Federal fund, Alberta government back irrigation upgrades

Infrastructure Bank lends cash for system improvements

(Video screengrab from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry via YouTube)

Eight irrigation districts in Alberta are set to tap into the Canada Infrastructure Bank’s new $1.5 billion pool of funding earmarked for irrigation, to receive loans worth about $407.5 million.

The Alberta and federal governments on Friday announced a total investment of $815 million — including repayable CIB funds, provincial support and irrigation district contributions — going to “modernize irrigation district infrastructure and increase water storage capacity” in the province.

The federal government had pledged irrigation support as part of a three-year, $10 billion CIB-backed infrastructure plan it announced the previous week, and federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said at the time that the West could expect “the lion’s share” of the irrigation money.

Provincial Ag Minister Devin Dreeshen, in a release Friday, hailed the “visionary investment” made possible by partnership between Alberta’s government, the CIB and irrigation districts.

The province announced it will put up $244.5 million while the eight irrigation districts — Bow River, Eastern, Lethbridge Northern, Raymond, St. Mary River, Taber, United and Western — will contribute a total of $163 million.

The resulting expansion, he said, “will see hundreds of kilometres of pipelines built, contribute about $436 million annually to Alberta’s (gross domestic product) and create over 8,000 jobs.”

In all, he said, the work is expected to bring irrigation to more than 200,000 more acres of Alberta farmland.

A memo of understanding and agreement in principle call for the CIB investment to be paid back by the irrigation districts, in what the federal and provincial governments described as “an innovative approach to financing a unique asset class.”

The projects to be funded will focus on “increasing water conveyance efficiency and allowing more acres to be irrigated with the same amount of water,” the governments said.

Modernizing and building new irrigation infrastructure, they said, will increase irrigated acreage, primary crop production and water storage capacity, improve water use efficiency, enhance water security and provide “flood protection to support long-term value-added processing activity.”

The Western Irrigation District, in a separate release, said the funding will allow it to “modernize our canals and pipelines in the coming months and years, sooner than we would have otherwise.”

“We will expand irrigation while increasing water efficiency,” WID chair Dan Shute said. “And with the savings we gain by becoming more efficient, we can make the service we provide to our water users even more secure.”

Increased flow

In related news, the province also announced Friday that flows on the Milk River within Alberta will increase “early next week” as repairs have been completed on a damaged diversion canal in Montana.

A concrete drop structure had failed on the St. Mary Canal in northern Montana on May 17, interrupting diversions to the Milk River, which runs through southern Alberta.

That interruption affected irrigators in Alberta in late July, but had no impacts to drinking water or household use, the province said.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the structure in question, began Thursday diverting water from the St. Mary River to the Milk River by way of the newly repaired canal, the province said.

The canal is expected to operate through the rest of October, then go through its usual winter shutdown. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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Editor, Daily News

Dave Bedard

Editor, Daily News, Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.


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