Federal and provincial environment ministries have been called in to investigate after Bradner residents found black, untreated water flowing from two mushroom farms into local streams that lead to fish-bearing Nathan Creek.
The owner of the two farms on either side of 58th Avenue, Huu Quach, has already been fined $1,500 by the city for breaching its Waterways Protection Bylaw. Quach says work to rectify the situation is underway.
It’s not the first time the farms have been found to have fouled the creek, though, having been fined $90,000 eight years ago for destroying fish habitat.
Earlier this month, the city received a complaint about water conditions in Bradner Creek, known to locals as Brough Creek. Upon inspection, bylaw staff observed a pipe from Delfresh Mushrooms discharging into a watercourse flowing into the creek located just south of the property.
That was deemed in violation of the city’s Waterways Protection Bylaw and a $500 fine was issued on April 5. The pipe was subsequently repaired, according to the city.
Three weeks later, the stream still appears extremely polluted, with an oily sheen on the black water, trickling through a small tributary.
Three days earlier, Shelburne Rempel, who lives near the farm, had hiked to the stream and found “black sludge” entering the stream at a brisk rate.
“It’s disgusting,” he said.
Rempel said he called Fisheries and Oceans Canada and “made it plain that they needed to see it in a very timely fashion.”
A photo posted on the Bradner Barker community website and purportedly taken last week showed dark grey water flowing from the tributary into Bradner Creek. That creek eventually leads to Nathan Creek, which the Glen Valley Watershed Society says has previously been a spawning ground for a variety of salmon and trout species.
Last week, the city fined another mushroom farm and composting facility – located on the opposite side of 58th Avenue and owned by the same man – $1,000 for fouling another creek leading to Nathan Creek.
The city said after a complaint forwarded by the Ministry of Environment, staff found an uncovered and unlined storage for waste materials at H.Q. Mushroom Farm “was leaching into a water system” leading to Lehman Creek. Two $500 fines were issued on April 22.
The Bradner Barker’s photos show pipes snaking around the creek and a sludgy substance on the surface of the small stream.
The Ministry of the Environment also performed an inspection, and a spokesperson said the farms “were verbally directed to cease all discharge by ministry staff and a pollution abatement order is currently being considered.” Such an order can require a person or company to take a variety of steps to cease their polluting activities.
The ministry said it has sent results of the inspection to the Conservation Officers Service “for further investigation.” Staff are also awaiting results of water samples taken from the compost facility. Preliminary results show fecal coliform levels above water guidelines, the ministry said.
Quach told The Abbotsford News that the issue at Delfresh had started when a contractor accidentally broke a pipe but didn’t realize it. He said the issue was fixed the next day and only a “very, very small amount” of effluent entered the creek. He said he is working with “environmental people” to assess how to repair the damage.
As for the issues at H.Q., Quach said he was told “some things can be improved” but that inspectors had no “immediate concerns.”
“What we have done right now is to investigate… how to bring up the standard.” He then said the operation is not depositing waste anymore.
Rempel, meanwhile, says he and his neighbours are concerned about the ongoing operation of the Delfresh compost facility.
Since beginning operation earlier this year, Rempel said the property has sent foul odours wafting across the area.
“It’s not a farm smell. I’m in the septic system business so I know all about bad smells. But this doesn’t smell like anything else,” Rempel said.
“When it gets going, it’s so strong you feel it in your throat.”
On April 1, the city posted a cease and desist order at H.Q. Mushroom Farm after finding “an unauthorized active composting facility.” The operation wasn’t allowed because it is on agricultural land, but nothing was being grown yet. The city issued a fine, but the order was later lifted as the facility began its mushroom-growing operation.
Quach told The News the facility had been going through a testing phase and hasn’t been in operation for the past three weeks. He said opinions about smells are “very subjective.”
This isn’t the first time H.Q. Mushroom Farm has fallen afoul of rules protecting waterways. In 2008, the provincial court ordered H.Q. to pay a $10,000 fine for several federal fisheries offences.
Another company, owned by Quach, Avina Fresh Produce, was fined $5,000, and the two companies were ordered to pay a combined $75,000 to the government “for the purpose of promoting the conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat within the Nathan Creek watershed,” according to a news release issued by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
The release said a company called Avina Fresh Mushrooms Inc. and H.Q. Mushroom Farm “carried out mushroom farming that caused harm and destruction of fish habitat in an unnamed tributary to Nathan Creek.”
The release said the companies “failed to comply with a condition of the Fisheries Act, to refrain from further depositing harmful substances such as mushroom growing waste and chemicals where these harmful substances may impact waters.”
Although Avina Fresh Mushrooms operates at the site of H.Q. Mushroom Farm, Quach said he does not own Avina Fresh Mushrooms, which an employee there called a “marketing and sales” company.
Last year, H.Q. Mushroom Farm was fined $8,380.80 by WorkSafeBC after inspectors found picking platforms “without guardrails or proper locking mechanisms” that put workers at risk of falling to the concrete floor below and sustaining serious or fatal injuries.
Avina Fresh Produce was fined $45,100.87 for similar issues.
That company failed to “repair and inspect its platform as specified by a professional engineer – even months after WorkSafeBC ordered the firm to do so,” according to a WorkSafeBC document.
– Tyler Olsen is a reporter with the Abbotsford News.