Local ranchers surprised by water reduction advisory

By Chad Klassen
August 19, 2016 - 3:48pm Updated: August 19, 2016 - 5:25pm

KAMLOOPS — The B.C. government is urging people in the Nicola Valley to cut down on their water consumption by 30% immediately. According to the province, despite record rainfalls this summer in the region, there are lows flows in the Coldwater River and it's nearing Level 4, or "extreme dry" drought conditions.

But local rancher Erika Strande-Stewart says levels along the Coldwater River, right next to their property in the Nicola Valley, are a little down for this time of year but around average.

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"I would say it's a pretty normal year," says Strande-Stewart. "My family's ranched at this spot for 54 years."

So when the province notified her the Coldwater was nearing Level 4 drought conditions, she was shocked. 

Strande-Stewart feels the province is working off the framework of last year's dry spell when the ranch couldn't pump water for almost two weeks.

"This year, it is very interesting. It feels like there's been a precedent set. They shut us off, they can do it again," says Strande-Stewart. "There's been 250% higher rainfall than normal in July, and we've seen that. It's been really hard to make hay because it's been so wet. So then to have that much rainfall and be shut off, it makes the situation a little questionable."    

Meantime, the City of Merritt and residents there are also being encouraged to reduce their consumtpion by 30%, meaning some local parks may not be watered for the next little while. 

"We would look at it park by park. We have a park that's a lawn bowling area, worth about $100,000, so we wouldn't want to lose that because that would be a disaster financially," says City of Merritt Chief Administrative Officer Shawn Boven. "But losing the turf in some of the parks at this time of year is okay, because it will come back." 

As seasoned ranchers, Strande-Stewart and her husband understand the value of conservation. She would like to see the province pitch in and help ranchers collect and store some of the spring runoff. 

"The Minister of Agriculture was actually out here talking about a sustainable solution for water storage. We see the water rip by us in April, especially with those early runoffs with how hot it was this year, and then essentially we're wasting that water, when at times like this we need it."  

This summer, with the record rainfall, the Pine Ranch has actually voluntarily shut off the water half a dozen times. So with this recent notification, they feel targeted as ranchers.

"It feels like it's been finger-pointing," says Strande-Stewart. "When we got the call, they said the water dropped a bunch and it was probably because of all you ranchers turning your irrigation on at the same time, which isn't the truth. That's not how we do it." 

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