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Water Use & Protecting Water Sources


Reducing water use on the farm

Protecting water sources
  • Use irrigation in the most efficient way possible. Overhead sprinkler systems are excellent for cooling and increasing relative humidity but for overall tree watering purposes, drip irrigation can use around 20% less water, uses less electricity, and can even save on fertilizer costs if fertilizers can be added to the drip line

  • Calibrate and inspect irrigation systems on a regular basis.  Leaking sprinkler heads and hoses can waste thousands of litres of water. Check for leaks by turning off the system and monitoring the meter to see if it is still running. If there are constant wet areas in the orchard, there may be a leak nearby.

  • Avoid using overhead sprinklers when it is very hot (unless for cooling purposes) or windy, as this can lead to excessive evaporation or drifting water.

  • Use a soil moisture monitoring device that tests  soil water content in the root zone to maximise irrigation efficiency and minimize water use.

Protecting Water Sources

Groundwater protection

  • Reduce chemical intervention as much as possible.  Excessive use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers can leach through the soil and contaminate underground water. Check out the Chemical Intervention page

  • Maintain septic systems to prevent leaks.

  • Perform regular checks and inspections of regularly used wells, and cover and properly decommission old unused wells.  Direct groundwater contamination can easily occur from spills beside wells, improperly sealed well casings or abandoned wells, flooded well pits or foreign material entering a well.

  • Reduce water use as much as possible (see above). Groundwater sources take a very long time to recharge.


Surface water protection

  • Store, use and dispose of all hazardous materials or waste using proper procedure and containment practices. This includes any chemicals such as gasoline, oil, pesticides, fertilizers, paint, cleaners but also physical materials such as tires, old equipment, storage tanks, and plastics

  • Follow best management practices for applying pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides in the orchard. This includes preventing spray drift, using the minimum application rates, and never applying during or before a rain.

  • Keep a large, wide area around the edge of a water source clear of farm equipment and materials.

  • Maintain a thick, healthy 'buffer' of vegetation in that unused area around creeks, rivers, wetlands, and seepage areas.

Why care for wetland and riparian areas?

Wetland and Riparian Areas on the farm

Why do these areas matter?
Wetlands and riparian areas provide a great deal of valuable unseen services to the farm besides simply providing water and looking nice:

  • Vegetation in riparian areas will capture and hold pollutants from runoff, providing some safeguarding to help keep water clean in case of minor spills or accidental overapplication. Wetland plants can sequester some of these pollutants and remove them entirely.

  • Roots from trees and shrubs stabilize creek banks from collapse and will decrease soil erosion and siltation.

  • During floods and high water, large natural areas beside creeks and rivers act as floodplains and capture high water flows, slowing water speed and holding excess water to reduce flooding downstream.

  • Wetland areas can hold millions of litres of water during floods to reduce flooding but will also hold that water during drought.

  • Bodies of water such as creeks and wetlands provide excellent temperature regulation, cooling the air in the summer and warming air in the winter. See a real-life example

Approximately 85% of Okanagan wildlife species rely on riparian habitats or use them regularly. If integrated pest management and lots of beneficials are your goals for the orchard, then leaving large areas of  riparian or wetland habitat intact is a zero-effort way to obtain many of those benefits.

What do these areas look like?

Riparian area is the general term that describes the thick, often forested habitats around any body of water, from wetlands to creeks to sloughs to rivers.  These areas have a different community of plants that that of adjacent upland areas. requiring more water but not necessarily growing in the water like cattails or rushes.


Wetlands are lands that are saturated with or covered by shallow water for part or all of the year creating wet soils and supporting water-loving plants. They can include shallow ponds, marshes, swamps, annually flooded fields, seepage areas, and bogs. Even if they dry out completely in summer, they are still classified as wetlands, just 'ephemeral', or seasonal wetlands.

Taking care of riparian and wetland areas

  • Leave it alone! Riparian areas are very capable of maintaining themselves. Dead standing trees are not inherently unsafe and can remain standing for decades - get an arbourist to check them out if you are concerned.  "Messy" looking areas are just the natural structure of these habitats. Tidying them up will reduce their effectiveness and benefits.

  • Manage invasive species in riparian areas

  • Prevent free and open access by people, equipment and livestock. Build as few bridges as possible to maintain effective access across creeks. As per BC's water licencing regulations, you must have official approval to make any changes in and about a stream. This includes construction or modification in the riparian area as well as any removal of vegetation.\

  • Restore, enlarge or enhance your riparian buffer if you think it may be lacking. Avoid adding any plant species that isn't native to the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. Need help restoring your buffer? Contact Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship for potential partnership opportunities

Further Reading

The following resources are information-only. Find the Financial Assistance page here

Okanagan Basin Water Board: Agricultural Water Users

Stewardship Centre of BC: Managing Agricultural Waterways

Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship & Ducks Unlimited: Managing Wetlands in an Agricultural Environment

Langley Environmental Partners Society: Stream Crossing Guide

BC Cattleman's Association: Restoring Riparian Buffers

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