The Town of Oliver is lobbying for funds to fix part of an irrigation system damaged by a rock slide last year that would have a huge impact on farmers and the entire region. File photo

Town of Oliver lobbying for crucial irrigation fix

The Town of Oliver could face irrigation challenges if they don’t secure the $10.4 million needed.

The Town of Oliver is lobbying for funds to fix part of an irrigation system damaged by a rock slide last year.

The town explored the options and Mayor Ron Hovanes said $10.4 million is needed for a permanent fix.

It’s an irrigation system with a large impact not only for Oliver farmers, but the entire region.

“This is a bit of a crisis. If we were to lose that canal, the damage would be catastrophic. If we lost rootstock for the vines and for all the trees that are out there, it would be huge,” Hovanes said.

The funds to fix the canal are a tall order for the small, South Okanagan town.

Over 400 farmers could be affected along with those in the vineyard industry.

The province stepped in last year, with Christy Clark stopping in Oliver in March, 2016 to announce financial help after the initial damage, chipping in $525,000.

“We didn’t touch their money yet, we’re asking if we can still hang onto it towards a permanent fix,” Hovanes said.

Last year the town paid around $300,000 and the canal was fixed in a temporary fashion.

The six-foot diametre pipe was compromised in early 2016 and replaced by a four-foot diametre sleeve.

“It got us through last year. It’s going to have to get us through this year,” Hovanes said. “It looks like we’re going to be good to go. If we have a hot summer we might be in trouble.”

A hot summer may lead to water management restrictions, with an odd/even day schedule as a possible outcome.

The option chosen for a permanent fix was to circumnavigate Gallagher Lake and the rock bluff by having the system on the East side of Highway 97, going back through OIB lands joining up with the canal on the other side of Gallagher Lake.

There are grants available for domestic water and waste water, but Hovanes said there are fewer options when it comes to agricultural capital improvements.

“We’re lobbying both the provincial government and the federal government,” Hovanes said.

MLA Linda Larson is currently working to set up a meeting with the agriculture, treasury, community and highway and infrastructure ministries.

“$10.4 million is really daunting. The Town of Oliver, we’re prepared to contribute what we can. We always have done that in the past,” Hovanes said.

The irrigation system also affects wineries, which in turn affects tourism, Hovanes noted.

“It’s a big deal. I’m very optimistic. I’m getting nothing but support from the people I talk to. We have to identify a funding source, and we’re not the only people out there looking for grant money for different projects,” he said.

At the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen meeting on Feb. 16, the RDOS approved a letter of support and the town is asking the Osoyoos Indian Band as well as the Agricultural Land Commission for similar letters. The B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA) are throwing their support behind the town’s efforts.

President of the BCFGA Fred Steele said there is a letter of support coming from the association.

“It has a considerable affect. We’re not only concerned about the fruit growers. The whole community is impacted when you have a situation on that scale,” Steele said. “To me this is a community issue and I think we have a number of members in that community and they certainly deserve our support, not just the growers, but the community at large.”

The tree fruit industry in the entire Okanagan has a $552 million economic impact.

“A good portion of that is in the south. It doesn’t just impact the community, it impacts the whole valley,” Steele said. “We have to look at it from that prospect.”

Hovanes said there are further efforts to put forward a motion at the Southern Interior Local Government Association convention in Sun Peaks, bringing forward a resolution which can be put forward to the Union of B.C. Municipalities for further lobbying efforts towards the province for agricultural capital works to support farming.

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