Sask. irrigation expansion still questioned

A consulting engineer says the province’s $4 billion plan to irrigate 500,000 acres from Lake Diefenbaker needs more scrutiny.

Robert Halliday, who is also on the Saskatchewan Environmental Society executive, told the National Farmers Union Region 6 annual convention that there are public policy, economic and environmental questions that have to be answered before the project goes ahead.

The project has been touted as a way to supply more water for the cities of Regina and Moose Jaw and industrial development between the two, as well as to put more water on crop land. The government hopes to attract more food processing, feedlots and other industry as a result of being able to guarantee water supply.

Halliday and others said the project will benefit only two percent of farmers, and not all farmers in the project area will sign on if it doesn’t make economic sense.

“They’re talking about $4 billion for a few hundred farmers to develop irrigation when we have more than 40,000 dryland farmers in the province,” he said. “Can you think of other farm-related projects that would serve the province more adequately?”

NFU members at the virtual conference suggested spending the money on high-speed broadband and bringing back provincial bus service.

Former president Terry Boehm asked if there would be enough uptake by farmers whose farms are getting larger.

“Irrigation would require far too much management and commitment for the type of agriculture that we’re seeing unfold right now,” he suggested.

Halliday said the government is also asking farmers to spend millions of dollars for irrigation equipment that they might only be able to use six years in 10 because it will be too wet in some years or there won’t be enough water available in others.

He said a cost-benefit analysis that looks at previous money spent on irrigation in the province, value-added, crop diversification and all aspects is required.

He also said a federal environmental impact assessment should be required, particularly if the province hopes to obtain financial help from the Canada Infrastructure Bank.

Another NFU member asked Halliday if he thought there was a hidden agenda behind the project considering “clearly there’s been a history of unused and unwanted irrigation.”

Halliday said he didn’t know.

“There’s no earthly reason for more water to be diverted for anything other than irrigation,” he said. “The potash mines don’t need it. Industries in Regina don’t need it. Nobody needs any of this water for any other reason and I’ve looked at it very, very carefully.”

Contact karen.briere@producer.com

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