Greg Norton is an entertainer if you can get him on a stage. A seasoned politician, an accomplished farmer, a rancher, a businessman, a water works foreman, national tv star….you name it.
Last week he was the guest speaker at the AGM of the Oliver and District Heritage Society and boy did he have stories.
From his grand-father to his father, to him – he is stooped in the history of this area and he knows the importance of the “Ditch”. * (stooped with history)
“What would those engineers have thought when they came here in the 20′s to see this arid land with no water for agriculture. They must have been trained well to build this long system from a diversion of Okanagan River at McIntrye Bluff all the way to Osoyoos with laterals running north and east across the valley bottom. Incredible.
Oliver needs to celebrate the “Ditch” because we all still depend upon it. Ditch Day coming soon…..
Following World War I, BC Premier “Honest” John Oliver initiated the Soldiers’ Settlement project in the South Okanagan. This initiative was designed to provide immediate and long term economic opportunities for soldiers recently returned from overseas. An ambitious water supply project was to be built between Vaseux Lake and the US Border to create thousands of farmable acres, which would be sold to the new settlers.
An open-channel irrigation canal was built in the following years under the auspices of the South Okanagan Lands Project, supplying water by gravity to potentially serve 5,000 or so acres of land. Although the portion of canal south of Road 18 has since been abandoned, approximately 20 km remains in service today, serving as the life-line to most of the area’s farming community.
In the 1960s, the Provincial Government handed the irrigation system to local farmers, by creating the South Okanagan Lands Irrigation District. A significant system upgrade was undertaken, converting much of the gravity-fed lateral ditches to pressurized pipelines. The main canal, locally known as “The Ditch”, continued in operation, however, to provide water to the four main irrigation pumping stations in the rural Oliver area. The elevation of the ditch, which is up to 30m above the level of the River in places, provided an important advantage in reducing the necessary pumping power and resultant annual power bills.
With a loss of provincial assistance, SOLID began supplying water to domestic customers in the rural area and along the edge of the Village of Oliver, as it was. The water rate charged to these customers played, and continues to play an important role in keeping agricultural irrigation rates at a minimum.
Unfortunately, the irrigation system was never designed to meet today’s water quality requirements for residential use. Water quality concerns have confronted SOLID since it began supplying water for domestic use. During summer months, surface water is diverted into the canal from the Okanagan River and is used for irrigation and rural domestic customers alike. Treatment is limited to simple chlorination, with minimal contact times.
In the late 1980′s growth pressures in Oliver and Osoyoos brought pressure on SOLID. Both municipalities were exploring boundary expansions and conflicts over who would continue to supply water to the growth areas; this was brought to the Province and again the South Okanagan water supply stage one more time. In late 1989, the Province dissolved SOLID and turned its assets and operations over to the Towns of Oliver (60%) and Osoyoos (40%).
During the 1990′s, the Town of Oliver undertook a major $5 million rehabilitation and automation of the irrigation canal system. This project, funded under the initial Canada-BC Infrastructure program, placed over 3.5 km of canal underground, solving key rock-fall concerns of the past, repaired or replaced approximately 4 km of remaining open canal, upgraded several control structures, and automated much of the canal’s day-to-day operations.
Just part of the history of Oliver’s water utility.