In 2014-2015, the BC Agriculture and Food Climate Action Initiative launched the Fraser Valley Adaptation Strategies series to evaluate the impact of climate change on agricultural production and develop strategies and actions to enhance the ability to adapt to predicted changes. One of the recommendations was to develop a producer-focused report on agricultural water-use issues, examining future water availability and demand. The Fraser Valley Agricultural Water Supply Assessment project was initiated in response to this call for action, and the BC Agriculture and Food Climate Action Initiative retained Associated to carry out the work.
A growing concern for Fraser Valley producers is the impact of climate change on agricultural water availability. Senior Hydrogeologist, Marta Green, says, “We are already seeing that increasingly warm and dry summers coupled with lengthening growing seasons are increasing irrigation demands and reducing the productivity of unirrigated land.”
These changes place pressure on some agricultural water resources and infrastructure, resulting in concerns about water supply and quality. Adjusting practices at the farm-level isn’t always enough. The water supply project supports producer adaptation by filling existing knowledge gaps, identifying supply sources that are particularly vulnerable to climate impacts, and communicating findings to the agriculture sector.
The project consisted of a high-level assessment of agricultural water supply and management vulnerabilities in relation to future climate conditions to identify gaps, issues of concern, and areas of opportunity within the Fraser Valley. As prime consultant, we collaborated with a project oversight committee comprising participants from the BC Dairy Association, BC Blueberry Council, BC Poultry Association, BC Agriculture and Food Climate Action Initiative, BC Ministry of Agriculture, City of Chilliwack, Regional District of the Fraser Valley, and City of Abbotsford.
Environmental Scientist, Jordyn Carss, tells us, “A major component of the project involved refining and updating existing information to strengthen the resiliency of the Fraser Valley agriculture industry to the changing climate. The project provides a foundation for many adaptation-related actions and future projects.”
We completed a summary of resources, summary of stakeholder consultation, a water supply and demand assessment, a final report identifying key areas of concern, and an action plan with a detailed timeline, responsible organization, and possible partners. A key component of the deliverables was summarizing and simplifying complicated, scientific analyses into content that all stakeholders and members of the public can understand.
Environmental Scientist, Lawrence Bird, says, “The primary findings are that agricultural water demand will increase in the Fraser Valley, and water supply changes will likely occur in some areas. Bringing more land into production and the changing climate will impact water demand more than changing crop types or irrigation type.”
Marta advises, “It may be time for stakeholders to consider various solutions and more focused studies to fill data gaps. Consideration can be given to expanding an agricultural-specific, surface water system that is supplied by the Fraser River. Other options are completing publicly-available Environmental Flow Needs and hydraulic connection studies so there is more information to make decisions when granting new groundwater-use licenses in some of the main aquifers currently mapped as being hydraulically connected to streams with documented restrictions. Collectively, stakeholders can promote existing programs."
"They can enhance communication between water users in the focus areas of irrigation efficiency, regulatory changes, and ways the various groups can work together to solve common problems and address water supply challenges.”