Washington farmers group says B.C. waters are causing cross-border contamination


A Washington farming advocacy group is calling for action to address worsening fecal coliform levels it claims are as high as 260 times the allowable limit and originating from British Columbia waters.

Whatcom Family Farmers sent a letter in early June to both Washington and Canadian authorities to address what it calls an “urgent water quality problem,” particularly for the health of tribal shellfish beds.

The water comes from a Fraser Valley creek into Pepin Creek in Washington before entering the Nooksack Basin. 

“The Portage Bay shellfish beds of the Lummi Nation have previously been closed due to high levels of bacteria,” states the June 5 letter co-signed by the North Lynden Watershed Improvement District. “Improvements resulted in partial and seasonal reopening, but the continued high level of Canadian contamination poses an on-going threat to these shellfish beds and consequently to the health of those who may consume shellfish from this important and traditional harvest area.”

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Whatcom Family Farmers Executive Director Fred Likkel says that such high levels of water contamination “only comes from direct discharges to waterways”. Efforts to step up monitoring and enforcement in Canada would most likely have an immediate impact, he said.

Whatcom says more testing needs to be completed, but has drawn attention to mushroom growing, composting, and soil blending facilities in the Pepin Creek Watershed.

The farmers also allege that B.C. is responsible for “alarmingly low” stream levels in Whatcom County, some of which have run dry in recent years. The streams originate in Canada and flow south to the Nooksack Basin. 

The group suggests that previous calls for action on the issue have led to almost no action. In fact, the Washington farmers say things have only gotten worse since the BC-WA Nooksack River Transboundary Technical Collaboration Group disbanded in 2020. 

“In the absence of resources to address point and non-point sources of fecal bacteria, we have observed backsliding of water quality improvements over the past two years,” states the Whatcom Family Farmers.

Washington’s Department of Ecology has been in contact with B.C.’s environment ministry to try to move forward on emerging issues.

Flooding has also been a concern, according to the farming group. A devastating flood in November 2021 displaced an estimated 500 people in Whatcom County, and led to the evacuation of more than 14,000 people in B.C. 

“Not only do we see increased flooding risk from this Canadian water in winter months, but decreased flows in the summer in these vital salmon spawning streams are also having a negative effect on our endangered salmon,” the letter states. 

B.C. Premier John Horgan agreed to a transboundary initiative to address Nooksack River flooding prevention and response in 2022.

“We are proud to co-ordinate with our Washington neighbours on devastating flooding from the Nooksack watershed,” announced Premier Horgan in a statement at the time. “There is tremendous expertise on both sides of the border and our work will bring together the necessary resources and the relevant experts to help identify, evaluate and advance solutions so that all adjacent communities are better prepared for the inevitable impacts of extreme weather caused by climate change.”


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