CRD Agricultural Water Use and Conservation Study

Posted May 2006

The Agricultural Water Use and Conservation Study was commissioned by the Capital Regional District (CRD), in partnership with B.C.’s Ministry of Agriculture and Lands (MAL) and the Peninsula Agricultural Commission. Funded by the Canada-British Columbia Water Supply Expansion Program, the study was conducted by a project team of individuals from both the public and private sectors. The final report was submitted by Hally Hofmeyr (Synetric Consulting Group Inc.), Don Howes (Matrix Group Resources Ltd.), and Jeff Warwick (Clover Point Cartographics Ltd.)

Key Objective 

A key objective of the study was to gather, analyze, and present information on farm water use and conservation practices across the CRD. This information is needed to support informed decision making on water rates for the agricultural sector, and to help the CRD develop water conservation programs. The primary end user and custodian of this information is the CRD Water Services Department, which is responsible for delivering defensible information and recommendations regarding water rates to the CRD Regional Water Supply Commission.

Project Approach 

Three streams of data gathering were initiated to provide the required ‘core’ dataset for analysis, including a land-use inventory, a water-use survey, and baseline data acquisition. The land-use inventory was led by MAL’s regional agrologist, and involved more than 40 days of driving around the CRD gathering agricultural land-use data, including irrigation practices.
The water-use survey was mailed out to more than 1,100 properties classified as “farms” by BC Assessment. The mail-out was followed-up with phone calls and visits to some of the large farms and high consumers of CRD water.

Fundamental to these data-gathering exercises and the final analysis was the need for baseline data. The baseline data acquired included: CRD retail water data, soils data, property boundary data, BC Assessment data, and historic climate data. Data from the three data-collection streams were rationalized, integrated, and cleaned to provide a reliable core dataset that could be used for analysis now and into the future. The varying levels of detail and accuracy in the core dataset resulted in much of the analysis being done at a more generalized level, providing excellent results on water use and conservation trends for agriculture across the CRD.  
Determining how efficiently farmers are using water was identified as a critical project requirement. Measuring the level of water efficiency required filtering the data down to a sub-set of the data that enabled measuring benchmark water use against known actual use. Particular emphasis was placed on measuring water-use efficiency for each crop type using the irrigation model outlined in the B.C. Sprinkler Irrigation Manual.

Results and Findings  

Considering the project was carried out during the busiest time of the year for farmers, the overall response and interest from the agricultural community to the agricultural water-use survey was very positive, with 33 percent of questionnaires returned. This level of return is 25 percent higher than what is considered an acceptable minimum for mail-out surveys. The return of 33 percent represents about 37 percent of the agricultural land area, and 50 percent of CRD water users. Most farm types were well represented, with the exception of turf, horse, beef, and “unknown” farm types.
Survey results indicated that farmers see CRD water as a critical water source for agriculture. More than 35 percent of the farms rely entirely on CRD water, while 18 percent use CRD water in combination with other sources, including wells, creeks, and dugouts. Wells are a critical secondary water source, with 34 percent of respondents indicating they use wells to supply at least some of their water needs, including 19 percent who rely exclusively on wells.

Results from the land-use inventory were incorporated with the water-use survey results, providing a greater understanding of the farm use, types, and extent of crops grown, irrigation and conservation methods being used, as well as validating the data from the respective data-gathering exercises. Unfortunately, further data collection was not possible within the project time frame and/or scope, but the resultant ‘incorporated’ database provides an excellent basis from which the CRD can work to conduct more detailed analysis and follow-up work to improve water-use practices by farmers.
The efficiency analysis showed that most farmers were, in fact, using 1.4 times less water than the benchmark levels. This is consistent with the fact that 93 percent of the farmers surveyed self-assessed their level of water-use efficiency to be good to excellent. Even so, 40 percent of the farmers were still interested in receiving more information and help to improve their water-use efficiency.
Based on the results for those CRD water users and the commentary from survey questionnaires, it is apparent that farmers are reluctant to use CRD water because of cost. Farmers have to use other cheaper water sources to maintain viable businesses and to stay competitive.

Focus Group 

After compiling the survey results, project stakeholders decided to get feedback from the agricultural community about how they might be applied to support agriculture today and tomorrow. The resulting focus group also helped the project team examine factors that influence farmers’ decisions about water sources and uses in the study area. The focus group provided insights into the study results and explored the importance of water for agriculture, the costs of varying water sources to agriculture, and the need for increased management of water for agriculture, particularly groundwater. Focus group outcomes will guide the development of water conservation plans and programs for agriculture across the CRD.

For the complete report click here