The Cowichan region has climate and soils that are well-suited to many different agricultural enterprises. Of 32,830 hectares of arable land, 9421 ha are considered prime agricultural land. However, about 80% of this area requires irrigation to produce high-value crops, and only 2465 ha are currently irrigated. Access to water for irrigation is a significant concern.
In 2009, the Cowichan Region Economic Development Commission commissioned a study of agriculture in the Cowichan region. While developed in the context of economic opportunities, the Cowichan Region Area Agriculture Plan raises a number of issues related to water. Click here for Agriculture section on the CVRD website.
It notes that the Cowichan Basin Water Management Plan recommended a "10% reduction in agricultural water use by 2010 and 20% by 2015.” The Agriculture Plan states that "This is contrary to the target of a healthy agricultural economy and very difficult to achieve with increased self-sufficiency and growing population."
The Agriculture Demand Model published in June 2013 looked at agriculture solely in terms of its water consumption. While the Cowichan Basin Water Management Plan noted that, "More than 530 licenses have been issued to divert water from streams and lakes in the basin, and more than 1300 wells have been drilled to pump water from the aquifers," the Agricultural Demand Model reported that users of water take about 65% of their water from surface sources, and 35% from groundwater. In a wet year, such as 1997, an estimated 7.5 million m3 was used; 2003 was a dry year and 18.5 million m3 was used in agricultural applications. About 2500 ha of land was irrigated in these years. Scenarios that include irrigation buildout to 6900 ha, envision water demand for agriculture circa 2050 of 44 million m3 per year.
Cowichan Region Area Agriculture Plan, October 2009
Prepared for: Cowichan Region Economic Development Commission
Cowichan Region Area Agriculture Plan, Presentation, June 2010
Kathy Lachman, Cowichan Region Economic Development Commission
Improving Water Management for BC Agriculture, Presentation, June 2010
Ted van der Gulik, Ministry of Agriculture and Lands
Agriculture Demand Model, June 2013
BC Ministry of Agriculture, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada