British Columbia Agriculture Council
D R A F T Submission to:
Water Act Modernization
Consultation Process

The BC Agriculture Council (BCAC) appreciates the opportunity to provide a formal submission to the Ministry of Environment’s public consultation process on the modernization of the provincial Water Act. The BCAC represents the collective interests of BC’s primary agriculture producers, representing an estimated 14,000 farmers and ranchers through their membership in sector farm organizations from across the province (Appendix A). A number of these organizations have submitted formal submissions to the Water Act modernization consultation process:
· BC Cattlemen’s Association
· BC Cranberry Growers Association
· BC Fruit Growers Association
· BC Grain Producers Association
· BC Milk Producers Association
· BC Landscape and Nursery Association

This submission will reinforce the key issues that have been brought forward by the BCAC member organizations in their submissions – a central theme of which is that water is a shared resource that all water users must take responsibility for. Farmers and ranchers depend upon a secure supply of water for their livelihoods and therefore recognize the vital importance of this consultation process.

BC Agriculture is facing Major Economic Challenges:

British Columbia has a strong agricultural heritage that was built on the province’s unique climatic, geographic and demographic diversity. Agriculture’s true contribution is often overlooked because of the diverse nature and scope of this important industry. With some 250 different crops and livestock produced on BC’s farms and ranches, the agriculture and agri-food industry is a significant contributor and a stabilizing factor providing jobs and opportunity in many of the province’s rural and regional economies.

Agriculture plays a significant and important role in the provincial economy overall, with the many activities associated with the production, processing, distribution and sale of food providing employment for over 290,000 people, representing 14% of the provincial workforce and generating over $35 billion in revenue.

The BC agriculture sector is, however, seriously challenged in meeting its full potential. BC has consistently provided less support to its agriculture sector than other provinces have – investing approximately two percent of the GDP that is generated from agriculture and food into supporting the sector, compared to over ten percent in the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec.

This lack of support is no doubt at least partially responsible for the negative farm income situation seen in BC in recent years. Statistics Canada numbers indicate that realized net income for BC farmers and ranchers was over $200 million in the red in 2008, which followed significant losses in both 2007 and in 2006 – so we have witnessed an unprecedented three consecutive years of negative net farm income in BC. All indications are that improvements have not been made to these numbers in 2009 and early 2010.

The economic situation facing farmers and ranchers emphasizes the need for the Ministry of Environment to seriously consider the needs of this important sector in the Water Act modernization process.

Meeting the Future Food Security Needs of British Columbia:

Meeting the future food security needs of the province will depend upon our ability to address the economic pressures facing agriculture and to maintain the productive capacity of our agricultural lands over the long-term. This is a societal interest that cannot be taken for granted. By 2030, BC’s population is expected to grow by 30% to 5.5 million people – further increasing the development pressures on our farmland resources and, at the same time, increasing the need to have a productive agricultural land-base in BC.

British Columbia faces the unique situation of having less than five percent of the total provincial land-base with the potential for agricultural production – a reality that served as the impetus for establishing the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) through provincial legislation in the mid-1970’s (Figure 1). The objectives were to both preserve agricultural land over the long-term and to enable and accommodate farm use on BC’s agricultural land.

Figure 1: BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve

Significant steps have also been taken to ensure that the environmental integrity of this limited agricultural land is protected over the long-term. Through initiatives such as the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) program and the beneficial management practices being implemented on BC farms, the agriculture sector is identifying and reducing environmental risks on farms and is establishing itself as being on the leading edge in the management of its natural resources. Much of the focus of these programs has been specifically on protecting BC’s water resources and improving efficiencies in water use, particularly with respect to agricultural irrigation. The BC Cattlemen’s Association also manages and delivers the Farmland-Riparian Interface Stewardship Program (FRISP), which has been effective in protecting and enhancing water quality, riparian vegetation and fish habitat on ranchland.

The contributions provided to society from agriculture also go far beyond maintaining an agricultural land-base for future generations. BC’s farming and ranching landscapes provide for protection of open space, clean air and water, wildlife corridors and habitat, conservation of biodiversity, as well as tourism and recreational opportunities.

Addressing BC’s food security needs in the face of a changing climate is presenting further challenges. While some research suggests that BC may experience improved agricultural capability as a result of climate change, increased uncertainty and costs associated with weather damage for BC’s agricultural operations is also likely. BC also imports significant amounts of food from areas which have recently experienced drought and other production challenges, further demonstrating the need to maintain an adequate agricultural production capacity in British Columbia.

Meeting the future food security needs of the province is a societal responsibility that will depend upon our ability to maintain the productive capacity of our agricultural lands over the long-term. The ALR was created to protect agriculture lands for food and agricultural production, which is of little value if reasonable access to water is not assured.

BCAC Recommendation:

1. A safe, secure and adequate water supply for livestock and crop production on all agricultural lands in BC, both within and outside the ALR, be established as a fundamental priority of the provincial government and be explicitly recognized as a key principle of a modernized Water Act.

The remainder of the BCAC submission will underscore agriculture’s priorities within the context of the four goals of the Water Act modernization process, as outlined in British Columbia’s Water Act Modernization – Discussion Paper.