When the earth moves, it can have a large financial impact.
That’s what happened in January of 2016, when a rockslide heavily damaged the main two-metre-diametre irrigation water pipe that serves farms, vineyards and orchards in the Oliver area, where there is a desert-like climate.
“There was a real sense of panic and urgency,” Ron Hovanes, mayor of Oliver in 2016, said after the slide.
Irrigation helps the South Okanagan agriculture community produce $130 million in goods annually, according to the B.C. Agriculture Ministry.
Without water, all of it could have dried up.
A temporary fix was made, costing nearly $2 million.
Water flowed, but with reduced capacity and was vulnerable during the dry season, according to the province.
“The new pipes will deliver more than water to the farms, orchards and vineyards in the area,” said Lana Popham, minister of agriculture, ffod and Fisheries. “They will also bring the peace of mind a reliable irrigation system provides growers and their families.”
The $11-million system includes a $5-million contribution from the B.C. government to reroute the town’s agricultural irrigation system around Gallagher Lake along Highway 97.
“The canal pipeline has served a critical role in delivering irrigation water to over 5,000 acres of farmland in Oliver, surrounding Area C (rural Oliver), and the Osoyoos Indian Band lands for 100 years,” Mayor Martin Johansen said.
Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie expressed gratitude for the secure source as they are one of the largest water users within the system.
“The solid irrigation ditch goes through the north end of the Osoyoos Indian Reserve and is a very important source of water to Nk’Mip (Inkameep) vineyards,” Louie said.
The Town of Oliver had to raise the remaining project funds, consult with stakeholders and complete an environmental impact assessment and archeological review in order to secure provincial funding.
There are approximately 1,300 farms and 10,000 hectares of irrigated land in the Regional District of the Okanagan Similkameen, where Oliver is located, according to the Agriculture Ministry.
Work on the new system is expected to be complete in April of 2022 and progress can be tracked on Oliver’s website.