Monthly Archives: March 2013

What we heard from you about the Kettle River Watershed

Last fall the RDKB launched an in-depth survey and held multiple meetings to learn more about watershed issues and how they are affecting communities in the Boundary region.

The response was overwhelming.

Over 670 people responded, with many writing hundreds of words about watershed issues and concerns. I spent weeks entering the responses, and weeks more poring over the results to extract the key themes and main issues. Here are some of the highlights. Continue reading What we heard from you about the Kettle River Watershed

Kettle River Q&A – What is nitrate and do we have a problem with it?

What is nitrate? It is a chemical made up of one part nitrogen and three parts oxygen that goes by the symbol NO3.

Nitrate ion

Nitrate can be present in water, in food, or in the air, and comes from sources like fertilizer, septic systems and animal waste. It isn’t usually found naturally in BC’s groundwater, so it is a sign of human impacts.

Nitrate is generally non-toxic, but in young babies high concentrations in water or food can reduce their blood’s ability to transport oxygen, sometimes causing “blue baby syndrome”. In extreme cases death can occur.

Residents of Grand Forks and the surrounding rural areas have been concerned about nitrate since testing in the 1980’s showed high levels in certain areas.

Last year new studies revealed that nitrate levels are decreasing in Grand Forks municipal wells and do not pose a health risk.[nbnote ][/nbnote] This was reassuring for city officials as they work to develop and safeguard our water supply.

In the rural area surrounding Grand Forks, nitrate levels are stable or gradually declining, according to a 2011 study by the Province of BC.[nbnote ][/nbnote]

However, a number of wells have nitrate levels above drinking water quality guidelines, especially in the Darcy Road and Nursery areas and along Carson Road. High levels of potassium are also found at these wells, which means that the nitrates are probably related to fertilizer use.

Little information is available on levels of nitrates in other aquifers in the region.

Well owners can monitor nitrate levels by testing wells at least annually. More information on testing is available from Interior Health Authority.

Prevention is the best way to protect groundwater sources from contamination by nitrates and other chemicals. Shallow sand and gravel aquifers such as those in Grand Forks, Midway and Beaverdell are particularly at risk from intensive agricultural and septic system contamination. [nbnote ][/nbnote]

Nitrate levels in the Grand Forks Aquifer.
Nitrate levels in the Grand Forks Aquifer. Click to enlarge.

There are several ways landowners can protect groundwater. For instance, reducing fertilizer use, conserving water, managing manure properly and building soil health can reduce leaching of chemicals and nutrients. Siting wells properly and making sure that they are properly closed can also reduce the chance that contamination on the surface reaches the aquifer.

Land use planning that restricts residential development in rural areas can reduce the risk of contamination by septic systems. These and other strategies will be the topic of future columns.

Do you get your well tested regularly? What steps have you taken to find out about or protect your drinking water supply? Contact Graham Watt ( about this or any other watershed questions.

Originally published in the Grand Forks Gazette on March 13, 2013.