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Time for governments to build rural region with water/irrigation projects

The government would see a $1.88 return on investment for every $1 invested in irrigation works
Bizworld by Ron Walter

When Saskatchewan hosted an international irrigation conference in Saskatoon, provincial irrigators made a surprising discovery.

This province has the largest untapped irrigation potential of any place in the world — both in land and water supply.

Another 500,000 acres of irrigation could be added in the Lake Diefenbaker/Gardner Dam region with another 500,000 acres possible in the rest of the province.

These Lake Diefenbaker/Gardner Dam projects involve 125,000 acres north of Moose Jaw towards Tugaske and 375,00 acres in the Conquest area, west of Outlook. Currently, the area has 300,000 irrigated acres.

Irrigation has substantial benefits from sustaining and growing rural communities to allowing farmers to grow more value on what was dry land.

The irrigation communities in southern Alberta have fostered new crops – sugar beets, sunflowers, beans, corn, peas, potatoes and forage – as well as jobs in the plants that process and package the products made from these crops.

Irrigation boosts the value of production by $495 an acre. Imagine adding almost $300 million to the province’s gross domestic product with irrigation.

Saskatchewan Irrigation Projects Association president Aaron Gray told the recent Saskatchewan Stock Growers convention that government would see a $1.88 return on investment for every $1 invested in irrigation works.

The 215-acre Erlandson Farm north of Outlook uses irrigation to grow 60 kinds of vegetables that are marketed to farmers’ markets and the Co-op.

This operation employs 30-35 workers on farm and another 15 off the farm. It’s hard to imagine one job sustained by 215 acres of dry land farm.

Current irrigation uses only three per cent of the water in this huge reservoir filled by waters from the Rocky Mountains.

Seven years ago, Western Economic Diversification and the province produced a feasibility study on the proposed Buffalo Pound Water Conveyance Channel from Lake Diefenbaker to supply water to 270,000 southern Saskatchewan residents and allow development of irrigation north of Moose Jaw.

The study warned of southern Saskatchewan water shortages by 2024 – that’s only in five years – if this 10-year project weren’t started.

The study has been collecting dust on the shelf while the province fights with the federal government over so-called constitutional matters that appear remarkably political in nature.

Isn’t it about time our political leaders at all levels quit scrapping like back alley cats and did something to build the economy?

Gray believes the political will to proceed isn’t there and how to fund irrigation plans are holding up expanded irrigation water supply projects.

The feasibility study outlined a funding model based on one-half long-term bonds and one-half funds from federal and provincial governments.

The time has come for governments to get off their collective butts and work to build the rural economy they pretend to adore.

Ron Walter can be reached at