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May 19, 2024 May 19, 2024

Province hikes funding for irrigation rehab program

Posted on May 9, 2024 by Ryan Dahlman

By Al Beeber
Southern Alberta Newspapers

The provincial government is boosting funding for its irrigation rehabilitation program.
The province is providing in Budget 2024 $19 million for the program which is an increase of $5.5 million over last year.

“This is money well spent,” said Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation RJ Sigurdson at an announcement in Vauxhall on April 30, “as expanding and modernizing irrigation infrastructure will ensure that Alberta’s irrigation districts can deliver water to producers efficiently and reliably while improving productivity and competitiveness in our agricultural industry.

“Ultimately, improving irrigation infrastructure means we can irrigate more land with the same amount of water and investing in these projects now will help counter dry conditions and increase the resiliency of our agricultural sector,” said Sigurdson.

Irrigation districts can use the money for planning, engineering and construction of infrastructure upgrades such as converting canals to pipelines to reduce water loss. 

In 2022, 9.9 kilometres of open canals were converted to pipelines as part of the program, the minister added.

“Agriculture is a key economic driver of Alberta’s economy and improved irrigation helps farmers increase yields, it helps grow more diverse crops, it improves productivity and allows farmers to reliably support our growing food processing sector and as well the growing food demand globally,” Sigurdson said.

“We will continue to do everything we can to strengthen agriculture and irrigation here in Alberta and support an industry that is always facing adversity and conditions that change year over year, he added.

“As Alberta faces a potentially dry growing season, we need to do more with the water that we have,” said Sigurdson.

“Water availability is essential to growing and raising the food that feeds the world and feeds our families right here at home.” And that’s why the province works with Alberta’s irrigation districts to revitalize and rejuvenate their irrigation infrastructure, he said.

Richard Phillips, vice-chair of Alberta Irrigation Districts Association, said in 1969 the government started what is now known as irrigation rehabilitation program.

The results of that program are evident in the more than 45,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the province and billions of dollars in annual economic activity which is dependent on irrigation districts, he said.

“Reliable water delivery infrastructure is the key,” he said, referring to the difference in this province and others where similar government investment hasn’t occurred.

“When farmers know they can depend on water when they need it, they’re willing to make the investments required to produce the high quality crops that attract food processing companies to our region,” he added.

The province has more than 7,700 kilometres of canals and pipelines and all infrastructure wears out with use and eventually requires rehabilitation and replacement, Phillips added.

Rehabilitation of irrigation systems has greatly reduced water losses as canals are replaced with pipelines with more than 60 per cent of conveyances now being buried pipelines, Phillips said.

“This has been a primary factor in more than doubling the irrigated areas since the early 1970s without increasing the amount of water we use and continued rehabilitation will provide further water savings,” Phillips said.

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