Analysis of Agricultural Water Supply Issues

The National Water Supply Expansion Program is a four-year $60 million Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada investment in secure water supplies for agriculture. The intent of the program is to improve the capacity of agricultural producers to deal with drought and other agriculturally related water supply constraints through the development and expansion on water supply systems on a cost-shared basis.

Regional consultations were undertaken to identify the agricultural water supply issues and constraints throughout the country such that program options and priorities could be established. Information from these consultations is provided in five separate reports. What follows is the summary report for British Columbia.

Issues/Constraints and Information Gaps

The agricultural regions within British Columbia vary significantly in type of agriculture and in water availability. Within the agricultural producing zones precipitation varies from less than 300 mm to greater than 2500 mm. In the drier areas, prolonged periods of lower than normal precipitation have led to water shortages. Interestingly, even the wettest areas can face water shortages in late summer when water demand is highest, because the majority of the precipitation occurs in the winter months.

While British Columbia is perceived to have an abundance of water, it is not always accessible because of allocation restrictions. Competing uses create high demands, particularly on surface water because the lack of information on groundwater availability often restricts development of potential groundwater sources.

There is a general gap in the information needed to make decisions about water use. These gaps include the quantification of regional water needs on a commodity basis, the availability of groundwater resources, accurate water budgets (i.e. assessing true water availability versus amounts allocated), and limited information on in-stream needs for preservation of aquatic life.

Irrigation is important for the production of several commodities in British Columbia, ranging from forage crops to high value fruit crops. In some regions, where commercial agriculture cannot thrive without irrigation, challenges occur due to seasonal shortages of water.

Water conservation measures are adopted in an inconsistent manner throughout the province. Water storage, improved water conveyance systems, irrigation equipment efficiencies, water metering and irrigation scheduling are all examples of conservation measures that could be implemented more consistently throughout the province.

The main issues, constraints or knowledge gaps identified in the consultative process included:

  • Availability / distribution of water to agriculture;
  • Competition for limited water resources with non-agricultural users;
  • On-farm efficiency (education and resources to improve efficiency);
  • Lack of Information (water needs, water availability, knowledge of sources, etc.);
  • Public awareness of agriculture's water needs and how water can be shared; and,
  • Policy issues related to existing and future allocation of water for agricultural use.


In each region of the province, the availability of long-term water supply is a limiting factor to agricultural expansion. The inherent constraints vary among and within regions, and as such the priorities may differ slightly in each region. In general, recommendations call for:

  • Addressing on-farm water conservation activities;
  • Developing information specific to agricultural water use and availability of water in agricultural areas of the province;
  • Developing on-farm and regional water supply infrastructure, including development of engineering plans; and,
  • Contributing to effective partnerships and resolution of conflicts on water use objectives.

Recommended Program Principles, Elements, or Criteria

The general recommendations include funding and technical assistance for the two broad categories of:

  • Information gathering, technology transfer, feasibility assessment and planning; and,
  • New capital works or improvements to existing water supply infrastructure.

Recommended program elements or criteria include:

  • Flexibility to address regional constraints and issues;
  • Encouragement of on-farm water conservation activities;
  • Filling information gaps on agricultural water use and availability of water in agricultural areas of the province;
  • Development of water supply infrastructure for both on-farm and regional use;
  • Inclusion of agreements with the responsible parties for long-term security of the water supply for infrastructure developments; and,
  • Integration, to the extent possible, of the interests from all parties responsible for water.