By Trevor Busch
With low water demand early in the season but tempered by a mid-summer spike in usage, the Taber Irrigation District (TID) expects to have good winter storage levels as the irrigation season draws to a close for 2020.
“It’s looking pretty good. It should be pretty close to typical over-winter supply,” said TID district manager Chris Gallagher. “Basically, we had a very good spring and early summer with low demand and pretty good supply, and it’s just been the month of August that we’ve seen significantly above-average demand. But with the rain we just got, demand has dropped off and we’re expecting all the reservoirs to be close to normal levels.”
Various funding announcements for irrigation in August saw a host of provincial ministers descend on districts throughout the region to dole out Irrigation Rehabilitation Program (IRP) funds. TID is receiving $547,532 in 2020.
“For that, we profiled our East Horsefly Main Pipeline project. That one we will be using this year’s funds towards and probably the next two year’s funds towards,” said Gallagher. “It’s a pretty big project in the Purple Springs area. That one is a pipeline connection from the top of the Purple Springs hill down to the bottom and connects pretty much right at Purple Springs. What that has allowed us to do is add a lot of additional pressure on the existing pipeline downstream, and allowed us to add about 1,600 irrigation acres to our district. At the top end of that system we have a settling pond and a gabion wall infiltration system to help keep weeds, algae and sediment out of the pipeline. But also associated with that we have a number of automation improvements, including gates and controls, that actually improve the management of water for the whole East Horsefly Main Canal system.”
Funds received through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership will be allocated toward some technological improvements to system monitoring.
“We are looking at adding some SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) which is communications and controls that allows us to remotely understand what’s happening in our district and apply some controls. We also have a water efficiency project that we’re looking at, recovering some drain water, cleaning it up and then adding it to our irrigation stream.”
Although arriving at the finish line as a pretty average year for water consumption, Gallagher pointed there has been highs and lows during the growing season.
“Actually it was a bit of both. It started below average, because we had a relatively cool spring and early summer and a few rain events that were quite timely. So demand was low early, but as I mentioned, it was pretty high in August. Actually overall, TID along with our partners, SMRID (St. Mary River Irrigation District) and RID (Raymond Irrigation District) we ended up pretty close to average, right where our median — right in the middle, which is good. We want to be able to use the irrigation water to supplement and allow us to grow these good specialty crops without taxing the system too badly.”
Canal ditch mowing has been problematic in 2020 due to a higher concentration of weed growth from early wet weather.
“In terms of maintenance, we’ve had our mowing in spring program, which has been a challenge with that wet spring. It meant we had some pretty thick and aggressive growth that made mowing slow on our canal banks. So we went through a couple of mower clutches this year. And we had to do multiple spray cycles to keep up with the invasive weeds. We are getting a new spray truck, it’s being outfitted right now and should be ready for next season. The guys, of course, have been typically going out and weed whipping around our turnouts, for good accessibility, and putting in a lot of pipeline warning signs. Obviously that’s a concern, we have a lot of buried infrastructure around and want to keep that protected.”
Aquatic weeds have been dealt with through regular herbicide applications and the district’s continuing emphasis on filtration installations like berms and gabion walls.
“Within our water, we’ve been treating with Magnacide H on a regular basis for preventive maintenance. And with our new Alberta Environment approval, we’ve adopted a more proactive notification system, and we’re doing that by text directly to water users who are downstream of the treatment site, and on our website. We’ve had some reservoir aquatic weed events, but it’s been mitigated significantly by our new rock berms, and debris berms, which has kept the worst of it away from our canal and pipeline intakes,” said Gallagher.
A new face on the engineering team for the TID is settling into his new role.
“On the engineering side, we’ve got a new district engineer, Mojtaba Ahmadizadeh. He’s a good pickup, he’s got lots of experience from Iran, and is well-suited to work with us here. He’s learning the ropes, which is actually good timing, because last year it was a very big construction year, and we’re starting slow this year, so it gives him some time to learn. The projects we’ve got lined up for this fall is the second phase of our Lateral 7 East Horsefly. That’s dependent on getting our crossing agreements in place, but we’re hoping to get that done, and that will tie in to an existing downstream pipeline adding a little bit of pressure, and cleaner water. And then we’ll be continuing to work on the East Horsefly Main Pipeline in terms of optimizing that new automation system to minimize spill,” said Gallagher.
Previous seasons have been taxing for the TID’s ditch riders, and Gallagher reports 2020 has been a nice change.
“We’ve had a good delivery season this year. It’s been a nice change for the ditch riders. They’ve had a lot more time to work on co-ordinating what they’re doing and working on the reporting, and inspecting the works, with the average demand compared to the last two years that have been quite demanding on them. In terms of COVID-19 and how we’ve addressed that, fortunately our ditch riders — they are key staff for water deliveries — they work remotely in their own trucks. We haven’t had our typical daily check-ins at the shop, they’ve been working remotely, and that’s worked out pretty well.”
The TID benefits from regular communication on water requests between users and the district, and Gallagher encouraged producers to maintain this relationship going forward.
“Just a reminder to our water users, our ditch riders are trying to operate the system as efficiently as they can, and it’s really helpful if all water users make water order requests, both on and off, and it helps us be just that more efficient.”