How to irrigate the Garden City Lands?

Update, July 9, 2013: Agricultural researcher Krishna Sharma, PhD, has emailed a suggestion in response to this article:

I recommend a focus on reduced irrigation and on adapting the viable and sustainable organic agriculture to climate change. Instead of being a problem, the challenges of irrigation and drainage are a valuable resource in the research and learning to adapt to climate change, contributing toward a more secure future.

Note: Dr. Sharma, a member of Richmond’s Agricultural Advisory Committee, is a U.S.-educated “retired” university professor from Nepal. His ongoing professional activity includes research on the Sharing Farm in Terra Nova Rural Park in Richmond. 

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A reader recently asked how farms on the Garden City Lands will get water for farm needs, especially irrigation.

In reply, I brought together some points related to drainage and irrigation. You’ll find the most promising option is near the end, where it can seen in the context of other factors worth considering.

For larger versions of the illustrations, just click on the smaller versions.

  • London Heritage Farm, Richmond, B.C.Historically, shallow wells have not worked well on Lulu Island. One reason, mentioned on the website for London Farm (near the south dyke), was salt water seeping in. The problems from water-table salt and city contaminants might make such wells even less practical now.
  • Water could be collected from roofs for some purposes. It apparently worked for supplying water for the London Farm house long ago.
  • Thomas Kidd of Richmond, BC, 1846-1930The city and farmers did exploratory drilling for an artesian well on the west side of Lulu Island in 1895. They stopped when the drilling reached a depth of 1008 feet with no luck, as discussed on page 97 of the History of Lulu Island by Thomas Kidd, pioneer farmer, statesman and poet.
  • Garden City Lands PARC map, simplified.The only ditch on the lands is along Westminster Hwy. It collects runoff from the road and also has a draining effect on the peat, which would make the water acidic. Between that effect and road contaminants and the low flow at times when irrigation is needed, it does not seem suited to irrigation. (In the graphic, which shows agriculture on the west side, the wetter areas are darker.)
  • Pond formed on the Garden City Lands when the storm drains along Garden City Road were cloggedAlong Garden City Road, there are storm water drains roughly 20–25 metres apart from Westminster Hwy to Alderbridge Way. Even when they are clogged, as they often are, the effect isn’t ditch-like; the effect is ponds over which there is poor control. The pond in the photo disappeared when the City of Richmond unclogged the drains.
  • Garden City Community ParkAs at Garden City Park (south of the Garden City Lands), a retention pond for City Centre storm water is possible. That would probably not be a good source for water for the bog-restoration area, but it could be good for the agricultural area, which should be separated from it by a farm road that would serve as a dike (and trail), as discussed in this PARC article. One option to consider would be a method for the first storm water after a dry period to be flushed away and not into the storm water storage pond on the Garden City Lands.
  • peat mossSince there needs to be a drainage system on the agricultural part of the lands, there could be a pond to store the drainage water. As there is peat throughout the lands except where there’s fill, that would be more acidic than City Centre storm water. (Whereas peat is acidic, concrete has an alkaline effect on water running over it. That is typically fine for agriculture, though not for restoring sphagnum bog.)
  • Richmond Agricultural Viability StrategyThe 2009 ALC decision discusses the irrigation and drainage trunk lines on the No. 4 Road side and “Another trunk line that runs westward from Garden City Road.” (That is on page 6, and it refers to page 23 of Agricultural Viability Strategy of May 26, 2003.) As the report concludes, “it appears that drainage and irrigation opportunities are available and not merely limited to hooking into the City’s domestic water supply.”
  • storm water drainage and irrigation infrastructure, Richmond B.C.The Agricultural Viability Strategy says, “Despite the need for adequate drainage, in the summer months many farms require irrigation. The City serves the needs of the agricultural sector through much the same infrastructure it uses for general drainage. A storm drainage map is shown in Figure 2” (p. 21).It appears that water to supply reservoir ponds could be piped from either the trunk line that goes west from Garden City Road or—more likely—from the No. 4 Road trunk line (in the disturbed strip down the east side of the lands). The pipe could connect with the trunk line near either Alderbridge Way or Westminster Highway, with the pipe following the perimeter farm road with minimal ecological impact.

Garden City Lands park enhancement, Phase1 2012-09-13One biophysical inventory aspect in Phase 1 of the park enhancement planning is hydrology, scientific inquiry to enable water management. We look forward to seeing what that study will add to our knowledge.

In any event, while irrigation of the Garden City Lands is challenging to implement, it is quite possible. If Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s proposed Sustainable Agriculture farm goes ahead, the challenges will become opportunities for student learning, research, and sharing of knowledge as part of KPU’s community outreach.

Although metered tap water is likely to be used in the buildings on the lands for some purposes, there are alternatives for irrigation.

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