By Trevor Busch
Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver toured St. Mary River water diversion infrastructure in Montana earlier this month that is key to annual flow rates in the Milk River watershed.
Representatives from several southern Alberta communities also attended the tour on Aug. 10, which included a visit to the St. Mary Canal and the repaired Drop 5 infrastructure, which diverts water from the St. Mary River to the Milk River. During the tour, attendees had the opportunity to discuss water security in the region and new areas for collaboration.
Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter was unable to attend the tour, but he was able to provide a few more details about the purpose of the trip.
“We share a watershed, the St. Mary watershed – they call it the St. Mary watershed down there, we up here call it the St. Mary – Milk River watershed, but they’re pretty much the same,” said Hunter. “So he (McIver) wanted to be able to understand a bit more about water, and we’re doing a Trans-Boundary Commission right now studying the water of the Milk River, and that basin, so he wanted to understand it a bit more. I would have liked to have gone down as well. But unfortunately, I couldn’t at the time, I was busy. But we do share a boundary of water and watershed. And so we have to understand each other’s needs and conservation and what we’re doing. So irrigation is a big part of it.”
The Milk River watershed spans an area of 59,857 square kilometres across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Montana, and provides water for various purposes, including municipal, domestic, agricultural and recreational activity, though irrigation is the main water use across the watershed.
Hunter confirmed irrigation remains a key goal for the UCP, with expansion of Chin Reservoir in the St. Mary system expected to be complete by spring 2028.
“Right up there at the top,” said Hunter. “We recognize the world’s going to need to be fed, there will be more mouths to be fed. And there’s area in southern Alberta here where we have the heat units and heat and the sunny days, where we can grow 65 different specialty crops, and we can do it very well. And so we recognize the necessity to be able to increase the irrigation. And that’s what we’re doing. By increasing that irrigation, we’re going to be able to help the current agri-food processors in the area, expand their operations, and we’re going to be able to bring in some new agri-food processors into the area. So it’s an exciting time. I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again. It’s an exciting time to be in southern Alberta. I think that this is going to be some of the most coveted real estate in North America.”
In May 2020, the Drop 5 infrastructure failed on the St. Mary Canal. Work was done throughout the summer to repair the structure and water diversion resumed in October 2020.