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Oliver farmers seek compensation after livelihoods threatened by salmon restoration initiative

The Forbes family has been farming in Oliver, B.C. for nearly half a century—their certified organic produce a staple at the Penticton Farmers Market. But Gordon Forbes said his livelihood was threatened several years ago.

The farmer relies on water from the Okanagan River to grow his crops.

A joint provincial-federal working group tasked with restoring salmon habitat modified an irrigation intake in 2009 that impacted him and one neighbour: during the spring freshet, they could not access and maintain it.

“You’d have to go to the bottom of the river to pull it up and clean it,” Forbes said.

Water supply dwindled as the sediment built up.

Forbes said he lost a third of his farm and it “just basically became a desert again.”

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The hardship went on for years and crippled the family financially.

“To lose a third of your income in one single year and go on for another six years… It was dramatic.”

It also took an emotional toll on the neighbours.

“We lost our fathers during that time and that was heartbreaking, because we couldn’t tell them there was a solution,” Forbes said.

“All they saw was all their hard work over many, many years drying up and dying.”

After years of begging for help, the province finally fixed the problem.

“A new state-of-the-art water intake and pump system was installed on each farm in spring 2016 after agreements were signed,” said a statement from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

Now the battle is on for crop loss compensation.

“The water supply is good again—what we’re looking for is that six years of income we lost.”

The province acknowledged a request was made to the Canadian Okanagan Basin Technical Working Group for compensation and said it has been under review since February.

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