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Site C Dam Could Take a Bite Out of BC's Future Food Supply

B.C. imports 56% of its food to support a growing population, and the majority of the food it does produce is exported to the U.S.

Arlene and Ken Boon wake up to an enviable view – at least for now that is.

Nestled along the banks of the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia (BC), the Boons watch elk, deer and even grizzly bears amble across their land. Arrowheads and fossils resting beneath the soil are treasures waiting to be discovered by their grandchildren, and pumpkins, tomatoes and berries from the market garden farm on their property tantalize their taste buds.

The Boon's third-generation farmland will be underwater if Site C dam is built. Image: Sarah Cox

Unfortunately, the Boon’s third-generation prime farmland will be underwater – forever – if a proposed $8 billion dollar dam and reservoir project, known as Site C, gets approved. The project, currently in the environmental assessment process, would flood 51 miles (83 kilometers) of the Peace River Valley, wiping out some of the province’s best farmland.

In a heartfelt submission to the assessment panel, Ken Boon posed a poignant question: that should set alarm bells ringing for British Columbians. “Where is the protection for farmland?” It is a question all North Americans should be asking.

Where is the Protection for Farmland?

Forty years ago, BC created the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) to preserve the province’s shrinking farmland resources in the face of inappropriate development. Only 5% of BC’s land base is protected by the ALR and removing sections from the reserve requires approval from the province’s regional Agricultural Land Commission.

Now the pro-Site-C BC government is considering drastic changes to erode the reserve and the autonomy of the commission. The potential consequence is that Site C could remove the largest amount of farmland from the reserve in its 40-year history - 9,390 acres (3,800 hectares) - without even having to put forth an application to the commission.

Not only does this extraction put northern BC's future food security at risk, but if the ALR is eroded the province would lose an enviable tool to protect farmland from development.

Why Should British Columbians Care? 

Currently, BC imports 56% of its food to support its growing population, and the majority of the food that is produced in BC is exported to the U.S (75% according to a 2011 report). What happens when food isn’t available or it is too expensive to transport?

The loss of agricultural land is widespread throughout North America; extreme droughts and floods due to climate change are damaging the very crops North Americans rely on; and rising fuel prices mean transportation costs for the limited produce available are on the rise.

A 2013 Oxfam report predicts that by 2030 (only 16 years from now) food prices may jump by as much as 180 percent.

The best strategy to secure any communities food security is to be as self-sufficient as possible and to maintain one’s ability to produce its own food.

A unique micro-climate in BC's Peace River Valley produces garden vegetables and fruit. Image: Larry Peterson

Even BC’s Agricultural Climate Change Action Plan recognized this: “BC must seek to expand its capacity for food production…The Peace Valley is potentially able to supply market garden produce and fruit because of its east-west orientation, south-facing aspect, top-grade soil, access to water, long light and tempered growing.”

It’s Time to Stand Up for Food Security

The Peace River Valley has 20% of the province’s best topsoil. Its Class 1 and 2 farmlands produce higher crop yields than many of Canada’s prairie regions, and it has the potential to supply fresh fruit and vegetables for a million people.

By 2050 the soil in this valley could be more important and more valuable than gold. As Ken Boon stated, “To purposefully flood this valley is madness.”

Foodies, moms, dads, skiers, paddlers, British Columbians and North Americans joined forces on February 10th, 2014 at a Food for the Future Rally. With Stop-Site-C signs in hand, people marched in front of BC’s legislature to stand up for local farmlands.

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