Feast AND Famine Workshop: Will there be sufficient fresh water in the Lower Fraser River for agriculture in the future?


Note to Reader:

Food security, protection of agricultural lands and water use are issues facing BC. On December 1, the Feast AND Famine Workshop will address this question: How will water supply and agriculture be affected by rising sea levels and a changing climate in the Fraser Delta?

Lower Fraser River: View of Steveston, Ladner, Canoe Pass, and Mt. Baker (Rees, 2007)

Lower Fraser River: View of Steveston, Ladner, Canoe Pass, and Mt. Baker (Rees, 2007)

Our Climate is Changing & Adaptation is Local

“According to Bob Sandford, keynote speaker for our Feast AND Famine Workshop (December 1st), Western North America may be crossing an invisible threshold into a different hydro-meteorological regime. Adaptation to a changing climate is local in application. Hence, this workshop is about solutions and tools that are being developed in BC through collaboration. These will support and enable practitioners and decision makers to take action at a local level,” notes Mike Tanner, Workshop Chair.

Mike Tanner_DSC_0569_Sep2015_120p“In Module C at the Feast AND Famine Workshop, Ted van der Gulik and John ter Borg will present the latest findings that answer this question: Will There be Sufficient Fresh Water for Agriculture in the Future? Those who attend ‘Feast AND Famine’ will come away with an understanding of the complexities of the water supply for agricultural lands in the Fraser Delta region, what impacts sea level rise may have, and how climate change will affect water demand to grow our food.”

Quotable Quote:

Bob Sandford_2015_120p“After a period of relative hydro-climatic stability, changes in the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere have resulted in the acceleration of the global hydrologic cycle with huge implications. We can expect deeper, more persistent drought punctuated by flooding,” observes Bob Sandford, keynote presenter for the Feast AND Famine Workshop and author of Storm Warning: Water & Climate Security in a Changing Canada.

Potential for Unintended Consequences in the Lower Fraser

“Climate models predict warmer, longer, and drier summers. This means that farms within the Lower Fraser River will require more irrigation water in the future. Local sea level is predicted to rise and may contribute to an increasing quantity of salt water pushing up the river. In addition, changes to river hydrology may occur due to the removal of the George Massey Tunnel, possibly further increasing salinity levels,” states John ter Borg in commenting on his research findings for the Master John ter Borg_2015_120pof Land and Water Systems program at the University of BC.

“My Feast AND Famine Workshop presentation will provide an overview of the potential issues and the impact of changes in river hydrology and salinity on fresh water irrigation intakes and the agricultural water supply in the Fraser Delta.”

“Tunnel removal has been likened to removing a dam that currently restricts the intrusion of the salt wedge up the river. Existing salinity data for the Lower Fraser River is not sufficient to assess the impacts resulting from replacement of the tunnel with a bridge. The Delta Farmers Institute is working with other river user stakeholders to develop a salinity benchmarking study that would help to inform the decision process.”

Map showing the approximate extent of the salt wedge under different river flows (Ages and Woollard, 1976)

Map showing the approximate extent of the salt wedge under different river flows (Ages and Woollard, 1976)

Agriculture’s Water Use and How It May Change in the Lower Fraser

“Agriculture is a large fresh water user and the demand for water will only increase as summers get longer, hotter and drier. The Ministry of Agriculture has developed a Water Demand Model to quantify agriculture’s total water requirements today and in the future, using global climate models stretching to the year 2100,” reports Ted Ted van der Gulik_DSC_0586_Sep2015_120pvan der Gulik, President of the Partnership for Water Sustainability.

Prior to retirement from government, Ted van der Gulik was the Senior Engineer in the Ministry of Agriculture in charge of extending the development of the model throughout BC. He continues to be a driving force for implementation of the BC Agricultural Water Demand Model.

Ag Water Supply“The tool will help decision makers understand current agricultural water use, helping to fulfil the province’s commitment under the Living Water Smart to establish a process for developing water reserves for agricultural lands.”

“Context is everything. BC needs 215,000 hectares of irrigated agriculture to help feed our current population, an increase of 20% over what has access to irrigation today. Another revealing comparison is the amount of irrigated agricultural area within the Metro Vancouver region versus that in the Okanagan Valley: ~13,000 ha versus ~20,000 ha. The Fraser Valley can increase irrigated acreage to 35,000 ha with careful planning, a region where most of the vegetables would come from. From a food security perspective, these comparisons underscore the strategic value of agricultural land in the Fraser Valley.”

Lower Fraser River: View of Steveston, Ladner, Canoe Pass, and Mt. Baker (Rees, 2007)

Lower Fraser River: View of Steveston, Ladner, Canoe Pass, and Mt. Baker (Rees, 2007)