By Stan Ashbee
Alberta Newspaper Group
Spring has sprung, as the St. Mary River Irrigation District (SMRID) remains in somewhat decent shape heading into the summer of 2019.
“We’ve already fired up most of the canals. We were ready to get water in and then we had that snow storm with the wind and it filled quite a few of our smaller canals with snow,” SMRID General Manager Terrence Lazarus noted, this past Friday. “Impeding our process in terms of filling up the canals,” he added.
According to Lazarus, the main canal was watered-up quite early. “We were looking towards getting water to most of the districts by the beginning of this week,” he said. But, because of the snow build up in the canals, it was a bit of a slower start.
In terms of the bigger picture, Lazarus explained, storage in the districts are in OK shape. “Those owned by the government, in the main canal on the main rivers, are somewhat lower than normal. It’s been really cold, so the snow hasn’t come through yet,” he said.
And the snow pack is OK too. “It’s not high, it’s not disastrous low — it’s just OK,” he said. Of course, it is all weather dependent.
One part of the picture is the snow pack, he added, while the other part of the picture is how much precipitation the area will get between now and the end of June.
In southern Alberta, the SMRID is dedicated to its vision of supporting communities, environment and agriculture in the area and its mission is to provide for future generations. In order to maintain the delivery of water through a complex system of reservoirs, canals and pipelines to the many water-users who are within the district, the SMRID has a staff of 65 — comprising full-time and part-time employees in the field, at the main office in Lethbridge and at the office in Bow Island. Staff are responsible for the engineering, operations and maintenance of the district and office staff are responsible for all the administration that supports all of those activities.
According to information posted on the SMRID’s official website, the SMRID has licences to divert water from the St. Mary, Waterton and Belly rivers. The total volume of the SMRID’s allowable diversion is 722,000 ac. Ft. or about 890 million cubic metres — on average, the SMRID only diverts around 50 per cent of its total licence. One of its licences now allows, not only water for irrigation as originally conceived, but for other uses such as municipal, industrial, recreational and environmental. It must be noted though, the SMRID will not allow water to be used for well injection.
Due to investment of millions of dollars by the district and irrigators to improve the efficiency of transport and application of water to crops, the district has seen diversion volumes reduce, while irrigated acreage increase — it was stated on the SMRID’s website.
Almost all of the reservoirs within the SMRID system are used for recreational purposes including boating and fishing — amongst those are Sauder, Forty Mile and Stafford reservoirs — which are very heavily-used and both have public camping and boat launch facilities. The SMRID is proud of the ability to efficiently deliver water to the 1,500 irrigators — who irrigate over 393,600 acres of land. This is done by diverting almost 400,000 ac/ft of water per year through 2,100 kilometres of canals and pipeline. Through timely ordering, the SMRID is able to ensure water goes to the irrigated fields and not spilled to the return flow.
Lazarus noted the SMRID has done its best to get water in the canals, this year. “Of course, the same thing can be said for this year as every year,” he said, adding a lot of people have crops in — but, the SMRID hasn’t seen a huge demand for water just yet. “But we’re expecting it soon. We should be able to keep up.”
According to Lazarus, the district’s board has approved a certain amount of water per acre for irrigation, which will be re-evaluated in the middle of June. “We’re going to take a look at what the water situation is like. It was hard to tell way back when we started.”