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Sunshine Coast commercial farm food crops exempt from Stage 4 water use bans for two years

'The amount of water is small and the contribution of the farms to our community is large,' McMahon said in support of the motion.
Mel Sylvestre of Grounded Acres Organic Farm installed water tanks right after taking on her Elphinstone farm. They hold about 9,000 gallons and are an emergency, not long-term, solution. On Sept. 14, the SCRD passed a motion allowing commercial farms to use Chapman water system water for food crops during Stage 4 for the next two years.

Full exemption from Stage 4 outdoor water use bans for food crops grown on commercial farms this year and next was endorsed by the Sunshine Coast Regional District Board (SCRD) at its Sept. 14 meeting.

Stage 4 has been in place for the SCRD’s Chapman Water System since Sept. 8. Under the local government’s general water restriction provisions, those crops had a two-week exemption period and would have been subject to the ban as of Sept. 22.

The motion, which passed unopposed, was introduced by Halfmoon Bay Area director Justine Gabias and seconded by Elphinstone Area director Donna McMahon.

Impacts on other water users

In discussion, several board members asked staff what the impact of allowing such extended outdoor water use would be. Chief administrative officer Dean McKinley explained that water consumption on commercial farms specific to food crops was not something the regional district “managed or measured." In what they called “an educated guess," staff noted that based on average class 9 property water consumption data from the month of August, providing the exemption until Oct. 22 of this year would equal “one to one and a half days of community water supply” or about three per cent of the daily total consumption of the Chapman system. Unknowns related to how much water is being used for food crops and the weather picture moving forward meant that was a rough and “on the high end” estimate according to staff. They said that projections of impacts for any potential situation in 2024 could not be brought forward. A reminder to the board from staff that “Stage 4 is a time to conserve water for essential needs” was provided.

Small water amount: large community benefit

“The amount of water is small and the contribution of the farms to our community is large," McMahon said in support of the motion. She estimated fewer than six properties would benefit from the change. Given that crops are nearing harvest points and require less intensive irrigation during fall conditions she said she anticipated minimal impacts on the water supply.   

Noting that the SCRD has the authority to “temporarily prohibit the use of water for high volume commercial purposes should an emergency impact its ability to supply treated drinking water for essential uses," Sechelt director Alton Toth also spoke in support.

Roberts Creek area director Kelly Backs commented that the exemption was “a small price to pay for the security of farms at a critical time for these enterprises."

A letter in support of the motion was also sent to the board by the Sunshine Coast Farmers Institute.

In her motion, Gabias stated the two year grace period from Stage 4 outdoor water use bans was a temporary measure until  “a more permanent solution for commercial farm water use is developed” by the regional district.