By Cole Parkinson
Come early 2019, the Bow River Irrigation District expects to see an expansion of their acre limits from 260,000 to 295,000.
After the BRID board proposed the expansion earlier in the fall, it appears their acre limits will see a substantial size increase after they held a plebiscite this month which showed a vast majority in favour.
“We’ve been talking about expansion for a couple of years, give or take, around here. We previously expanded twice, back in 2004 and 2012, so it’s certainly not new to us. This time there was a lot of interest in expansion on the part of people looking for acres as well as the board of directors. The plebiscite was held December 4 and passed with a strong majority, 132 votes in favour and 32 opposed,” said Richard Phillips, general manager. “The question asked was if they were in favour of expanding from 260,000 acres to 295,000 acres, so third reading of our expansion bylaw is scheduled for December 19 and we expect the board to approve third reading.”
With the last expansion coming six years ago, Phillips says there are a few reasons for the increased acres coming in the New Year.
“More than anything because we had no acres for sale and we haven’t had for a while. There is all kinds of demand for additional acres, both to develop dryland parcels that are currently unirrigated as well as filling out more acres on parcels that are irrigated but don’t have acres sufficient to do what they want. For instance, we’ve seen an awful lot of pivots that have had corner arms added to them in recent years. We haven’t had any acres available to do that for over a year now. We have been keeping a list of people who have called saying they’d like to buy acres if we had any available and we have over 22,000 acres sitting on that list,” he explained. “The board initially thought we would look at a 25,000-acre expansion. The work that was done on assessing our water supply showed we needed to expand to a much higher level than that.”
As part of the expansion process, BRID held four public meetings before the plebiscite and the board voted to raise the 25,000 expansion to 35,000 due to demand.
Five polling stations were set up in the district to gauge feedback on the expansion and four of the five stations were strongly in favour. Another big reason for the extension of BRID acres comes from the fact they obtained an Alberta Environment water license a few years back.
“There has been two key things we feel are important in justifying our expansion. One, in 2016 we got another 40,000-acre-feet of water license from Alberta Environment so that is critical. When they gave us that license, the expectation was that they were giving it to us to enable further expansion of the district,” said Phillips who also highlighted reservoir upgrades as factors for expansion. “One other thing of importance is with the upgrading of the Travers and Little Bow Reservoirs, Little Bow was made much larger than it used to be and we’ve gained about 20,000-acre-feet of new available water storage.”
While they still have a bit of work to do, Phillips expects the acres to be available fairly soon.
“We’ll be selling acres fairly early in the new year,” he said.
While the expansion looks to be beneficial for those on dryland looking for irrigation, Phillips believes it will be a positive effect for the entire district.
“There are benefits on two levels, clearly for those who are getting new acres, it means land that has been dryland will be irrigated land. That obviously gives them all kinds of crop choice and will give them better productivity on the land which is why there is so much demand for irrigation. I think the last four years we had had fairly dry summers and we had a string of probably 10 years of average or above average rainfall but now it has been four dry years in a row which drives home the real value of irrigation, but I think most people recognize that quite clearly,” he said. “The benefit for those not looking to expand on their own farm is it is additional revenue for the district which will go back into improving our infrastructure.”
Any type of expansion could present some challenges along the way, but the BRID doesn’t foresee any real big issues in expanding.
The only potential issue they see is if the demand is higher than the expanded 35,000 acres though they don’t see that being too much of a challenge.
“The only issue would be if we have far more demand than acres available and that could happen, one never knows. Based on the previous expressions of interest in 22,000 acres and the fact we have a total 35,000 available, we should have acres in demand. That would be the only real challenge and we have dealt with that before,” stated Phillips.
In terms of where the added acres will be used, the BRID has a good idea of which area will be using the additional water.
“We aren’t building new canals or pipelines to take water into new areas. In both of our previous expansions, it was up to the irrigator to get the water from our system to their land and the board has decided to continue with that process. The area the water will go is entirely up to where the irrigators want it. Having said that, I expect it will be more acres added in the western portion of the district than the eastern portion. Reason for that is, the eastern portion, almost all of the privately-owned land is already irrigated. There really isn’t much for privately-owned drylands agriculture east of Highway 36,” said Phillips.
Coming up in the new year, BRID will be reviewing applications received for the expanded acres and starting the approval process soon after they look over the documents they receive.
“At the Jan. 23 board meeting, at that point, we will be looking at applications we have received to date. What we have done so far is said anybody who is interested, get an application in by Jan. 16. We are then going to, at the Jan. 23 board meeting, analyze applications and see what we’ve got. At that point start conditional approval of these applications,” added Phillips. “If we have more applications than acres available, we will go through the interesting process of determining conditional approvals. If we have fewer acres applied for than acres available, we will continue accepting approvals after that date. We expect new land added for 2019 as well as probably even more in 2020.”