The following comprises a considered position statement established by the BCAC in January 2012.

The importance of a safe, secure, affordable and adequate water supply for food production across the province cannot be overstated. Water is an essential element for food production, and access to water for agriculture must be a fundamental priority in the proposed Water Sustainability Act.

The BC Agriculture Council (BCAC) prepared this guide, through consultation with different agriculture sectors, the BC Ministry of Agriculture and the Okanagan Basin Stewardship Council’s Agricultural Water Reserve (AWR) committee. It outlines how agriculture would like to see a provincial AWR developed. The new legislation should be forward-looking to preserve the connection between agriculture’s priority water rights and the production of BC-grown food.

The Principles and Guidelines section represents a starting point to guide future detailed discussions between BCAC, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture needed to successfully create a functional and sustainable Agricultural Water Reserve.

The Establishing an Agricultural Water Reserve section outlines how the principles and guidelines could be put into action and provides guidance to other agencies interested in establishing an AWR.

Principles & Guidelines for an Agricultural Water Reserve

Key Overarching Goals of Establishing an Agricultural Water Reserve (AWR):

1. To provide a safe, secure, affordable and adequate water supply for agriculture and food production across British Columbia;
2. To establish in practice the known direct relationship between water availability, agriculture and food production;
3. To enable viable agricultural activities on BC’s limited agriculture lands, thereby supporting the preservation of this resource for future generations;
4. To facilitate the necessary future growth of BC’s food and agriculture production in response to society’s needs.

Principles in Establishing an Agricultural Water Reserve:

1. Governance of the Agricultural Water Reserve (AWR) would be established as follows:
The Province will be responsible for the allocation and licensing system.
Watershed planning processes will generally be led by a local champion (regional district, round table or stewardship group), and must include representation from the agriculture sector that has been approved through the BC Agriculture Council membership structure.
Water allocation for future developments must be approved by the province to ensure the Agricultural Water Reserve is not compromised.

2. The Agricultural Water Reserve would apply to land in the ALR, lands zoned for agriculture outside of the reserve, and First Nations arable lands where accepted by First Nations (consultation with First Nations will be required).

3. The AWR will be established taking a watershed-based approach, and water use allocated or used out of the reserve will be based on a watershed management plan.

4. Applications for water allocations from the AWR will be based on the First-In-Time-First-In-Right (FITFIR) priority system, with the exception of where an alternative established regional agreement is in place.

5. Storage facilities must be allowed and encouraged to offset seasonal and multi-year variability of supply, i.e. carry-over storage.

6. Agricultural Water Reserve inclusions:

All water currently licensed to agriculture for crop or livestock use is included in the AWR through an established methodology.
Groundwater currently used by agriculture must be accounted for and incorporated into the AWR.
Water resources that are saved through improved efficiency by the agriculture sector remain in the AWR.
Agriculture allocations that are abandoned or unused would stay in the AWR.
Historic stream cattle watering uses are to be included in the AWR.
It is recognized that water delivered for agricultural purposes by a municipality or water purveyor will be included in the AWR.
Agricultural areas converting to reclaimed water will not lose freshwater rights.

7. The AWR will be based on current and projected agriculture surface and ground water requirements for agricultural land using a science-based methodology:

Water held in the Agricultural Water Reserve must be held for current and future beneficial use.
There must be a process to include the use of new or better data.
Water allocated to and from the AWR will be based on efficient and best management practices.
Water allocation volume licences would be based on higher water usage crops to allow for flexibility in production decisions.
The AWR should include an allowance for climate change and other factors that may increase agricultural water use.
When agricultural land is converted to non-agriculture uses, the water allocated to the removed land would be put back in the AWR in that region to facilitate expansion of agricultural production on the remaining farmland.
Water allocation decisions must be made from sound, long-term scientific stream flow data.

8. Water reserves must take regional needs and differences into account.

9. Water in the AWR cannot be allocated to non-agricultural uses and non-agricultural land use activities (e.g., residential and industrial development, oil and gas), must not compromise the water supply (both quantity and quality) for the AWR.
Establishing Agricultural Water Reserves in British Columbia
How an Agricultural Water Reserve (AWR) may be established under the new Water Sustainability Act

Why establish an Agricultural Water Reserve?

The Province of British Columbia’s Living Water Smart document made a commitment to reserving water for agricultural lands. The intent is to have the new Water Sustainability Act to provide enabling language to allow water reserves for agriculture to be established. Consultation sessions between the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment and BC Agriculture Council have been held. In addition, the Okanagan Basin Water Board has also initiated an Agriculture Water Reserve Committee to provide another venue for consultation. Both of these processes are currently on going.

The Water Stewardship Council, the technical advisory group to the Okanagan Basin Water Board, also identified the establishment of an agricultural water reserve as an Okanagan priority in the Sustainable Water Strategy. A strong agricultural sector provides both direct and indirect benefits, including access to locally produced food and food security, preservation of production capacity for the future, employment and economic benefits, a driver for tourism, and quality of life benefits.