Amid drought concerns, BC Greens say province should make it easier for farmers to collect water

Amid drought concerns, BC Greens say province should make it easier for farmers to collect water

Led by the BC Green Party, some farmers in the Comox Valley say the provincial government needs to make it easier for them to collect and store rainwater to water their crops.

“The government has really tied the hands of farmers to be able to put in solutions so we don’t have to draw water from the river or the aquifer,” said BC Green Courtenay-Comox candidate Arzeena Hamir.

Currently, the drought monitor is low at level one, so it’s been a good start to the season, but drought and impacts to farming is a long-term concern for farmers.

“There are a lot of crops that need a lot of water. I grow sweet potatoes and they need a lot of water and so that’s always an issue,” said Merville farmer Diane Jackson.

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A heat dome is blistering parts of Eastern Canada right now and you only have to look at the snowless mountains on Vancouver Island to know that water could be in short supply this summer.

“So this year we’re trying more dry farming techniques and we’re putting in above ground water collection, which is very expensive,” said farmer Jaclyn Kirby.

Hamir is a local farmer and agronomist. She and her husband have a dugout that fills with water naturally, but in a severe drought it won’t be enough for her crops.

The Greens’ Courtenay-Comox candidate filled in for ailing party leader Sonia Furstenau Tuesday.

She says farmers need to be able to dig more dugouts on their properties to store water for times of drought.

“We literally ran out of water last year when our one dugout ran dry,” said Hamir.

She and other farmers want to be able to build more dugouts on their farms without the cost and red tape they say the government subjects them to now.

“Farmers are not the oil and gas industry. We are not using water to frack. We are growing food for our community and yet farmers are being penalized and licensed similar to the oil and gas industry,” she added.

That includes requiring farmers to line the bottom of new dugouts when in fact letting water to seep into the aquifer below would be a good thing, they say.

SEE ALSO: Stage 2 water restrictions start July 1 for Comox Valley Regional District

The Greens are also calling for an amnesty on fines for using unlicensed water sources.

“The recent increase in fines from $230 to $10,000 is placing an undue stress on farmers,” Hamir said.

“The government could really help in getting people to put dugouts in by giving grants or whatever, because they’re expensive. They’re like 10 to $20,000 and I don’t know a single farmer who has that laying around,” added Jackson.

The BC Greens are also asking for:

  • Prioritizing food production: Ensuring the province prioritizes food production, like crop irrigation, as a top priority during the drought period to support food security.
  • Sustainable water management policies: Overhauling the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) to prioritize ecosystems and food security over industrial usage, including eliminating the “First in Time, First in Right” principle to ensure equitable water distribution that reflects the values and needs of communities.
  • Support for communities and farmers: Emphasizing the need for comprehensive support for communities and farmers affected by drought conditions, including holistic watershed management practices and engaging the forestry sector in discussions about the hydrological impacts of clear-cutting practices.
  • Water management and sustainability table: Creating a water management and sustainability table for the Comox Valley that includes First Nations, local government, farmers, forestry, mining, industry stakeholders, and streamkeepers to manage water resources collaboratively and effectively.

Our request for comment from the Ministry of Water, Lands and Resource Stewardship was not answered before our deadline.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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