Irrigation infrastructure gets boost PDF Print
Local Content - Local Agriculture
Written by Garrett Simmons   
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 17:48

Irrigation is the lifeblood of southern Alberta.
In a semi-arid part of the country, irrigation water has helped our agricultural industry grow and prosper, and produce a wide range of crops once thought to be little more than a dream for the region.
Last week, the infrastructure which supplies that precious resource to farmers was given a $21-million boost from the Alberta government, as irrigation districts in southern Alberta will receive grants to maintain and improve systems that supply over one million acres of land with water.
It’s a yearly program which has been in operation since 1969, according to Richard Phillips, vice-chair of the Alberta Irrigation Project Association. Phillips, who is also the general manager of the Bow River Irrigation District, headquartered in Vauxhall, said this year’s allocation is slightly more than last year, as he added the districts now must submit a list of their projects for approval.
“The money gets used for all types of infrastructure upgrades,” said Phillips, who added funds are mainly used to convert canals to pipelines.
He estimates the BRID converts about 25 kilometres of canals to pipelines each year.
“This winter we have three more pipeline projects. Last year we had a big canal replaced by Enchant.”
The government money is distributed based on how many acres each district serves. Three of the four largest districts are in the Lethbridge area, from the largest, the St. Mary River Irrigation District, to the BRID and Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District, which rank third and fourth. The SMRID will receive $5.48 million in provincial contributions, while the BRID will receive $3.19 million and the LNID will get $2.3 million.
Funds are doled out on a 75-25 cost share, as districts pick up the smaller share. That formula has allowed the network of pipelines in the ground to grow from 80 kilometres in 1969 to 3,000 kilometres today.
“It’s accomplished so much good,” said Phillips about the program, who added keeping up with infrastructure projects is key. “When you have good infrastructure, the farmers are willing to invest of their end.”
And that is part of creating an efficient system, as most producers now use low-pressure, drop-tube pivot systems, to reduce water usage for an irrigation network that supports more than 55 different crops and supplies water to 50 communities and municipalities in Alberta.
“Irrigation is an integral component of the economic, environmental and social fabric of southern Alberta,” said Verlyn Olson, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, in a government press release. “That’s why we need to build and maintain a stronger irrigation system to increase water efficiency and ensure our producers can continue to diversify their crops.”
Alberta is home to approximately 70 per cent of all the irrigated land in Canada. Irrigation farms account for about five per cent of the arable land in Alberta, producing nearly 20 per cent of Alberta’s total food production. Directly and indirectly, irrigation adds an estimated 40,000 jobs and more than $1 billion a year to the provincial economy.
The $21 million in grants are part of a cost-sharing arrangement with the 13 irrigation districts. The funds will be used for updating and rehabilitating aging parts of the complex system that includes more than 8,000 kilometres of canals and pipelines. This irrigation system is valued at over $3.5 billion.

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