The tools are available; it’s now up to civic government to make use of them by managing irrigation differently, according to Ted Van der Gulik, senior engineer in sustainable agriculture management with the provincial agriculture ministry.
For instance, now that there are certification programs for irrigation designers and technicians, local government should be encouraging the use of only those who are certified to install and maintain irrigation systems.
That would help to ensure systems are installed and set up to be efficient and conserve water.
There are also courses on irrigation scheduling and on auditing irrigation scheduling and there’s an online irrigation scheduling calculator available.
Van der Gulik is vice-chairman of the Okanagan Water Stewardship Council, and was reporting to council members at their November meeting.
Above all, he pointed out that soil is the critical thing. For example, with adequate topsoil under lawns, in Vancouver there wouldn’t be any need all year to irrigate.
However, frequently only a couple of inches of topsoil are put down before lawn seed is spread or turf put down in a landscape.
In the Okanagan, 85 per cent of the water goes to irrigation, so it’s really important to manage it well, he said.
“How we develop the land determines how we use the land: how much water runs off it and how much water is used on it, for instance with turf,” he explained.
In the 1950s, 32 per cent of the land was hard surfaces, but today 49 per cent is, so we’re turning more soft land into hard surfaces, where water will run off instead of soaking in.
“That’s important in water management,” he noted.
There’s now an Okanagan Irrigation Management tool that allows farmers to go online to compare and analyze consumption and anticipate demand, based on a link to Environment Canada’s weather information.
However, because this was not a dry year in the valley, it hasn’t seen a lot of use this year, because water shortages were far from people’s minds.
The Glenmore-Ellison Irrigation District, Vernon Water District and Summerland are using the new tool, which is available online.