Editorial: Farmers deserving of compensation

Editorial: Farmers deserving of compensation

Right-to-farm legislation didn’t help organic farmer Gordon Forbes nine years ago when he and a neighbouring farm lost money due to inadequate water supply as a result of Okanagan River restoration work. The farmers on Meadows Drive are now seeking compensation for their losses. (Lyonel Doherty photo)

By Lyonel Doherty

Oliver Chronicle

The right-to-farm act in B.C. is a powerful piece of legislation, which is why the Forbes/Dias dispute in Oliver is so perplexing.

If a farmer is driving you bonkers with bird bangers and wind machines, there’s not much you can do about it. His right to farm is protected and you’ll have to live with the noise.

But restoring a river channel to benefit salmon habitat appears to be the exception.

Not to say the Okanagan River Restoration Initiative (ORRI) was a bad thing; it was a necessary project. But nine years ago it trumped farmers’ rights on Meadows Drive by negatively impacting their water supply.

Water engineers moved the farmers’ intake pipe to the bottom of the river where, of course, it filled up with sand and sediment (no rocket science there). As a result, they couldn’t adequately water their crops and had to continually clean out their irrigation equipment.

For several years the farmers fought to rectify the situation, but it dragged on until a mediator got involved and the government finally paid attention and fixed it. By then the damage was done and now the farmers are seeking compensation for lost income. And so they should.

• Read more: Oliver farmers seek compensation for loss

We just find it incredible that government officials didn’t provide a remedy for the problem at the same time they were focusing on the river initiative. Instead, the farmers’ water licences were violated and some of their crops died, which caused a lot of stress for both families.

According to Forbes, their pleas for a remedy were ignored, and he questions why nothing was done until a couple of years ago when a new intake and pump system was installed. Furthermore, tax dollars were spent on meetings where officials were being paid, but not the farmers who had to leave their farms to attend. And if this compensation package is approved, there’s more tax dollars spent that could have been avoided if the ball wasn’t dropped on day one.

We were also surprised when Forbes said the Agricultural Land Commission wasn’t much help, noting he was informed by the ALC that it only deals with complaints against farmers. Time to rethink that mandate.

We understand that preserving salmon habitat is crucial, especially since spawning numbers have declined. But this work should not come at the expense of farmers trying to make a living and growing food that we all need to survive.

The next time a project proceeds and it has a direct impact on the livelihood of farmers or businesses, the problem should be rectified immediately. Waiting several years for a fix or resolution is not acceptable.

We wonder how quickly it would have been resolved under different circumstances.