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River water quality: when megapig farms get involved

Rivière Batiscan - crédit : Gilles Douaire / CC

The proposed construction of a megapiggery in Saint-Adelphe, in Mauricie, raises concerns about the consequences on the water quality of the Batiscan River and surrounding waterways. Although construction was paused on January 31, the battle is not yet won.

Phosphorus, harmful to waterways

The spreading of pig slurry, from megapig farms, has a real impact on the health of rivers. How? Contamination occurs when nutrients, including phosphorus, nitrogen, nitrate and pesticides, are carried by runoff into waterways. Discharges of contaminants of agricultural origin thus cause their eutrophication, the equivalent of premature aging, then the destruction of aquatic ecosystems. 
Stéphane Campeau, specialist in Watershed and aquatic systems at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières, recalls in a article appeared in The duty that phosphorus concentrations in watercourses should not be increased. The specialist estimates that it is “two to three times too high, or often ten times too high in spring” in small rivers.

The referee who refuses to referee

That said, the issue is not only environmental, but also legislative. Since the construction of a pigsty of 4,000 or more pigs would trigger a Public Hearing Office on the Environment (BAPE), and the developer plans to divide its facilities into three pigsties of 3,999 pigs each, it is obvious that the -this is trying to circumvent the rules of the game. 

The good news is that the Minister of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change (MELCC) has the power to curb such tricks thanks to section 31.1.1 of the Environmental Quality Act , as Louis-Gilles Francoeur and Michel Bélanger recall in The duty. This is what they demanded Emergency Water and Fondation Rivières at the MELCC, whose voices were added to those of the citizen group Towards a green valley as well as other organizations and experts in a open letter January 27. 

Unfortunately, the answer of the minister is clear: he does not intend to use his discretionary power in this matter.

Review the rules of the game

The megapig farm project thus highlights shortcomings in terms of granting authorizations. For Fondation Rivières here are some other possible solutions:

1. Require a study of phosphorus discharges

The MELCC does not currently require any detailed analysis of phosphorus releases into the environment. Before authorizing such a project, it is important that such a study be carried out, and made public, in order to know the surpluses which are likely to end up in rivers or the water table. 

2. Consider cumulative effects

Currently, other sources of pollution already present in a territory are not properly taken into account when authorizing a project. Any ecosystem has a limited capacity to provide us with resources, whether it is quality water or fertile soil. The authorization of a new project must take this limit into account in order to ensure that the vitality of our waterways and the prosperity of our agricultural fields are preserved.

3. More transparency

The current authorization procedure does not provide for any access to information and documents prepared by promoters. A simple information evening alone cannot achieve social acceptability. The documentation must be made accessible as well as the analysis of the MELCC in order to know the commitments and expectations of the stakeholders. Currently, citizens are faced with the facts once the authorization is issued.

A small victory… temporary 

Remember that although the promoter of the Saint-Adelphe megapig farm has, on his own initiative, asked to postpone his construction permit application, he is not abandoning the project. The game is not over: it remains to be seen whether it will continue with fair rules for the citizens and natural resources of Quebec. that's why Fondation Rivières requests that the BAPE be mandated to identify all aspects that must be taken into account in such cases

 

For further : Specialists call for an overhaul of the agricultural system

 

Photo credit : Gilles Doaire / CC

 

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