A coalition of local farmers who depend on Innisfil Creek for irrigation are meeting to devise strategies to minimize the damage and future droughts could have on their agricultural enterprises.
In the summer of 2007, data collected by the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority (NVCA) showed that by June 30 of that year, the average water flow in Innisfil Creek, usually estimated to be 5,000 gallons per minute during the dry summer months, had already dropped to 356 gallons per minute.
For growers such as Ralph MacKenzie, owner of Nottawasaga Valley Farms, this was potentially disastrous.
“We were almost 14 weeks without any measurable rainfall,” MacKenzie recalls. “Irrigation became critical even to keep crops alive, let alone improve crop yield.”
MacKenzie and his neighbours quickly realized they could not all irrigate at the same time and they agreed to set up a voluntary water taking schedule to minimize the impact on other water users, and to help reduce the ecological impact of the drought.
Wanting to avoid the consequences of another severe drought, a number of growers took part in the development of an integrated water resource management strategy for the Innisfil creek area, headed up by the NVCA with the assistance of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and Agri-Food Canada.
“As a local producer and an irrigator from Innisfil Creek, I knew I had to be part of the solution,” MacKenzie says. He now serves as chairperson of the Innisfil Creek Water Users Association (ICWUA).
During the fall of 2008, members of the ICWUA met with NVCA staff regularly to discuss individual producer irrigation requirements, the extent of existing water supplies and achievable and cost-effective irrigation alternatives.
The local association will represent the interests of the irrigation-dependent community and promote best management practices to water users.
The ICWUA will also work with the provincial Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources on water-related issues and identify opportunities to improve water quality in the Innisfil creek region.
“We must all work together to recognize the economic, social and environmental benefit of sharing water resources,” MacKenzie says. “My fellow farmers and I will benefit from local-level management of limited water resources.”
The Innisfil Creek district is well known for its high production of potato, sod, carrots and onions, valued at $10 million in 2006. Its part of the larger Nottawasaga watershed that encompasses parts of Simcoe, Dufferin and Grey counties.