Another 200,000 acres of southern Alberta farmland will be irrigated in coming years as a result of an $815 million injection into the region’s agricultural industry. That will add to the existing 1.3 million acres already under irrigation in the south.
The funds will be used to build four new off-stream water storage reservoirs, adding to the current 50, and 56 modernization projects, most of which involve conversion of open canals to underground pipelines.
Eight of Alberta’s 13 irrigation districts have formed a consortium to provide 20 percent of the funding, or about $163 million. Approximately $245 million will come from the Alberta government and the remaining 50 percent, or $407 million, comes in the form of a loan financed by the Canada Infrastructure Bank.
That amount will be repaid by the irrigation districts over a period of 35 years, according to Alberta Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen, who was to participate in the announcement along with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, federal Infrastructure and Communities Minister Katherine McKennna, who participated virtually from Ottawa, and other ministers and infrastructure bank and irrigation district officials.
He called the development an historic investment in Alberta.
“Obviously the economic benefits for farmers (are) to be able to add more specialty crops in their crop rotation as well as attracting more value-added food processors here to the province of Alberta because they do look for that stable, steady supply of product that comes from irrigation,” said Dreeshen.
He said the department has calculated that the investment will add $436 million in GDP growth once projects are complete.
Of the $815 million, $520 million will be used for the new reservoirs and about $295 for the modernization projects.
Locations of the four new reservoirs are yet to be determined by the irrigation districts involved, said Dreeshen.
He added that the additional acres designated for irrigation are within existing water allocations “so we haven’t had to go out and try to increase the water allocation to allow this irrigation expansion. That’s how we were able to move so quickly with this.”
New reservoirs will allow the province to capture more snow melt and spring runoff from the mountains so it can be used later in the growing season when it is needed, he said.
The eight irrigation districts involved are Bow River, Eastern, Lethbridge Northern, Raymond, St. Mary River, Taber, United and Western.