Alberta irrigation water supply forecast looks good

Low water demand due to late seeding | Reservoirs are full and an above average runoff volume is expected

Irrigation water is available in Alberta’s 13 irrigation districts, but as of May 20 use had been minimal because seeding was still underway.

“The water is in most of the canals, but because of the cool, wet conditions, the demand is not very high,” said Alberta Irrigation Projects Association executive director Ron McMullin.

“We need a stint of warm weather so everything can be seeded.”

Most of southern Alberta had good soil moisture conditions at mid-month, and reservoirs had ample supply. Cool conditions have slowed runoff from the mountains.

Alberta Environment’s most recent water supply outlook indicated that mountain runoff forecasts in the Milk, Oldman, Bow and Red Deer river basins were above average for May to September.

Recorded runoff volumes in March and April were much above average.

The government report also confirmed snow pack affecting the Oldman, Bow, Red Deer, North Saskatchewan and Athabasca river basins are all above average.

That bodes well for irrigation water supply, although most regions hope for a slow mountain snow pack melt to avoid flooding. Several regions of southern Alberta are still recovering from last year’s devastating floods, when rainfall on snow combined for a deluge in Calgary, High River and several smaller towns and villages downstream.

Richard Phillips, manager of the Bow River Irrigation District based in Vauxhall, Alta., said reservoirs in his area are ready for the season.

“There’s certainly no shortage of water going to be available this year. There’s lots of snow in the mountains and the reservoirs are in good shape. It’s just a very late start to farming this year compared to what we’ve been used to the last several years,” he said.

“If you compare it with the last 30 years, I don’t think it’s all that late, but we’ve had a few pretty easy springs lately and people get used to seeding really early in that situation, so when they’re delayed until May it seems very late to them.”

The BRID is expanding its acres under irrigation, as are several other irrigation districts. That is possible because of improved irrigation equipment technology and gradual replacement of canals with pipelines, both of which reduce water loss.

“Most of the districts have expanded some,” said Phillips.

“In our case, we’ve added a lot of new acres and using less water than we used to. It’s purely the efficiencies of all the better pivots on farms instead of the old wheel moves and the flood (irrigation) and the older style pivots, and replacing all that canal with pipeline is just a huge water saving, which has enabled us to do a big expansion and still use less water than we used to.”

Alberta’s irrigation districts comprise 50 reservoirs and more than 1.5 million acres of farmland.

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