Ditch Maintenance: Working for Farmers and Fish

The following article is an excerpt from Growing Together newsletter – Winter 2000 issue …….


We’ve all read the troubling headlines about the perilous state of BC’s salmon stocks. Fisheries closed or curtailed. Jobs have been lost and communities are suffering. Streams that once held thousands of spawning coho and other salmon and trout species now only see a fraction of that annual return.

Often overlooked in those headlines are a growing number of individuals, non-profit groups and governments who are doing their part to reverse this trend. Thousands of British Columbians are taking part in small, local projects to help rehabilitate streams and, together with hatchery and restocking programs, the results are encouraging. And BC farmers are no different.

Over the years, farmers have built ditches to drain their fields – a very common and necessary practice in the operation of a farm. But the maintenance of these ditches has historically been a contentious point as farmers struggled to meet DFO requirements that were often seen as costly constraints to their regular farming practices.

“The regulation and red-tape wrapped around ditch maintenance often acted as a disincentive for producers and municipalities to complete this work,” says Andy Dolberg, Secretary Manager of the BC Milk Producers’ Association.

To assist both producers and government agencies, the Partnership Committee on Agriculture and the Environment has recently implemented a Pilot Project for the Lower Fraser Valley on Agricultural Ditch Maintenance Guidelines for Constructed Watercourses.













Pilot project underway for ditch maintenance guidelines.

Understanding how farming practices can affect fish and fish habitat is the first step. Solutions can often be simple and inexpensive. Often the things that benefit fish and their habitat make for good farming practices as well.

“The idea is to find a workable way to maintain watercourses for agricultural irrigation and drainage purposes while protecting their fisheries value,” said Ted Van der Gulik, Senior Engineer in BC's Ministry of Agriculture and Food (BCMAF). “We believe there is significant good will on the part of most producers to help British Columbia’s fisheries. It’s largely a question of education and finding ways that achieve results with the least amount of regulation and red-tape.”

The pilot project focused on streamlining an approval process for farm ditch maintenance to provide the farmer and the local municipal drainage and dyke authorities with a process to maintain constructed ditches in the best possible way without contravening federal laws.

One area the pilot project focused on was “timing windows” optimal dates for the maintenance of ditches and watercourses that lessen the impact on fish and their habitat.

“Generally, we are most concerned about impacts in the rainy season when adult salmon are moving into the watercourse to spawn and later in the spring when the eggs are hatching. The young juveniles are very sensitive to any type of disruption to their food source and water quality” said Van der Gulik.”

The task group is also examining the benefits of a project that would map all streams, watercourses and ditches in the lower Fraser Valley providing all user groups with better information and planning tools.

“The most important thing to remember is that all our activities are intertwined. What may seem like an insignificant drainage ditch can have a major impact on the habitat in a nearby stream,” said Bruce Reid, Habitat Biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada Wildlife Committee: Building Bridges and Finding Solutions. “All that may be required to resolve the threat to fish is a little common sense and the cooperation of all parties involved.”

For more information on ditch maintenance guidelines, please contact:

Ted Van der Gulik,  Senior Engineer, Resource Management Branch, BCMAF