Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File photo)

Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File photo)

Sorting out the actual science behind policy

David Zirnhelt’s column to the Free Press

There is, or soon will be, a video put out on behalf of the Westwold hay ranchers which shows enforcement or attempts at enforcement of orders from government for producers to stop using irrigation water, ostensibly to provide water for spawning salmon in the Salmon River.

The farmers argue that they are not getting the justification for the decision. They are seeking evidence that the 200-foot deep aquifer from which they draw their water, affects the level of the river. They produce hay for Lower Mainland dairies for milk cows.

In the long lead-up to the previous government’s enactment of the Water Sustainability Act, which includes provisions for the licensing of groundwater for industrial use (including Agricultural users), there apparently was a lot of research or studies on the main aquifers in BC.

Baseline information is always a good place to start building a new policy.

We see from the cross-border contamination of water on the US side in Washington State, that much needs to be done to protect water quality.

The current government now has the responsibility to implement the new legislation. Perhaps there should be a sharing of the baseline information with the water stakeholders on the regions where there are enforcement activities underway.

Who can develop and analyze the findings of the background studies on watersheds, including especially ground watersheds and aquifers? It will be government, large corporations with an interest in water use, or larger farming (producer) organizations and well-funded environmental organizations with an interest in water.

In the case of agricultural use of groundwater, larger organizations need to partner with universities and others to see that the science behind these policy initiatives is sound and gets buy-in for those affected by actions such as there has been, Westwold being a current focal point in the dry Interior.

Individual operations need to be willing to contribute to the analyses taking place. We can’t be reduced to legal fights where only lawyers win (although legal advice and opinions might be valuable in any negotiations about planned enforcement actions). Win-win ought to be the objective, especially where users have sought to comply with registration and licensing.

Policies need to be seen as fair for there to be legitimacy or acceptance by the public.

We can’t have any one party or stakeholder trumping others.


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