom County.

American and Canadian agriculture and environment officials are joining forces to address water quality issues in a Washington River that have been blamed on farmers, including those in British Columbia.

Last summer, Whatcom County farmers called on their governor to contact British Columbia about low stream flows from north of the border. Further downstream, elevated fecal coliform bacteria (FCB) counts in the Nooksack River – into which flows several local tributaries, including the Sumas Canal in Abbotsford – led to shellfish bed closures in Washington State.

In December, representatives from Washington State, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Province of British Columbia, and Environment and Climate Change Canada formed what is being called the BC/WA Nooksack River Transboundary Water Quality Task Group (WQTG).

The group, according to a B.C. Environment Ministry spokesperson, aims to develop “a common understanding of current water quality issues, data and conditions related to FCB” in the Nooksack River and Portage Bay. The group will also look at how to reduce pollution in each jurisdiction, although recommendations for further action will come only after an inventory and analysis of the situation.

The province said the FCB comes from “both sides of the international boundary.”

Last September, Scott Bedlington, a farmer and chair of the Whatcom County Ag Water Board, said fecal contamination was a longstanding concern for growers on both sides of the border.

Reg Ens, the executive director of the B.C. Agriculture Council, said at the time that development – in addition to the intensive agriculture sector – may also be sources of the problem.