Farmers seek gov't damages

Colton Davies

Two farmers in Oliver are seeking compensation over lost income which they say the province caused by putting in poor water systems for irrigation.

Gord Forbes and Art Dias said their water intake systems on the Okanagan River were impacted for seven years, beginning when a project was done by the province to redirect part of the river and restore salmon habitats.

When that project began in 2009, the floating water systems Forbes and Dias had were replaced with water systems along the bottom of the river, put in by the province.

"They violated our water licenses, we never signed off... that they could change our intake, they just did it," Forbes said. "And so we were left with an inadequate water supply for six years."

The intake systems the province put in didn’t work properly, Forbes and Dias said, because they filled with sediment.

"I think if they would've worked with us, it would've been a lot better than getting something rammed down your throat that you know was wrong from the start," Dias said. "We told them several times that this system's not gunna work."

Forbes said he lost about one-third of his 13 acres of crops due to a lack of clean water. Dias has 14 acres and says he lost about half of his, which to date he hasn't been able to replant.

Finally, in 2016, the province put in a better water intake system further down the river, improving years of water struggles for the two farmers.

But the loss in income for both farms due to the faulty water system the province originally put in has been several hundred thousand dollars.

And Dias said they’ve put in countless free time by maintaining the old water systems themselves and fighting for change from the province.

"I don't even want to add it up. It's something that... A lot of people would've probably gave up," Dias said.

"Every time we had a meeting with these guys, they were all getting paid... But we had to stop our work to try and address this problem they created," Forbes added.

Both Forbes and Dias continue to seek compensation, but they say communication with the province has been scarce.

In a statement to Castanet, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development said they received the farmers' funding request in February — three months after Forbes and Dias formally submitted it — and said they are currently reviewing that request.

"We definitely aren't against the project itself. It's a really great project, creating more habitat for the salmon," Dias said. "It was just the way we were dealt with. Don't want it happening to anyone else."

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