By Anna Smith
The St. Mary River Irrigation District is looking to open the metaphorical floodgates to potential new irrigators with their proposed irrigation expansion.
Currently, the district’s board of directors is seeking the approval of the irrigators to change the expansion limit to 584,200 acres, from their current 504,200 acres. This project has been in the works for over two years now, said St. Mary General Manager David Westwood, beginning with the Alberta government’s irrigation modernization program.
“Alberta government came to, not only the SMRID, but to at that time, nine other irrigation districts who all signed up to be part of the Alberta irrigation modernization program,” said Westwood. “The clear intent of one of the results of doing all this infrastructure work, was that districts would then have the ability through the water savings from these projects to look at expanding in each one of their districts.”
This infrastructure work is what allows for the expansion, explained Westwood, as the new efficiency would allow for them to add parcels with their current water licence. Presently, the SMRID is fully subscribed as far as how many acres they can service.
“If an irrigator wanted to come or a potential irrigator wanted to come to the district, we have no irrigation acres that we can issue, so they are not allowed to irrigate through our infrastructure,” said Westwood. “What this plebiscite will do by raising the expansion limit will allow us to now issue new irrigation rights to those land parcels as I was looking for, and obviously then that is where the district grows. Because obviously now, we are irrigating more acres within the district.
“But what we’re obviously trying to show with the information package from all the water savings that we’ve been able to complete in the historically and what we’re doing with our programs plus the expansion of Chin Reservoir, how we’re going to be able to service those new acres and still be able to do it within the same limits of water use that we’ve done historically.”
Westwood added the expansion would take place over time, as infrastructure projects get completed.
“We’re anticipating that it will take quite a few years because we need certain infrastructure projects to be completed, many of which are our conversion, open canal into enclosed underground pipelines, which we’re feverishly doing over the next, you know, three or four more years. As part of the AIM program, we’ve been doing it now for a couple of years already,” said Westwood.
Some of the projects, including the reservoir expansion, he expects will be years in the future.
To help irrigators with the upcoming vote, SMRID will be holding 4 information sessions on the proposed expansions over the days leading up to the vote, to help both irrigators and the public have the chance to ask questions and come to an informed decision.
The meetings will all be held at 1:30 p.m., at the Taber Heritage Inn on November 22, Bow Island Legion Hall on Nov. 23, the Seven Persons Community Hall on Nov. 24, and the Readymade Community Hall on Nov. 25.
“The information sessions next week will be basically, you know, us presenting the online information package in a little bit more of a condensed form. But then obviously, the big opportunity is for irrigators or anybody for the general public who attends a session to be able to ask questions about, you know, things that might be on their minds about the proposed expansion,” said Westwood.
The information package is available online at the district’s website, and contains the rationale and background for the proposal in its roughly 16 pages.
“I just would like to encourage people. If you have time to make it to one of the four sessions, I think you will find it informative,” said Westwood. “And then of course, we’re asking as many irrigators as possible to actually come out and vote on Nov. 28. That will be available at all of the offices of the St. Mary River Irrigation District.”
Voting will be open on Nov. 28 from 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
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