The results of surface water testing on rivers in the Annapolis Valley are prompting Nova Scotia's Environment Department to remind people of the importance of washing their produce.
In the fall, an Acadia University research team was contracted to perform a baseline test of three rivers: the Cornwallis River, the Annapolis River and the Habitant River.
The results were released by the Environment Department on Wednesday.
The tests were set up to determine baseline results in case the province allowed mink farms to be set up in the area and further water quality tests become necessary.
Of the 65 samples tested in the three rivers, the Environment Department said 59 of them showed elevated fecal coliform bacteria counts, which is especially a concern for vegetable producers.
Many samples also showed high nutrient levels, which can lead to algae blooms.
"The government works with multiple stakeholders in watershed areas across the province, so this work was done as a result of concerns related to those watershed areas," said Gary O'Toole with the Department of Health and Wellness.
Lori Errington, a spokeswoman for the Environment Department, said the presence of fecal coliform bacteria can come from a number of sources including wild animals or livestock defecating in waterways, fertilizer runoff from farmers' fields, or septic system leaks.
She said it's not clear what caused the elevated levels last fall. Errington said the baseline test results are not indicative of what's happening in the rivers now, but it's always a good idea to wash produce thoroughly.
She said further testing and monitoring of the rivers will be performed and compared to the baseline results the Acadia researchers collected.
O'Toole mirrored Errington's comments, saying people should be diligent when it comes to washing their fruits and vegetables.
"We did not see any increase in food or water-borne illness last fall when these samples were taken," he said.
"It is important for Nova Scotians to thoroughly wash their fruit and vegetables and never use untreated surface water for drinking water."
But the farmers who grow vegetables near the rivers that were tested are worried how consumers will react.
"Consumers are terrified of reality, I guess, of where food meets the farm and this is only going to make that worse," said Greg Gerrits of Elmridge Farm.
"The end result, I would say, would be more regulation if in fact they had that many test results that don't meet standards."
Gerrits doesn't dispute the numbers in the test results but said farmers have adopted methods that, if anything, should improve the quality of surface water.
"I'm sure that the water samples have been about what they are now for a long, long time. Because, if anything, the environmental end of things of what's happening now on farms has improved over the last 20 years," said Gerrits.
"The question is, how many people have you heard of getting sick on product produced in Nova Scotia? I can't bring one to mind."