“Will there be sufficient fresh water in the Lower Fraser River for agriculture in the future?,” asks Ted van der Gulik, President of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC
Note to Reader:
The summer dry season has extended on both ends and BC communities can no longer count on a predictable snowpack and reliable rain to maintain a healthy water balance in their watersheds. Annual volumes of water entering and exiting regions are not necessarily changing; instead, what is changing is how and when water arrives – it is feast AND famine!
“Workshop on Drought & Flood – Sea Level Rise and Fresh Water for Agriculture in the Lower Fraser” (December 1)
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?
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.
“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.”
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 of 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.”
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 van 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.
“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.”