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Coast food farms receive Stage 4 water restriction exemption to 2028

Commercial food-growing farms in the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) will be exempt from Stage 4 water restrictions into 2028 –– or until agricultural water and land use policies are developed and adopted.
Food-producing farmers on the Sunshine Coast have been advocating for exemptions from Stage 4 restrictions. Pictured, Mel Sylvestre of Grounded Acres Organic Farm in 2022. She installed water tanks right after taking on the Elphinstone farm. They hold about 9,000 gallons and are an emergency, not long-term, solution.

Commercial food-growing farms in the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) will be exempt from Stage 4 water restrictions into 2028 –– or until agricultural water and land use policies are developed and adopted.

The board approval for that came following a lengthy discussion at a Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) Committee of the Whole meeting held June 13. (The board meeting to confirm the resolution was held that afternoon). 

The board had asked for more information on the actual consumption of Sunshine Coast farms, Remko Rosenboom, GM of Infrastructure Services for the SCRD reminded directors. The issue is there's no way for staff to differentiate between food-growing farms and farms used for other agricultural purposes, such as tree or flower production. He noted there are many farms used for multiple purposes but with the way the bylaw is written, all Class 9 farms under BC Assessment meet the exemption for Stage 4 water restrictions. 

“So, from that perspective, if the board is considering an extended exemption, it would need to be in line with our bylaw," said Rosenboom.

Halfmoon Bay area director Justine Gabias pointed out the spirit of the exemption is for commercial food-growing farms, rather than all Class 9 farms. “I know we do not have the tools right now to make that distinction but I think it's important to point it out,” Gabias told the board.

Concerns raised by Sechelt area director Alton Toth at the April 25 Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) board meeting halted talk of extending Stage 4 water use exemptions for food-growing farms to 2028. In 2023, the board approved such an exemption for two years.

At the time, Toth said he was opposed to the extension because, while the current number and size of food-growing operations on the Coast is small, introducing extended water use exemptions could have unintended consequences. As the result of Toth’s concern, the decision was put on hold for a month.

“We may not have large [farm] operations now but what might we be inviting to the community that we may not know about?” Toth asked at the time.

There are 46 commercial farms in the SCRD, 36 of which were metered in 2023, said a staff report for the June 13 meeting. xwesam/Roberts Creek area director Kelly Backs commented, “I'm interested to see that when they extrapolate the increase in farms, which some people have said, ‘Oh, well, if we give them water, then we're going to encourage more farming,’ as if that was a bad thing.

“I see our food security issue as a more important part of this question," said Backs. He pointed to the need to encourage food security through the policy, "So I was really hoping that there's some way that we can separate the flower growers from the potato growers.”

Backs added it would be to everyone's advantage to know the water the SCRD is supplying is going to people who are producing food for the community.

“I think it's important that we that we look into that and support our food growing farms," he said.

Prior to the motion being passed, Toth reiterated his concerns regarding the extension. He also suggested farmers apply for water licences now in order to drill wells on their properties.

Toth said that the extension is "a bit of a band-aid solution but it's also a necessary one to give the farmers a sense of security."

“Now we're talking about three dozen people, three dozen properties, and I think that given that size, it would be quite an easy thing for the board, through staff, to notify them as to the implications of the decisions that we're making and to recommend strongly that they get in the queue for a water licence for drilling on their property.”

Toth added in this case, the decision on the extension will allow farmers time to get a licence and have a well drilled. “And I think they should be encouraged and aided as much as we possibly can to take that route to get themselves off of the Chapman system.

"I think that the time for that to happen is now and because of that, I am in support of this motion.”