Province warns Valley residents to be cautious about using surface water following survey

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The province is reminding Valley residents to be careful when using surface water after a water quality report on the Annapolis Valley watersheds was issued.

Last year, the Department of Environment contracted the Acadia Centre for Estuarine Research to test water quality on the Annapolis, Cornwallis and Habitant rivers in the Annapolis Valley.

Fifty-nine of the 65 samples taken last September and October had elevated fecal coliform bacteria counts. Many samples also showed high nutrient levels, which can lead to algae blooms.

"This report is based on one set of samples and it's a snapshot in time, but it serves as a good reminder that coliform bacteria and other potential contaminants may be found in surface water," said Environment Minister Randy Delorey. "Surface water sources are open to the elements, and coliform levels can be affected by weather events, animal activity and malfunctioning septic systems."

The study was initiated after mink farming operations within the Carleton River watershed in southwestern Nova Scotia were implicated as the major cause of serious degradation of water quality in several lakes due to nutrient over-enrichment due to runoff from the mink farms. According to the backgrounder of the Annapolis Valley Baseline Water Quality Survey Report, this prompted the creation of mink farming regulations to help reduce the impact it has on water quality.

The report indicates that there is interest among mink farmers to establish new operations in the Annapolis Valley, so a baseline study was commissioned to help determine whether further assessment was needed to ensure water quality protection and determine whether the current regulations were sufficient.

There are 13 existing mink farms within the watersheds surveyed. As part of the study, samples were collected from nearby watercourses.

Samples were collected in the mouth or close to tributaries entering the main rivers, as well as at a number of river sites that were accessible by road. Surveys of water quality within existing mink farm areas were also conducted. 

The results showed the fecal coliform numbers were above the guideline for Protection of Agricultural Water use in the Habitant River watershed in all of the tested sites except the Sheffield Mills Marsh. Two of the four sites tested also had levels near or well above the Health Canada guidelines for contact during recreational activities.

Of the 33 tributaries sampled of the Annapolis River watershed, 30 had levels above the fecal coliform levels for protection of agricultural use and 14 were above the guidelines for recreational contact use.

Fecal coliform numbers in the main Annapolis River also showed a trend of increasing levels from the headwaters down stream. Of the eight sites surveyed, none were below the guidelines for Protection of Agricultural Water Use and four were above the Health Canada guidelines for contact recreational use.

In the Cornwallis River watershed, study of the tributaries showed all but the most downstream sites were very high and all expired the guidelines for agricultural use. Eleven also exceeded the Health Canada guidelines for contact recreational activities.

Despite the high fecal colidorm numbers in the Cornwallis tributaries, the levels in the main river were relatively low, although four of the five sites exceeded the agricultural water use levels and one exceeded the Health Canada guidelines for recreational use. The report states, “The high number observed at Willow Road may be related to the operation of the Berwick sewage treatment plant.”

The report also indicates that “Potential sources of fecal coliform bacteria include agricultural livestock activities, sewage treatment plant outflows and faulty septic systems.”

Nutrient levels in all of the watersheds weren’t typical of what would be expected in a watershed “not degraded to any significant extent” and the report indicated that the high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus is “likely the result of the high level of agricultural activity present in all three of the watersheds surveyed.”

Gary O'Toole, director of environmental health with the Department of Health and Wellness, said health providers who identify a food- or water-borne illness must report it to the Department of Health and Wellness.

"We did not see any increase in food- or water-borne illness last fall when these samples were taken," said O'Toole. "It is important for Nova Scotians to thoroughly wash their fruit and vegetables, and never use untreated surface water for drinking water."

This is the first survey in the area by the Environment Department, although the Clean Annapolis River Project has been monitoring conditions in the Annapolis River for many years. The department will partner with the project to continue monitoring the river.

Weblink www.novascotia.ca/nse/surface.water/ 

Organizations: Department of Environment, Health Canada, Acadia Centre for Estuarine Research Department of Health and Wellness

Geographic location: Annapolis Valley, Annapolis River, Carleton River Southwestern Nova Scotia Habitant River Cornwallis River Willow Road Nova Scotians

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