By Cole Parkinson
Along with the announcement of an $815-million investment, the government of Alberta announced earlier this month there would be an additional investing another $117.7 million to modernize irrigation infrastructure and increase water storage in southern Alberta.
“We are making further investments to expand Alberta and modernize Alberta’s irrigation network. Last fall, about a year back, we announced the participation of eight irrigation districts and with gratitude, the Canada Infrastructure Bank to support, at that time, it was a total investment to increase by 230,000 — the amount of irrigated acres to take it up to 1.63 million irrigated acres. That was an announcement of about $800 million in investment between the government of Alberta and the irrigation districts and the CIB,” explained Premier Jason Kenney at the announcement on Nov. 12. “We are happy to announce that two more irrigation districts are coming on as partners and we are putting in an additional $118 million to the historic expansion of Alberta irrigation. This is incredibly good news for farmers and food producers across the province.”
Participating irrigation districts are Bow River Irrigation District, Eastern Irrigation District, Leavitt Irrigation District, Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District, Raymond Irrigation District, Ross Creek Irrigation District, St. Mary River Irrigation District, Taber Irrigation District, United Irrigation District, and Western Irrigation District. From an economic perspective, the government stated the irrigation industry generates about $2.4 billion in annual labour income and supports about 56,000 jobs and Irrigation-related agricultural processing generates about $2 billion in total annual sales, and accounts for about 18 per cent of total provincial food processing sales. They also said the irrigation industry contributes up to $3.6 billion annually to Alberta’s GDP, which represents about 20 per cent of the agri-food sector GDP on only 4.7 per cent of the province’s cultivated land base.
Kenney also touched on the economic impacts the expansion will bring.
He stated a large number of permanent jobs will come from the project and temporary jobs will be created as well.
“This ambitious program will help to create up 7,300 permanent jobs and 1,400 construction jobs, while contributing nearly half a billion dollars a year to Alberta’s economy and our gross domestic product. This is an expansion overall, between last year’s announcement and (Nov. 12) of about 15 per cent of these average that will be covered by irrigation in Alberta.”The government also explained what the expansion will bring for irrigators.
“By modernizing and building new irrigation infrastructure, we will increase irrigated acreage, increase primary crop production, and improve water-use efficiency. This will also increase water storage capacity, enhance water security, provide flood protection, and support long-term, value-added processing activity,” said Nate Horner, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Rural Economic Development. “We will achieve all of this by sticking within existing water license allocations.”
A question was posed around if the government had heard any environmental concerns around the irrigation expansion.
“I have not in my limited time in this role. But I think it’s important to point out that all of this expansion is done with the existing water license. This is how we’re finding the efficiencies to get the new acres,” responded Horner.
Others involved with the project also gave their thoughts on the new announcement and additional funding.
“We would like to thank the Government of Alberta and the CIB for the additional investment into the Irrigating Alberta infrastructure initiative. This is truly a transformational investment for the Alberta irrigation sector and agriculture industry,” added David Westwood, manager, St. Mary River Irrigation District.