Speech - Gallagher Lake (Oliver) Irrigration System
December 4th, 2018 - 10:02am
Late Show Speech – Gallagher Lake
Video Link: https://youtu.be/qdBhXKxFXI0
2018-12-03 19:32 [p.24395]
Mr. Speaker, the south Okanagan Valley is one of the richest agricultural regions in Canada. It grows the best apricots, the best peaches, the best cherries, the best grapes in the country and makes the best wine in the country. However, all those orchards and vineyards would wither and die without water.
The south Okanagan receives only 30 centimeters of rain per year, 12 inches, and that is in a good year. Summers are long and hot and they are getting longer and hotter.
Irrigation is the lifeblood of the Okanagan economy. Not only does it keep the agricultural sector alive, but increasingly supports a thriving agri-tourism industry centered on the many wineries in the valley, an economy worth billions of dollars annually, dollars and jobs that would literally dry up if we did not add water to the mix.
That harsh reality was recognized when the valley was first developed for agriculture in the early 1900s. After the First World War, a soldier settlement was developed in the area around Oliver. An irrigation canal was constructed in 1918 that took water from the Okanagan River south of Vaseux Lake and carried it south for 20 kilometers on both sides of the river. For those good at math, they will realize that canal is 100 years old this year.
The Oliver irrigation system now delivers water to over 600 connections and irrigates 5,200 acres of farmland. While the canal is owned and operated by the Town of Oliver, it serves rural areas in the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen and vineyards on the Osoyoos Indian reserve.
The canal was operated by the province of B.C. until 1989, when ownership and responsibility for its operation was transferred to the Town of Oliver.
In the 1990s, a significant upgrade on the canal was carried out, the $5-million price tag paid for through joint funding from the municipal, federal and provincial governments. For many years, the canal provided water for both irrigation and domestic drinking water supply, but health concerns spurred a recent twinning of the supply that put domestic supplies underground and separate from the irrigations. That was finished in 2014.
All was well until 2016, when a significant rockfall occurred where the canal skirts the east side of Gallagher Lake below an enormous rock bluff. This bluff is hundreds of metres high, making it completely impractical to secure its face and stop future rockfalls. The rockfall destroyed a section of the canal. Luckily, it occurred in mid-winter when crops were not being irrigated, giving local governments the opportunity to make a quick fix before the irrigation season began in April. That quick fix is still in place, a temporary fix that could be destroyed in an instant if a new rockfall occurs.
Oliver conducted an engineering study that recommended a new route for the canal, sending it around the west side of Gallagher Lake underground. That would take away any future disruptions from rockfall.
The estimated cost of this project is $10 million. The Liberal provincial government of the day promised to provide half of that amount, and the commitment has been affirmed by the present NDP provincial government. The Town of Oliver has asked the federal government to match that amount, but has yet to receive a positive message of support. It has been two and a half years. It seems this project falls through many cracks in the government's infrastructure spending processes.
If the canal carried drinking water, it would have received funding long ago. Too bad Oliver spent all that money in 2014 to separate the systems. It is too small for support under the disaster mitigation and adaptation fund, which has a minimum $20-million project cost. It is too big for the western development fund that has a $5-million maximum. The big agriculture funding is for innovation, not for infrastructure.
Could I get assurances here and now that the government will find funding to help fix this critical infrastructure?