As extreme drought conditions continue to affect river levels in the Thompson Okanagan region, fish population protection orders will protect spawning chinook salmon in the lower Salmon River and Bessette Creek by temporarily restricting water use for forage crops.
The lower Salmon River and Bessette Creek have seen persistent low stream flows that are threatening the survival of chinook populations as they enter their annual migration season. The fish population protection order will help restore water flow levels and protect the salmon run.
Effective Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023, approximately 398 surface and groundwater licence holders in the lower Salmon River and Bessette Creek area must stop using water for forage crops, which include grass for hay, alfalfa and forage corn.
The order does not apply to water diverted and used for non-forage crops, such as market vegetables, livestock watering or domestic purposes. It also does not apply to water users that are supplied by a water utility supported by water storage. The order may be revoked if water flows recover. Irrigation of forage crops is one of the most water-intensive agricultural water uses.
Affected water users will be contacted directly with a copy of the signed order, and affected licence numbers and well tags are identified in the orders.
Affected farmers can access programs, such as the federal-provincial AgriStability program, which helps producers with margin-related income declines. The provincial Ministry of Agriculture and Food, in collaboration with the federal government, is also ensuring that producers who did not enrol in AgriStability by the April 30 deadline are still eligible for late participation and can receive financial assistance. Producers must have declared farm income for tax purposes to be eligible to enrol in AgriStability.
To help farmers and producers access hay and feed, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food is working with the BC Cattlemen’s Association (BCCA) on the new Access to Feed program. Through this program, the BCCA will match B.C. farmers with sellers of hay and feed across Canada and the western United States.
This order falls under the Water Sustainability Act’s purpose of avoiding significant or irreversible harm to aquatic ecosystems. Provincial staff are monitoring the situation and working to balance water uses with environmental flow needs.
Water used to extinguish a fire or contain and control the spread of a fire remains exempt by provisions under the Water Sustainability Act, so these orders will not apply. However, people under an evacuation order due to wildfire must leave the area immediately.
These decisions are always made as a last resort, recognizing the impact on people and businesses. Starting in mid-June, multiple mailouts were sent to all licensed water users requesting reductions of up to 50%. Because of the collective efforts of water licensees in these two areas, the Province has been able to delay these actions until now.
Ministerial orders for water restrictions
Lower Salmon River: https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/mo/mo/m0238_2023
Bessette Creek: https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/mo/mo/m0239_2023
Drought portal (maps, tables): https://governmentofbc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=838d533d8062411c820eef50b08f7ebc
Drought information: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/drought
Insurance and Income Protection Programs for BC farmers: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/agriculture-seafood/programs#Insurance