Water quality in Nicholson has been a concern of the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) since 2005.
The Nicholson aquifer is a source of drinking water for around 350 people, including the Nicholson Elementary School, which has been on a “do not drink” advisory since 2017.
Property owners in the area use private groundwater wells to obtain their water. Between 2005 and 2013, the CSRD carried out water quality monitoring of the aquifer, and in October 2014, the CSRD advised property owners that septic influences were detected in the water.
“The first result was horrendous,” said Area A director Karen Cathcart. “Right away, the CSRD and Interior Health went into the community and said ‘this is the result, and here’s what we need to do.’”
The CSRD advised property owners that they would need to create an informal petition to demonstrate support for continued monitoring of the aquifer, providing mitigation measures, and the next steps for developing a local service area. Property owners did not show interest, and to date, property owners in Nicholson have not initiated a petition to put in place service to monitor water quality or to treat groundwater.
“I sat in the Nicholson School gym and listened to those results,” Cathcart said. “I almost fell off my chair. I was so concerned.”
This year, Interior Health met with the CSRD to request financing for two additional sample tests of the Nicholson aquifer. Test results from sampling in May are complete and indicate that the Nicholson Aquifer continues to be impacted by septic influences in the groundwater.
“It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse there,” Cathcart said.
At the June 20 board meeting, the board endorsed CSRD staff’s recommendation to apply for an Infrastructure Planning Grant for a maximum of $10,000 from the province to conduct a community water system feasibility study. The result of the study will outline treatment options, and cost projections for CSRD staff to bring forward to the community.
The CSRD requires a minimum of 60 per cent support from the community, showing there is interest to apply for senior grants for the development of a community water system. The community must also show a 60 per cent supportive interest in groundwater monitoring services.
“The last thing I want to see is folks becoming ill,” Cathcart added.
Nicholson aquifer monitoring completed between 2005 to 2013 was executed as a special project and was funded from the entire CSRD tax base.
The Public Health Act outlines the province’s responsibility for identifying and addressing hazards to public health.
During a discussion in January between the CSRD and Interior Health, the board was concerned with liability implications as a result of Nicholson residents falling ill from contaminated drinking water associated with the Nicholson aquifer. CSRD staff sought a legal opinion on the CSRD’s role in the Nicholson aquifer, which has resulted in the development of Policy W-13, Nicholson Aquifer Water Quality Monitoring.
According to the policy, the CSRD will undertake steps to mitigate effects of poor water quality in the Nicholson aquifer.
Through W-13, the CSRD has concluded that groundwater monitoring will not be funded through the special project fund after the end of this year, and monitoring will only be carried out as a service, with an establishing bylaw, paid for by the property owners affected in the service area.
The CSRD has advised the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Health of its concerns with the aquifer water quality and requested that the province undertake water quality monitoring in this area. The CSRD also advised the medical health officer, and requested that they consider if the situation is a health hazard or impediment to public health.
The CSRD plans to publish the historical results of the monitoring on its website, www.csrd.bc.ca.