LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “We would have to increase irrigated land area by 50% to attain food security in British Columbia. The Fraser Valley alone could provide 2/3 of the area needed!” stated Ted van der Gulik, President of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC

Note to Reader:

Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the Living Water Smart vision. The edition published on April 18, 2023 featured Joan Sawicki, former provincial cabinet minister, and drew attention to the 50th anniversary of British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Reserve.

According to Joan Sawicki, the ALR is a testament to the incredible foresight demonstrated in 1973. “The ALR saved the land and kept the options open for future generations,” she says. Without the ALR, then, there would be no prospect for food security. With the ALR, as Ted van der Gulik states in the article below, food security is achievable but only if BC also secures the water supplies needed to irrigate the land that would then provide food security.



Fifty Years – and miraculously still here: BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve

“The guest Editor’s Perspective for the April 18, 2003 edition of Waterbucket eNews was contributed by Ted van der Gulik, President of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC. Two decades ago, he had a vision for a science-based approach to management of irrigation water demand in BC. As the Senior Engineer in the BC Ministry of Agriculture, he had a mandate that allowed him to put his ideas into practice with province-wide implementation of the Agriculture Water Demand Model. He continues to provide guidance, training, and oversight for program delivery,” states Kim Stephens, Partnership Executive Director and Waterbucket eNews Editor.



BC’s path to food security is through water security

Look back to see ahead. The 50th anniversary of the ALR is an opportunity for reflection followed by action. As Joan Sawicki accurately concludes in her story behind the story, this will require equally good policy and political courage.

The ALR saved the land. Without the ALR, there would be no prospect for food security. Will today’s decision makers rise to the moment and secure the water supply necessary to irrigate the land needed for food security?

In terms of risks and opportunities, the situation in the Fraser Basin illustrates what is at stake for British Columbians.

A Changing Climate Threatens Food Security

Home to two-thirds of British Columbians, the mighty Fraser River is the lifeblood of a vast watershed that stretches from the Rockies to the Pacific. The lower Fraser Valley, one of the most productive agricultural regions in Canada, is vital to BC’s long-term food security.

The Fraser drains one of the most diverse watersheds in North America – for example, its vast lands contain ten of BC’s fourteen biogeoclimatic zones.  Yet many of the Fraser’s 34 tributaries, or riversheds, have been damaged by human activity.

Meanwhile, climate change is no longer a future scenario

It is here. At the mouth of the Fraser, for example, the consequences of summer droughts and rising sea levels combine to impact river water quality while at the same time increasing the need for irrigation water.

The critical issue, or impact, is the salt wedge and the shrinking window of opportunity for pumping fresh water from the Fraser River. This is a double whammy for agriculture.

An increase in sea levels combined with a drought flow on the Fraser River would allow ocean salt water to move farther upriver in the future.  This would shut down current water supply intakes for a longer period of time. Thus, it could become challenging to extract sufficient good quality irrigation water for agricultural use in Richmond and Delta.

What does this mean, really?

Gee-whiz facts!

Simply put, the water supply window for Richmond and Delta could be reduced from between 15 and 24 hours per day for present-day normal river flows, to less than 3 hours per day in the foreseeable future – due to the combination of sea level rise and drought flows.
What else do decision makers need to know?

Facts and figures help paint a picture

The Agriculture Water Demand Model is a foundation piece for food security. The model utilizes detailed land use inventories and incorporates a 500 m gridded climate data set – the only one in North America. The Agriculture Water Demand Model quantifies what we have versus what we need with respect to land and water:

Fact – BC’s farmers currently produce less than 50 percent of our provincial food requirements.

Fact – The ALR is over 4 million hectares.

Fact – To achieve food security in the Year 2025, for example, BC would require ~2.8 million ha of agricultural land in production of which over 300,000 ha must be irrigated.

Fact – This means that a 50 percent increase in irrigated farmland would be required – from 200,000 to 300,000 hectares.

Fact – Increased production would be concentrated on lands with access to irrigation – typically close to urban centers.

Fact – The amount of irrigated agricultural area in the Fraser Valley is already substantial and is about 1.4 times that in the Okanagan. Few people know this.

Fact – Also, the potential buildout for irrigated farmland in the Fraser Valley is about 2.4 times the area currently irrigated.

Fact – This means that the Fraser Valley alone could provide two-thirds of the additional irrigated land area that British Columbia needs for food security. Think about that!

Fact – The Fraser River would be able to supply much of the water required. But delivering the water would require a huge investment in infrastructure.

Fact – The Fraser Basin has more than 50% of the total provincial ALR area. And the ALR accounts for close to 10% of the basin drainage area.

Given the facts, what will today’s decision makers do? Fifty years from now, will future generations be praising the foresight demonstrated in 2023?

To Learn More:

To read the complete story, download a PDF copy of  Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Fifty Years – and miraculously still here: BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve