It’s a sight that few Vancouverites have seen, a gem of a valley hidden away amidst the boreal forest in the far northeastern corner of the province.
As you crest the rise on Route 29 from Hudson’s Hope, a panoramic vista opens of the valley below. The Peace River meanders in languid loops through a patchwork of ploughed fields, water meadows, and stands of huge cottonwoods. You can almost hear the steady murmur of the current, hundreds of feet below.
Even if the extent of your involvement in the local food movement is plucking a ripe tomato or two from a pot on the patio, the sheer exuberance of growth would set your green thumbs a-pricking. The lushness of crops and the size of cottonwoods that line the river attest to the richness of the alluvial soil. Add the long growing days of northern summers and a unique microclimate, and you’re looking at some of B.C.’s best farmland.
“The productivity of the agricultural land in the Peace River Valley is incredible: it is unique not only in the Peace River region, but in British Columbia and Western Canada,” says soil scientist Eveline Wolterson, who gave expert testimony in the review process for the proposed Site C dam.
Forget Delta and Langley. Forget the Okanagan. Farmers in the Peace Valley report yields that are unheard of elsewhere in B.C. The Peace Valley is the only place in northern B.C. that is able to produce heat-loving crops such as cantaloupes, cucumbers, and peppers. According to agrologist Wendy Holm, also an expert witness in the Site C hearings, the land to be flooded by Site C is capable of producing high-yielding fruits and vegetables for over a million people.
That’s right. A million—a quarter of the B.C. population. Every year. Forever.
And the B.C. government wants to flood this land?
This summer, California is grappling with the greatest water loss ever seen, coming after several years of persistent drought that has especially impacted the fertile Central Valley. With farmland going out of production and the consequent loss of employment, the 2014 drought will cost the state’s agriculture sector US$2 billion, a fraction of what it would have been without tapping into deep underground aquifers, clearly a short-term solution. And there won’t be any “back to normal” either: scientists expect California’s drought conditions to worsen as climate change continues to disrupt weather patterns.
When that happens we’d better be prepared. Sooner rather than later.
Don’t flood B.C.’s Plan B
British Columbia currently imports 56 percent of our fruits and vegetables, much of it from California. Loss of productive capacity in California and other southwestern states due to ongoing megadrought is only a small part of the global food impacts climate change is expected to deliver in the coming decades.
Some California farmers are already letting land under fruit and vegetables stand idle, while lavishing precious water on high profit-yielding crops such as nuts and vineyards.
As dwindling supply sends prices soaring, the hardest hit will be the most vulnerable, those below or just above the poverty line. Fresh fruit and vegetables may well become an occasional luxury rather than an abundant daily staple for B.C.’s low- and middle-income families.
There is a solution. B.C. should nix the dam and embrace Plan B: nurture the growth of a robust horticulture sector in the Peace Valley with processing and distribution hubs for added value and jobs.
In May 2014 the federal review panel found that the proposed Site C dam would have significant adverse effects on First Nations, on wildlife, and the Peace River region as a whole. While the panel didn’t make recommendations either for or against the project, the report cast doubt on B.C. Hydro’s business case, and concluded that B.C. Hydro failed to demonstrate the need for the power.
Holm puts it in a nutshell: “There are many alternatives to choose from when it comes to energy sources; but there are no alternatives to fruits and vegetables. Only fruits and vegetables are fruits and vegetables.”