An estimated 100 Pitt Meadows farmers told city hall Tuesday they need to be made a priority when it comes to drainage and irrigation of their crops.
But environmental groups also talked about the need to protect fish habitat.
Pitt Meadows council’s engagement and priorities committee hosted a meeting called Farming, Diking, Watercourses and Wetlands in Pitt Meadows at the South Bonson Community Centre.
They got a bigger response than expected, and organizers had to keep adding chairs to the hall.
Dan Kosicki, of Meadows Landscape Supply, estimated that more than 100 of those in attendance were there to represent the interest of farmers.
“There were multiple generations, and they were all very concerned,” he said. “They listened and were respectful, but they are very concerned.”
Kosicki said Pitt Meadows farmers are farming some of the most expensive farmland in North America, but face increased pressures.
He said creating habitat for salmon in Katzie Slough and other tributaries will be problematic for farmers, particularly during drought cycles.
“It opens too many doors for regulation. We need our water when we need it,” he said, whether that be frost protection, irrigation or flooding fields to harvest cranberries.
He said environmental groups don’t have the same personal stake as farmers.
“They have no skin in the game,” he said.
“You want to save farmland? Save the farmer,” he said. “If it’s (a waterway) inside the protected dike, let us manage our resources.”
Lina Azeez of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, said she appreciated the opportunity to present an alternative view of the sloughs, which she sees as critical salmon habitat.
Some farmers, she said, would rather there were no fish in the sloughs.
With drought conditions and climate change, “we spoke to a need to collaborate.”
“I’m glad the city decided to have the meeting. It’s good for staff and council to understand more than one perspective when it comes to water,” she said. “We can work in a way that benefits both.”
“We need a healthy environment, clean water and good soils for farming, and we need those for fish too,” she said.
“We need to look at doing things differently – doing things the same way isn’t helping.”
The Alouette River Management Society and Pitt Meadows Environmental Network were among the presenters.
Mayor Bill Dingwall said it was a good turnout, and the city heard feedback for almost three hours.
“There are some competing interests there,” he said, noting people on all sides were worried, but respectful.
He noted 80 per cent of the land in Pitt Meadows is in the Agricultural Land Reserve.
“There are so many pressures on the farming community, including land costs and regulations,” he said. “These are real, live concerns.”
He said city staff will summarize the comments and make recommendations.