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Farmers not backing down on Kamloops irrigation shutdown


Westsyde Kamloops farmers were told their city-run irrigation would be shut off by the end of this season, leaving their crops to dry over the next season or forcing exorbitant costs upon them.

That deadline has moved up significantly.

Despite plans to use tax funds and keep the system running for a few more years, city councillors voted to shut it down this September in a closed meeting earlier this year.

Farmers, however, aren't ready to accept that decision.

"It was a knee-jerk reaction decision to decommission it without engaging and without looking at what options exist out there," Adam Woodward, one of 47 irrigation users in the area, said.

Woodward, part owner of Woodward Cider Company and Privato Winery, said the family business is looking at other options, like using the city's potable water, but that could drive up costs by five times.

"We would do the bare minimum to keep our crops alive," Woodward said.

The Woodwards originally ran a Christmas tree farm on their 80-acre property in the Westsyde area. In 2010, they started Privato Winery and later expanded to include orchards for the cidery. The vineyards and orchards are watered with overhead irrigation, along with the remaining 50 acres of hay.

Woodward said they would run drip hoses of potable water, but let the hay grow as a dry crop, likely reducing their annual yield to 20 per cent.

"It's tough because it's our livelihood... A lot of the time we don't understand what the city's up against," he said. "When we're not brought to the table to hear the struggle they have, that's when we get more emotional or upset."

In 2022, the City decided to keep the irrigation system running until 2028 to give farmers and the local government more time to find a long term decision. Council set aside $1.7 million for erosion protection near the Noble Creek Irrigation System at the time. Woodward said that came after two years of meetings between farmers and the City to make long term plans for the area.

Then, during the spring freshet this year, the City announced a state of emergency as erosion threatened the irrigation's intake. Although they did emergency stabilization to temporarily protect the system, council held a closed meeting in response and voted to shut the system down in September, leaving farmers out to dry for 2024.

For Woodward, that affects crops for more than just one season.

"It takes four years to mature a vineyard to produce," he said. "If we lose this year, we've lost for four years."

Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson isn't ready to let the issue die either. He said he's met with both federal and provincial ministers to find solutions for Westsyde farmers. Not only does it affect local food growers, but he said he's especially concerned for landowners that do not have direct access to the river, who would be on the forefront of any wildfires that could spark in that area.

He also said he wants to "save the asset" rather simply getting rid of the irrigation system.

The City planned to decommission the irrigation system for around $450,000, but staff now say it will cost "substantially higher," due to both inflation and the increased erosion along the river bank, according to a staff report.

Noble Creek Irrigation users created a non-profit society earlier this month to push for a renewed offer to keep water coming to their land.

For now, the money previously earmarked to keep the system running will be at least partly used to payout users in the wake of an irrigation shutdown. Those nearest to the North Thompson River can apply to the province and each set up their own irrigation intake -- a process Woodward said would take at least a year.

City staff are now providing council with more options, that could include a complete takeover of the irrigation system by farmers in the area.

It's not clear what will happen for Noble Creek area farmers, despite what seemed like a final vote by council in the May closed meeting.

Woodward said he's noticed Hamer-Jackson's efforts to somehow keep the irrigation system running. While it seems the mayor could help keep a decision for the Noble Creek Irrigation System on the table, he was cautiously hopeful.

"With the dynamic right now between the mayor and council, it's tough because it seems like anything he's wanting just gets completely opposed by all of council... I just hope they're making decisions for what's best for the community," Woodward said. "I hope with his affairs between council and city staff — I hope the farmers don't suffer from that."

Kamloops City council is scheduled for a meeting today, Aug. 15, in which they will discuss a plea from farmers to keep the system running one more year and a staff report about future options for the system.

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