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Risk of drinking-water contamination from manure increased in flooded areas, says province

Owners advised to assess private wells, take action to protect anyone drinking the water
A property in Sumas Prairie as seen from Highway 1 on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)

Provincial health officials are warning owners of private drinking-water wells in flooded sections the Fraser Valley Regional District, and the Metro Vancouver Regional District, that their wells may be at increased risk of contamination.

“This is due to potential overflow or failures of liquid-manure storage systems because of high precipitation caused by recent storms,” according to the Dec. 5 news release from Ministry of Health.

Residents who own, or are responsible for, a private drinking-water well affected by flooding, are responsible for assessing the well water through testing, and taking action to protect those who get their drinking water from the well. If people get their water from a community drinking-water supply system that operates on permits, however, the water supplier is responsible for providing information on the safety of the water.

City of Abbotsford conducted a flood mitigation study in 2020 on the Nooksack River outflow, with an analysis of potential environmental impacts, including the toxicity of the flood waters like those that swamped Sumas Prairie and other parts of the Fraser Valley.

It found that some of the water was likely highly contaminated with human and animal waste, asbestos, oil, and gas.

“Homes and farms in agricultural areas typically rely on septic systems for sewage treatment, with many also containing lagoons to treat liquid animal waste, all of which are vulnerable to flooding,” according to the study.

RELATED: What’s in the water?

Resources to help well owners assess their systems and take appropriate action to ensure the safety of the water include flooding documents prepared by health authorities.

Fraser Health in its online document on drinking water, has info for well water owners, since the owners are responsible for ensuring ensure that the water they provide for households on the well is safe to drink.

See ‘drinking water’ info for Vancouver Coastal Health for info like boil water advisories or how to test a well.

The government of B.C. is taking action to help people, businesses and infrastructure recover from floods and mudslides: Flood recovery resources from the province.

B.C.’s minister of agriculture Lana Popham will be touring the flooded areas with her federal counterpart on Dec. 10.

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy has been working with agriculture operators to reduce the risks of liquid manure overflow. See more:

—with files from Patrick Penner

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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