Fruit growers fuming after Summerland shuts off irrigation amid historic heat wave

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Orchardists in Summerland, B.C., are upset that the municipal water utility quietly shut off irrigation lines early Monday amid B.C.’s unprecedented and historic heat wave.

Joel Carter of Laughing Coyote Orchards Ltd., which grows apples and cherries, said a family member discovered two “blue boxes” were shut off overnight, cutting off a crucial water supply to his crops at peak season just before harvest.

“They just shut our water off on the hottest day in a thousand years,” he told Global News.

‘If I didn’t catch it within six hours, it probably would have cost me a few thousand dollars minimum,” Carter said.

“It is definitely going to stress the trees a lot. That would have been really nice to have a nice saturated soil profile for those trees so they could be drawing water in that heat.”

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Carter said the biggest frustration was the lack of communication from the District of Summerland.

“They need to communicate, they need to call people,” he said.

Apple and cherry farmer Joel Carter is upset with the District of Summerland for temporarily shutting off his irrigation during B.C.’s heat wave. Submitted

Kris Johnson, director of works and infrastructure with the District of Summerland, said an urgent situation suddenly emerged Sunday night at the water treatment plant.

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“We made the decision to shut off 10-15 of the high water users within the district in order to immediately reduce the demand on the water treatment plant in order for us to deal with some issues we were having with two water pumps,” Johnson told Global News.

“If we wouldn’t have immediately took measures to reduce the flows, the water treatment plant treated-water storage would have been drained completely. The district would have either been out of water or we would have had to open our supplemental line, which contributes untreated but chlorinated water into the system to ensure residents still have water, but it would have required us to go on a boil-water notice.”

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Carter said the district should have prioritized annual crops that aren’t as sensitive to a temporary period without water.

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“If you kill an apple tree, I’m out 15 years of production, I’ve spent $25,000 an acre planting that. If you kill my trees, not only have I wasted years and years to grow them back, but all that money I’ve sunk into them as well,” he said.

“There are some things we can do to cut back, but apples and cherries — this is the time of year where it’s most important to be hitting them with water because we are getting close to harvest.”

Johnson said the agricultural irrigation lines were switched back on between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., Monday morning.

On Monday, the district announced it was entering Stage 2 water restrictions due to the extreme heat and the demands on the Summerland water treatment plant.

Even addresses can only water between the times of midnight – 6 a.m. on Sunday and Thursday. Odd addresses can only water between the times of midnight – 6 a.m. on Saturday and Tuesday.

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“Any agricultural irrigator is asked to do what they can to reduce their consumption by 30 per cent,” Johnson said of the voluntary request.

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“If water consumption is not reduced immediately, the Summerland Water System will be on a Districtwide Boil Water Notice,” the public notice states.

“To avoid Water Treatment Plant shutdown, the District may have to reduce demand by temporarily shutting off some irrigation services.”

Learn more about Summerland’s water restrictions on the district’s website.

Summerland is a municipality in the Okanagan currently under Environment Canada’s heat warning due to historically hot temperatures surpassing 40 degrees Celsius in some areas.

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