By Lyonel Doherty
The Town of Oliver will receive $5 million from the BC government to reroute the irrigation canal around Gallagher Lake.
The announcement was made by an emotional MLA Linda Larson on the steps of Town Hall this morning.
Her voice broke when she said the Liberals were committing $5 million towards the $10-million project. The one condition is the Town must find the remaining $5 million, she noted.
Larson said she was confident that the Town will be able to partner with the federal government in raising the rest of the funds.
The MLA said the project represents a long-term solution to the damage caused to the canal by a rockslide in January of 2016.
The canal will be rerouted along Highway 97 south and re-connected to the siphon upstream of Gallagher Lake.
Before the project begins, there must be an environmental impact study and an archeological review.
Area C director Terry Schafer expressed his gratitude for the funding, saying the rockslide was the “worst damage” to the South Okanagan’s most valuable agricultural asset.
Schafer noted it was the provincial government that funded the canal’s construction 90 years ago. He added it was the spark that ignited the subsequent economy in Oliver and Osoyoos.
Mayor Ron Hovanes said the key to everyone’s success is the uninterrupted supply of water for agriculture.
He admitted that if the Town had to pay $10 million for the reroute project, it would “cripple our tax base.”
Hovanes said Larson worked non-stop to ensure the Town received this funding.
Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie said the irrigation reroute protects thousands of existing jobs.
Local fruit grower Joe Machial said the funding is wonderful news. The farmer admitted that he was worried for the local agricultural industry when the canal was damaged.
“We could have been in a dire situation.”
Machial said he’s hoping the federal government will assist in raising the rest of the money.
Local orchardist Talwinder Bassi also said the funding announcement is great news.
“We need the upgrade.”
Bassi noted that growers have already suffered, and the canal damage could have significantly affected the future of agriculture in Oliver.