Water Policy for Agriculture

The primary interests of the agriculture sector in water supply and allocation are:
1. Water security: protecting agricultural access to water which recognizes principles of adequate supply, assured access, and affordability.
2. Development of drought management strategy.
3. Regulation of the water supply, to ensure that all users contribute to conservation.

To further these interests, the BC Agriculture Council will:
Work actively to raise the public awareness of agriculture sector’s dependence on water.
Insist that the preservation of farmland and maintenance of the Agriculture Land Reserve in many regions requires the provision of adequate water at a not-for-profit cost and security of access to produce agricultural products on that land.
Promote the inclusion of agricultural association representatives on local, provincial, and federal government-sponsored groups that have an impact on the water supply for agriculture.
Ensure that agriculture industry representatives are included in all ongoing water policy development processes at all levels of government.
Insist that it is essential that agriculture have high priority access to water in recognition of provincial food security needs.

In developing policy the Council accepts that:
Climate change models forecast reduced water supply and increased demand for water, especially in the arid areas of BC: Eastern Vancouver Island, high plateau rangeland, and the Okanagan-Similkameen valleys.
Water use per capita in BC is high, compared to other regions.
Adoption of conservation practices is a cost effective means to address future needs and may be a preferred option to expanding capacity in some areas.
Agriculture lands have high variability in soil types, crops and water requirements resulting in regional and commodity specific issues.

The BC Agriculture Council endorses the following principles for establishing water policy:
1. Representatives of agricultural associations must be included on water decision-making and advisory bodies, if government policy is to be credible.
2. Department of Fisheries and oceans (DFO) fish protection policy must not seek control over manmade water reservoirs without compensation to the license holders of that water or payment for a fair share of the maintenance of the water supply infrastructure. If DFO decides not to provide compensation, then DFO must be satisfied with stream flows that would naturally occur.
3. Government’s official declaration of drought events must be linked to crop insurance programs to ensure that there is adequate coverage of drought related crop loss. In some instances growers should receive crop insurance payments for pre-emptive and proactive actions to conserve water and which impact crops.
4. Agriculture must be involved in planning for emergency reductions of water and the development of water trading policy. Any water trading policy must segregate agriculture, so that the allotment of water is not traded to industrial, residential or commercial sectors.
5. In the case of declared drought emergencies, users will be encourage to work cooperatively to share the burden of reduced water allocation based on economic impact and maintenance of agriculture production capacity. Additionally currently unavailable or non-traditional sources of water supply should be considered to address emergency needs (E.G. parks and protected areas).
6. There should not be any water license clawbacks where use is lower than allocation.
7. Groundwater licensing may be an option, but should only be considered in the context of full water availability and demand management and planning and only on a watershed basis.
8. Equity and fairness rules must be established by the province. As a specific current example, if water meters are installed, then water meters must be installed on farm, residential and industrial users, no on farms alone.
9. Water saved through conservation methods in agriculture will be reserved for future expansions in the agriculture sector and not allocated to other user groups.
10. The province must exercise its authority to establish a timeline and the requirement of watershed supply and demand planning on a 30,50, and 70 year time horizon.
11. Some areas will require major infrastructure projects such as substantially increased higher elevation storage capacity and large scale water works in order to secure long term availability of irrigation water.
12. The federal and provincial governments have an important role to play in providing funds for infrastructure development, including enhancement and operation of weather station networks which provide essential information for irrigation scheduling and water conservation programs.
13. The federal and provincial government must continue to support the Environmental Farm Planning Program, the National Farm Stewardship Program and the National Water Supply Expansion Program as essential tools to achieve water allocation and management needs.