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The Water Challenge by Inside View: January 2016

What’re We to Do With Water Challenge

December 9, 2015  By Gary Jones

January 2016 — Well, well, well.

This time last year, I was writing about water use, drought and the price of water and it was ironic that it was pouring “cats and dogs” here in Vancouver.

Twelve months on and nothing has changed. It’s still pouring down. Or rather, “it’s raining again,” as the old Supertramp song goes.


We had a respite over the summer. Such a respite in fact that Metro Vancouver went to Level 3 water restrictions – pretty unusual. It came perilously close to Level 4. Much of the usually (over-)pampered lawns in the region went beyond brown and some actually died. And the close call of us not having plants for the start of fall classes has elevated the request for money for a well on campus with this year’s budget talks at KPU.

There is no news in saying that water is becoming an increasingly contentious issue. But the issue is finally becoming relevant in updated legislation. In British Columbia, a new “Water Sustainability Act” received royal consent in May 2014 and comes into force in early 2016. (For more information, go to:

This new piece of legislation replaces the previous 100-year-old laws that have become outdated in meeting today’s needs. The
over-arching Act is complex and requires a raft of regulations and policies to make it work. The review of water pricing has already caused a bit of a stir. The government says that B.C. will still have one of the lowest costs of groundwater use in the country. The highest price (depending on type of use) will be $2.25/1,000 cubic metres. This (apparently) compares with up to $70 in Quebec, and $140 in Nova Scotia for some purposes. The issue for some people is that the $2.25 price is the industrial rate, and this includes commercial bottling.

Is it right that a company can extract water from the ground for bottling while selling at a bottled drinking water price? Any price increase of this magnitude is hardly going to affect their profits or encourage conservation. Unfortunately, the discussion around that is tied into the NAFTA legislation and the conversation about who owns water, and whether it is a commodity or not.

So, that’s how the bottling industry is treated.

What about horticulture? Of course, it’s a different story. It is rumoured that there’s impending legislation to restrict irrigation of greenhouse food crops to city water only on the basis of food safety issues. If correct, that just seems to be nuts. How severe is the risk from eating hydroponic greenhouse peppers (for example) irrigated with non-city (but “clean”) water?

And where is the incentive for a grower to collect and store rainwater and so alleviate the pressure on already strained city water supplies? Is this a case of different government bodies working towards conflicting goals and not talking to each other? Guess we’ll see how this one pans out.

Amidst all this, it is somewhat ironic that in my experience many plants are actually over-watered rather than under-watered. Dry plants show it pretty quickly. Wet plants a little longer. So, what are the “hidden” costs of overwatering?

  • Dead plants…due to poor root aeration and disease.
  • Maybe the need to apply fungicides (cost of product and time).
  • Waste fertilizer (if using fertigation or foliar feeds that are often used to give a “quick fix”)!
  • Cost of culling dead or poor quality plants.
  • Costs of operating irrigation equipment (even a watering can takes time).
  • Cost of water itself, especially city water.
  • Wasted water and increased waste management.
  • Potentially not being able to fulfil a customer order.

Water availability and use is, and always will be, a vitally important area of resource management for growers. It affects so many outcomes of the business. But these days it is becoming increasingly affected by rules and regulations largely beyond grower control. This makes it especially important to be able to manage those aspects that are within your control.

Gary Jones is co-chair of horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langley, B.C. He serves on several industry committees and welcomes comments at

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