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Drought planning in high gear By Judie Steeves A

t least two Okanagan water utilities are severely short of water this year, and farmers have been told to plan around reduced allotments as a result.

While farmers in the South East Kelowna Irrigation District face cutbacks of 25 per cent of their normal allotment, those in the Greater Vernon Services area have been asked to reduce use by 10 per cent. Both utilities report less than half the normal amount of snow fell in their watersheds last winter and that reservoirs are at extremely low levels. In fact, Vernon’s was at a record low level, with the lowest runoff from melting snow in 41 years, while SEKID’s was at 39 per cent of capacity and will not fill for the second year in a row.

Rain in May helped to reduce concerns in both districts, but they are still water-short.

Planning for a second year of drought in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys began much earlier this year than last. Conrad Pryce, section head for water allocation for the environment ministry in Penticton, says a team concept will be used for drought planning by the province,

more fruit to direct solar radiation and different parts of the fruit surfaces on the same fruit. Sunburn can be more extensive as the season progresses. If harvested fruit is exposed in bins at harvest, damage can be more severe as the fruit are not attached and cooled with the evaporation of water from the surface of the fruit.

There are all levels of damage from barely noticeable to the extreme just described. The more visible spots are relatively easily noticed and dropped at harvest – it is the subtle damage that is the toughest. This fruit can make it to the sorting line and very low levels of damage make it to the pack and deteriorate later. A number of methods have been used to reduce damage. Creating a strong branch structure at pruning time, restricting fruit bud count with detailed spur pruning plus reducing fruit numbers with thinning will reduce branch sag and movement as the crop weight increases.

Strong leaves healthy generated by good nutrition and bourse shoot development (which is encouraged by doing detailed of pruning of fruit spurs) will assist in cooling through transpiration as well as shading of fruit. This effort will also create a good balance of leaves to fruit to

with the involvement of First Nations, the ministries of agriculture and environment, the federal fisheries department, local government, water utilities, agricultural associations and the Okanagan Basin Water Board. A similar team was set up last summer for plan for last

year’s drought, but it was much later in the season. Nonetheless, it won the premier’s award for cross government integration.

The team will identify key streams and monitor water levels and affected users; communicate and issue regulatory orders, if necessary.

Fish flows, to ensure fish habitat is protected, and agricultural concerns, will be taken into account, he said. “Collaboration is essential,” he noted.

The drought management plan will be evaluated on an ongoing basis, and if more resources are needed, they will be added, he said.

He believes communications and openness are key to the success of any program for handling a crisis such as a drought. Efforts are being made by the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association to discuss different options for orchardists in the event of a severe drought this season.

reduce excessive moisture and calcium loss. This will result in bitter pit. In addition monitor soil moisture levels carefully to avoid moisture stress, and mulch tree rows to moderate and balance soil moisture levels.

Overhead irrigation – cycling of water over blocks of fruit during the

heat of the day or special

whitewashing sprays can also be done with varying degrees of success. These measures should only be part of the type of strategy that was outlined previously.

— Retired orchardist and

horticulturist Peter Waterman can be reached at

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