Oh the water. So-much-water. Our poor family farm is being washed away.
You see, our 16.2 acre family farm is located at the base of a substantial subdivision called ‘Holly Hills’. Not only is the farm located at the base of this hilly subdivision, but it also lays at the base of another higher altitude area heading toward the coastline: thus, we are in somewhat of a ‘valley,’ in the greater scheme of things. My grandfather bought, and further created, this beautiful subdivision back in the fifties. He left our 16.2 acre farm as exactly that, a family farm. It housed barrel racing, cows (that broke free and wandered the highway,) and horses that spent afternoons walking around the neighborhood with kids on their backs. It had fruitful gardens and green pastures. Oh the stories I’ve heard about this piece of land and it’s residents. It’s a farm that houses my history: from my grandmother’s experiences, to my mother’s, to mine, and to my daughter’s.
Because of the simple topography of our location, Holly Hill Farm has always struggled with a minor flooding issue. In the past, my grandfather had the ditching system cleaned annually to prevent massive floods, which helped greatly. As more houses were built in the subdivision, and more water was used and dispersed of, the flooding became worse. Culverts were put here and there, and eventually, the entire Holly Hill subdivision drained into our farm, and it still does.
So there lie the first two problems: topography and being the subdivision’s waiting pool. These two issues are okay IF the water can LEAVE your property. In our case, it barely can. There are two culverts, back to back, exiting our property in a ditch along ‘Woodburn Road’; however, they are both undersized and often completely underwater. Furthermore, there is potential fish habitat, as this ditch connects with our lovely estuary. Fisheries allows a window of opportunity, from the end of June through mid September, when ditch adjustments can be made without disturbing any potential habitat. This window of opportunity has never been utilized by the city. In fact, from our understanding, the city has not maintained, cleaned, or dug out this ditch in the past twenty or so years. I can’t confirm this, as I was 9 twenty years ago, but take a drive down Woodburn Road and see what you think. What the city is consistent about doing? Mowing the ditch each spring/summer, and then leaving the clippings in the ditch to further clog it up. We believe that Fisheries has recently broadened their guidelines for dealing with any potential-fish-baring ditches. The city informed us that they sent a proposal to council to address this area; however, the city cannot do anything without budget approval from the council. So here we sit, waiting, and getting wet.
Originally, Holly Hill farm was four pasture fields: each measuring about four acres. This was further divided by a ten foot wide ditch cutting the property in half (this ditch was dug, by my grandfather, as a favor to the City to help the drainage issues: long before I was alive.) The western portion of the property experienced the most intense flooding each winter, so much so, that the pastures would need to be closed off and not utilized until the summertime. Eventually, my Grandfather was given permission from the City of Campbell River to have these eight acres filled to raise the land out of this flooding area. Over ten years, and countless truckloads, about seven acres was raised up about eight feet. This solved one problem, but emphasized another.
Prior to filling half the property, the 16.2 original acres acted as a giant sponge. It absorbed the majority of the water coming from the Holly Hill’s subdivision: giving the water a place to sit while it slowly left the property. When you place seven acres of fill onto this giant sponge, the ‘sponge’ doesn’t quite work the same. Now only eight unfilled acres act as the sponge. Which begs the question: why must Holly Hill Farm be a sponge?
You see, it is not the amount of water coming into the property, it is the pace at which it comes and leaves. If water moves quickly into the property, and quickly out, then no flooding occurs. Our issue is that the water moves onto our property at a gushing speed, and then leaves at a snails pace. Add to this, last year the city addressed the inadequately flowing ditches on one of roads in the Holly Hill’s subdivision, Spring Road. This means that water flows even faster onto our farm than ever before.
The result: three acres is completed underwater all year long, and another two is under water throughout the winter months. The remaining three acres of pastureland is a muddy mess. The water doesn’t follow the ditches, instead it moves along the pasture; blanketing it. It inhibits growth of pasture grasses and causes dangers for our resident horses and alpacas. The fencing posts rot away, the 50 year old poplar trees lining our creek have drowned and died, and our creek’s bridge is completely submerged. The constant water causes bog vegetation to grow that inhibits sunlight from reaching the soil and drying it up: further emphasizing the problem. Our heritage barn, built nearly 50 years ago, is next in line for drowning. Neighboring houses are pumping out their basements each winter and fighting mold. Where a horse riding ring once lived, bringing such joy and excitement to a neighborhood, now is washed away and gone forever. If this continues, the entire pasture side of Holly Hill Farm, the only fertile soil we have, will be lost.
So between the farm’s location, the subdivision’s water run off, the neglected ditches and the undersized culverts, we have been witnessing acres upon acres of our family farm disappearing into a flooded, bogged-out mess. My question is why? Why must Holly Hill Farm disappear? Why won’t some simple measures be taken to help our family farm? What kind of ecological impact is the neighborhood’s run off having on our farm land? When someone washes their car, do our horses drink the soapy old water? What about the fish? Bird life? What about our goals to supply our little town with healthy, fresh, hormone free fruits, vegetables, and meats?
The city of Campbell River knows there is a severe problem as they compiled a 72 page assessment of the issue and published the ‘Campbell River Storm Water Management Plan.’ It’s solution: maintain the ditches annually and wait for a ‘developer’ to buy Holly Hill Farm and be forced into funding a total overhaul of the ditching system. This makes sense, if Holly Hill Farm were going to be developed into a subdivision. Well, Holly Hill Farm is not owned by a developer, and we are not going to sell to one. We are a family farm and will remain one. So I hope the city can come up with an alternative solution.
The city of Campbell River also spent money on what they call the ‘Agricultural Plan.’ Again, this is another plan where the city of Campbell River is supposed to support the building of farms and assist in making them successful. I thought Holly Hill Farm was indeed… a FARM. Where’s the help and support? Ultimately, it sadly comes down to money and priorities. The city is not rich. I understand this. The city clearly wants (and probably needs) money from a developer more than wanting to support an up and coming farm. A farm that can supply the town with health, education, and community. It is very sad.
What’s the most ironic thing? —Holly Hill Farm doesn’t even have a water service entering the property!! We use rain barrels and have a friendly neighbour who fills up a water trough for our animals. There are no hoses or taps in sight.
Oh, and did I forget to tell you that the ‘Storm Water Management Plan’ proposed that the entire subdivision be taxed extra to pay for improvements to this draining system in the early 2000’s? Did this happen? If so, I wonder what happened to that money?
So yes, we’re in deep water (har-har). We’ve got big plans and ambitious goals, but we take two steps forward then ten leaps back.. and get sucked into a three acre BOG! I have contacted every single council member, the mayor, the two newspapers, two engineers, the city’s operations manager & transportation manager, plus our neighborhood association. I have dropped letters off throughout the affected areas, written letters to the city, and had city employees walk the property. I am not about to stop. The council needs to approve the budget to address the Woodburn and Park Road flooding crisis. Holly Hill Farm and neighbors are a priority. I hope someone out there will come to our rescue and save us from drowning.