Irrigation could dry up for dozens of Westsyde farms, including Privato Vineyard and Winery, as the city reviews sustainability of the aging Noble Creek water system.
KTW has learned the city recently sent letters to 36 property owners serviced by the system, from south of Dairy Road to the northern reaches of city limits.
Residents and city staff will meet this Thursday on McArthur Island before the issue goes back to council in the new year.
City civic operations director Jen Fretz said the system, which is about 50 years old, requires significant upgrades and runs at a loss every year.
Winter stock water for livestock to about five farms will be shut off in September 2019, with the fate of seasonal irrigation for all of the 36 properties yet to be decided — but possibly facing a similar fate.
“The utility needs to pay for the utility, which is where it gets complicated,” Fretz said. “If the utility were to be upgraded and made sustainable, is it affordable? That’s what we don’t know. I’m guessing not.”
Kamloops council directed staff during closed-door meetings to first try to transfer the water system to its users; second, try to sell the system; or, finally, stop using the system and decommission it.
Infrastructure upgrade costs and the city’s losses on the water system remain unclear. The taps remain on for now, but Fretz said: “We have not been given direction to keep it running.”
Without the city water source, farmers could be forced to invest in their own systems and, for some, costs could be prohibitive to the point of closure.
Kamloops Coun. Dieter Dudy is among impacted farmers. He told KTW he recused himself from two city meetings on the issue, due to a conflict of interest.
He will not vote on future decisions made in relation to the Noble Creek water system.
Speaking as a farmer, Duty said he knew the utility needed work, but proposed a user rate increase for the farmers and shared agreement with the city to replace the infrastructure.
“Much the same as, say, if there was a street within town that wanted a sidewalk onto their street,” he said.
“They would get into a shared agreement with the city, where they pay for a portion of it and the city pays for the rest.”
Should irrigation be decommissioned and a well be required at Thistle Farm — the 10-acre organic produce farm owned by Dudy and wife Deb Kellogg for more than two decades — Dudy said it would cost between $20,000 and $40,000.
Fretz said the city’s metered potable water, which also extends to the Westsyde properties, could not sustain the farms’ irrigation needs. Dudy also said that would be pricey.
“If the irrigation [Noble Creek water system] were to shut down, I would be presented with a real problem,” Dudy said.
Hay farmers are particularly concerned as they have properties up to 100 acres in size.
One farmer, Dudy said, recently purchased a $200,000 piece of equipment to reduce irrigation. He said that farmer foresees up to $250,000 in additional costs should independent pumping from the North Thompson River be required.
Another concern is the impact on property values.
“There’s one individual who will probably say, ‘Forget it. I’m not doing it. It makes no sense,’” Dudy said. “Privato is another one that uses a fair amount of water … those are people that are going to be concerned about their system.”
Privato is a flagship vineyard on the burgeoning Kamloops Wine Trail. It is also home to Woodward Christmas Tree Farm. KTW did not hear back from the owners by press deadline.
Dudy said farm closures would come at a loss to the city’s economy.
“This is a cost that many people in the city would say, ‘Why do we have to be burdened with this?’” Dudy said.
“But bear in mind that agriculture is a contributor. It’s an economic driver and we have an agriculture area plan that states they want to support agriculture.”
Fretz said the publicly subsidized water system is unique to Westsyde farms.
The system, which includes an intake in the North Thompson River, pumps, a settling tank and underground piping, was built by B.C. Fruitlands in the late 1960s.
Fretz said it was taken on by the city as a result of the 1967 amalgamation, by order of the province.
Other farmers in Kamloops do not benefit from such a system and TNRD residents who live just beyond city limits in Black Pines irrigate via wells.
Further complicating the issue, Fretz said, is that increasingly low winter water levels are making it difficult to provide stock water.
The city also believes additional users are accessing water without paying.
To that, Dudy suggested an audit. Thursday’s meeting will gather feedback from farmers, which will go back to council in the new year.