Patience draining in Central Saanich’s Martindale Valley

Central Saanich conducting preliminary meetings with farmers over drainage.

Farmer Terry Michell at one of the many flood sites in Central Saanich’s Martindale Valley.

Martindale Valley, a rich area of land in Central Saanich, has been farmed for over 100 years and has seen its large share of flooding. But little has been done to alleviate the problem, according to area farmers.

“The trouble that we’ve had over the years, the last 30 years, is even though we’ve been maintaining the ditch more than ever before, the flooding is getting worse,” said local farmer, Terry Michell.

The McHugh ditch as it’s known, hand dug by contractors around 80 years ago, had been maintained by farmers but the municipality has since taken it over. The water route begins, said Michell, at Island View Road and runs through the Valley by Dooley Road and into the District of Saanich. Water then runs  behind the Cordova Bay Golf Course, draining into the ocean.

The flooding in the Valley leaves hundreds of tonnes of produce lost in certain years. Water drains into the area via that ditch and it often has nowhere to go.

“If we have early rains … we can’t get in the land early enough in the spring which gives us a late fall harvest and if the rains come early then the lands flood and then of course the produce is no good,” Michell said.

It’s not only several hundreds of acres of agricultural land affected, but it’s business too. People and stores want local food but farmers there face risks, as their crops can be flooded out at any time.

“I mean we were flooded out last year on Labour Day weekend on a few acres here of carrots and lettuce,” said Michell.

The main concern by farmers is the large amount of water runoff from Keating Ridge, an issue they have been fighting with municipal councils over for almost 40 years.

“They do minor work on the ditch and things but they never really come up with an answer to solve the problem.”

It’s a problem which some farmers feel could have easily been addressed years ago, when the District completed an Integrated Stormwater Management Plan (ISMP). That plan, created in 2010, has not yet been implemented.

The solution, said Michell, is to build a holding pond near the highway to catch runoff when it rains hard and then release it slowly into the valley — or dig a ditch and make a canal right through down into Saanich, so the water makes it to the ocean in a timely manner.

“We were told that it’s going to get better but it’s gotten worse. They keep developing up there and there’s more water coming down here than ever before,” he said.

Central Saanich back in 2010 won awards for its then-new ISMP. But nothing was ever implemented, much to the frustration of farmers.

The ISMP, put together by consulting firm Worley Parsons had many solutions, including rainfall capture through Keating and Tanner Ridge, an extended detention wetland or pond and channel modifications between Martindale Road and Dooley Road.

So why wasn’t it implemented?

Central Saanich Councillor Niall Paltiel asks the same question.

“This report very clearly outlines what needs to be done so I think that the consultation meeting that was done by staff with the farmers … (a few weeks ago) was a really good way to basically say ‘this report was done with an understanding of what needs to be done, let’s check in with the farmers before we make recommendations to council to go ahead,’” he said.

Council has instructed staff to conduct preliminary meetings with the residents to identify what current concerns are.

“Out of that so far, we’ve got a really good handle on the work that needs to be done in the area and now it’s basically putting that work into action, so this meeting was a first step towards that,” said Paltiel.

He said as a council, they know there are issues and can acknowledge that climate change is happening and they need to be doing everything as council to mitigate what is happening.

“At the same time some of the issues that are there have been caused by development in the area and so as a council it’s our job to make farming as viable as possible in the Valley.”

Paltiel said step one should involve sitting down with the council of the District of Saanich and identify drainage issues between both municipalities. He said it’s about creating a co-ordinated plan within the entire area. He said the fact that Dooley Road is the border causes issues between politicians — but added water doesn’t know municipal boundaries.

“At this point it needs the resources allocated by council to put it into motion.”

The second step of this new process between Central Saanich and area farmers, will be to continue widening Lochside Drive towards Heritage Acres Park and into Saanich to encourage better drainage. In the next few years, Paltiel said it will be up to council to think of some serious investments in the area to address drainage — and to finally act.