Who could have imagined we would stumble across the very intriguing Edgewater Irrigation Flume on our way to the Diana Lake trailhead near Radium Hot Springs. This historic, yet functioning irrigation system, was a surprise find on our Golden Triangle road trip.

The Edgewater Flume across cultivated land with mountains in the background

A view of the Edgewater Irrigation Flume with the Canadian Rockies in the background

The terms ‘flume’ and ‘aqueduct’ are typically interchangeable, as they both refer to artificial channels that transport water over distances. I will use the term ‘flume’ to keep consistent with the naming convention used for the Edgewater Irrigation Flume.

This flume first started flowing water in 1913, or well over a hundred years ago. Amazingly, the Edgewater Flume is still flowing strong, just as it did in 1913.

The start of the Edgewater Irrigation Flume complete with dam and flow controls

The start of the Edgewater Irrigation Flume complete with dam and flow controls

So, what was the initial motivation to put so much effort into designing and building the Edgewater flume so long ago?

History of the Irrigation Flumes in British Columbia

Back in the early 1900’s, the fruit orchard business was just beginning to take hold in the Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia’s southern interior region. This area’s amazingly mild climate is ideal for growing fruit, primarily grapes today.

Grapes on the vine near Penticton, BC

Grapes on the vine near Penticton, BC

However, the arid conditions of the Okanagan Valley made it impossible to sustain the orchards without a consistent water supply.

A view of the arid Okanagan Valley around Penticton

A view of the arid Okanagan Valley around Penticton

The solution was capturing river and stream water from the hills above and channeling it to the orchards.

A flume, supported by intricate wooden trestles, would gravity feed water out of the hills along a relatively gentle decline. This water would then be dispersed to the orchards through branch flumes and channels.

As the orchards grew in number in the Okanagan, entrepreneurs began looking for other interior mountain valleys that could attain the same success. They found the Columbia Valley to the east that showed promise.

View looking eastward across the Columbia River wetlands

The view looking eastward across the Columbia River wetlands

Planning and Construction of the Edgewater Irrigation Flume

Companies, such as Columbia Valley Orchard Ltd. were formed to buy property and to promote the Columbia Valley region as the next fruit orchard hotspot. The idea was to bring new settlers into the territory, with the promise of a consistent water supply for irrigating their flourishing fruit orchards.

While this promotion was underway, the construction of the Edgewater irrigation flume began in 1911. Construction took two years, employing 30 to 40 construction workers during this time.

The structure consisted of 9 kilometres of main flume with additional branch flumes for the users.

Location Map of Edgewater Flume

Location Map of Edgewater Flume

The Edgewater Flume Begins Operations

The Edgewater flume began channeling water from Kindersley Creek in 1913, and the first fruit trees were planted in 1914. Quite quickly it was realized the climate of this valley was not conducive to sustaining fruit orchards.

The Columbia Valley Orchard Company was liquidated in 1915, and mixed farming and ranching became the main focus.

Over the next few years, the Edgewater flume began to fall into disrepair, as was common with all flumes through both the Columbia and Okanagan valleys.

In 1923, the Columbia Valley Ranch Company was formed. The company brought in sheep, cattle, and hogs to help fund the repair of the Edgewater flume.

A bridge supporting the Edgewater Flume across Kindersley Road

The Edgewater Irrigation Flume crossing over Kindersley Road

Over the years, mixed farming and lumber became the main industries in the Edgewater area. The town and surrounding area flourished, with a few ebbs and flows along the way. This helped maintain funding for the Edgewater flume’s ongoing operation.

By the mid 1940’s, the property owners utilizing the Edgewater irrigation flume took over direct control of operations and maintenance. They coordinated with each other through the Vermilion Irrigation District, and funded the flume using water taxes.

The region continued to prosper, and by the mid 1960’s Edgewater became a larger centre than Radium Hot Springs.

A curved portion of the Edgewater Irrigation Flume

The path of the Edgewater Flume utilizes the natural contours of the land

Water still flowing strong a century later

Currently, the Edgewater irrigation flume supplies water to 93 landowners in the Vermillion Irrigation District within the Edgewater area. The flume operates from mid-May to mid-October. It now consists of 8 kilometres (5 miles) of flume on wooden supports and 5 kilometres (3 miles) of underground pipe.

While all other flumes in the interior British Columbia have long been abandoned, the Edgewater Flume stands as an amazing success story of coordinated effort to keep it functioning for well over 100 years.

Irrigation seen at the end of the Edgewater Flume

Irrigation underway at the end of the flume

Video of the Edgewater Irrigation Flume 

 

Have you come across old flumes or aqueducts, whether functioning or not?