As extreme drought conditions continue to adversely affect river levels on Vancouver Island, a fish-population protection order will protect salmon and trout in the Tsolum River, temporarily restricting water use for industry and forage crops.
The Tsolum River has seen persistent low stream flows that are threatening the survival of salmon and trout. The fish-population protection order will help restore water flow levels and protect these fish species.
Effective Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023, approximately 45 surface and groundwater licence holders in the Tsolum River watershed must stop using water for forage crops, which include grass for hay, alfalfa and forage corn. Water use for industrial purposes, as outlined in the protection order, must also cease.
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 supported by off-stream water storage.
Irrigation of forage crops is one of the most water-intensive agricultural water uses.
The order may be revoked if water flows recover.
Affected water users will be contacted directly with a copy of the signed order, and affected licence numbers and transitioning groundwater-use application numbers are identified in the orders.
Affected farmers can access programs like the federal-provincial AgriStability program, which helps producers with drought-related margin declines. The 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 is matching B.C. farmers with sellers of hay and feed domestically 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 to water that is used to control the spread of wildfires. 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.
Mailouts to water users requesting voluntary reductions were sent on June 20, 2023, and July 17, 2023. A public information meeting attended by local agricultural producers was held on July 27, 2023.
Because of the collective efforts of water licensees in the area, the Province has been able to delay these actions until now.
Ministerial Order for Water Restrictions in the Tsolum River:
Drought portal (maps, tables):
Insurance and Income Protection Programs for B.C. farmers: