...principles for establishing an Agricultural Water Reserve...continued...

What is an AWR?

The working definition of an AWR is:

The AWR is an allocation of water for agricultural lands in the ALR or areas zoned for agriculture that is held for agriculture’s use in perpetuity. Agricultural use includes irrigation of crops, crop washing, livestock watering or other agricultural activities such as frost protection and crop cooling. Future water demand for increased livestock or an increased irrigated land base will be included in the reserve providing that there is sufficient water available to be licensed as determined through a watershed based management planning process.

Objectives of an AWR?

The objective is to preserve current surface water resources that are beneficially licensed to agriculture and groundwater resources currently used by the agriculture sector. In addition future water resources needed by the sector would be protected. Once protected the intent is to avoid the re-allocation of water reserved for agriculture to other uses except during times of scarcity as defined by the Province. Water rights that are in the reserve could only be acquired for agricultural purposes.

On what area will an AWR be based?

The AWR will be stream, watershed or groundwater aquifer specific. The area that a reserve is based on will be dependent somewhat on the extent of watershed planning process used to establish the reserve. In some instances the AWR may reserve both surface and groundwater resources as part of the same reserve.

Where does the water in the AWR come from?

The water in the AWR would come from the stream, watershed or aquifer’s annual supply of freshwater, either from direct extraction or stored in reservoirs. The AWR can also designate carryover storage from one year to the next to accommodate potential drought conditions. The freshwater resources allocated in the AWR will not be reduced if farms convert to grey water or reclaimed water. Freshwater resources could be applied to other agricultural areas in need.

Who manages the AWR?

As the Province of British Columbia has the authority to licence and allocate water, the Province would manage the AWR. The Province would also authorize the Watershed Management Planning process used to establish an AWR.

How would the AWR be calculated?

The determination of the amount of water in an Agricultural Water Reserve will involve consultation with agricultural stakeholders and other sectors through a Watershed Management Planning process. The process required to determine an allocated water volume would take into consideration climate change predictions to model water demands under potential future conditions. Water requirements for a given piece of land would be calculated on the highest water-using crop/livestock requirement feasible for that piece of land, ensuring farmers have rights to the water required to change from low water-use crops (e.g., grapes) to high water-use crops (e.g., hay), should the market and/or society require it.

A proposed process for determining the amount of water held in an AWR is:

1. The stream, watershed or aquifer for the AWR is identified.
2. A watershed planning process under the WSA is initiated and the protocols for developing a watershed plan followed.
3. All withdrawal licences, storage licences, documented groundwater use is compiled for inclusion into the AWR. To begin with existing water that is allocated to agriculture for all purposes will form the initial basis for the reserve.
4. Existing water resources (annual water supply, documented stream flows throughout the irrigation season, base flows, groundwater and existing storage) are compiled.
5. All existing water use in the AWR is identified. The Agriculture Water Demand Model (AWDM) can be used for this purpose if it is operational for the area identified in (1.) above.
6. The AWDM (if available for the area) should be run with the following scenarios to develop a range of data.
a. Scenario 1 - Use existing crop and irrigation systems to determine current water demand for a high use year. A number of years should be selected to obtain an average high year use figure. (Suggest 2003, 2006, 2009 to start).
b. Scenario 2 – Use a high water use crop (alfalfa) with a sprinkler system for the area irrigated to determine what the maximum value could be for current crops and irrigation systems.
c. Scenario 3 – Apply the most efficient irrigation methodology to existing crops to determine the lowest water demand for existing conditions during a high use year.
d. Scenario 4 – Use the high water use crop with a sprinkler system under various climate change scenarios to the year 2040 and 2080 to determine what the potential future water demand could be with the existing irrigated area.
e. Scenario 5 - Determine the total potential future irrigated acreage using criteria that limit the area to be irrigated within a recommended distance and elevation from a water source. Use a high water demand crop that is sprinkler irrigated to determine the potential maximum water demand using the climate change criteria from scenario 4.
f. Scenario 6 - Determine the likeliest lowest possible future water demand using the total area determined in scenario 5, but choosing crops and efficient irrigation methodology that will provide the lowest future demand.
The data from all of the scenarios above will be compiled to provide a range of current and future water demand.
7. Other sector needs and environmental flows throughout the year are determined.
8. A water balance process that considers the available annual supply , current agriculture demand and the needs of others will then determine how much is available for future agriculture use. Data from the AWDM can then be used to determine if there is sufficient agricultural land to beneficially use the future amount. If so then additional water can be added to the reserve. If not, then the additional water can be left for allocation to other sectors.
9. To finalize the AWR existing licensing to producers should be reviewed to determine if water is over or under licensed to each user for current and/or future beneficial demand. Water licences could then be adjusted to reflect true future needs. The adjustment would then either take water from, if available or put water back into the reserve.
10. Farmers applying for water in a region where an AWR has been established would reduce the unallocated portion of the AWR. Water rights that are forfeited by farmers would be added back into the AWR.

What happens in times of drought?

The AWR does not provide a system for managing water in times of drought. Basin or sub-basin level drought plans are necessary to determine what would be done in times of scarcity. The drought plan would identify how all users in a watershed will be required to adjust their water demand in times of drought.