Saskatchew­an gov­ern­ment start­ing with $4 bil­lion ir­ri­ga­tion project at Lake Diefen­baker

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - mlieben­berg@prairiepos­ By Matthew Lieben­berg

The Saskatchew­an gov­ern­ment is start­ing a large decade-long project to more than dou­ble the amount of ir­ri­ga­ble land in the province.

Premier Scott Moe and Leg­isla­tive Sec­re­tary to the Min­is­ter Re­spon­si­ble for the Wa­ter Se­cu­rity Agency Lyle Stewart an­nounced the project dur­ing a me­dia tele­con­fer­ence, July 2.

Moe said it is a gen­er­a­tional project that will im­pact the Saskatchew­an agri­cul­tural sec­tor and the en­tire province for the next cen­tury.

“This is and will be one of the largest in­fra­struc­ture projects so far in the his­tory of the province, but it will also be one of the most ben­e­fi­cial in­fra­struc­ture projects to the econ­omy in the province of Saskatchew­an and the ex­pan­sion of jobs in com­mu­ni­ties in our province,” he men­tioned.

It will ir­ri­gate up to 500,000 acres of land from Lake Diefen­baker. Project con­struc­tion will take place over the next 10 years in three main phases at a to­tal cost of about $4 bil­lion.

The project will start with an im­me­di­ate in­vest­ment of $22.5 mil­lion by the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment for pre­lim­i­nary engi­neer­ing and ini­tial con­struc­tion of the West­side ir­ri­ga­tion project. Pre­lim­i­nary soil qual­ity anal­y­sis for the Qu’Ap­pelle South ir­ri­ga­tion project area will also start this year.

The first phase of the project will cost about $500 mil­lion. It in­cludes the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and ex­pan­sion of the ex­ist­ing West­side ir­ri­ga­tion canal sys­tem, which will in­crease the amount of ir­ri­ga­ble land in the Macrorie and Con­quest ar­eas by about 80,000 acres.

“It is con­sid­ered one of the most shovel ready ir­ri­ga­tion projects in the province, likely the na­tion, with 90 per cent of the cur­rent canal al­ready in place,” he said.

The sec­ond phase of the project will con­tinue the ex­pan­sion of the West­side ir­ri­ga­tion project to pro­vide an ad­di­tional 260,000 acres of ir­ri­ga­ble land. It will make land avail­able for ir­ri­ga­tion near Macrorie, Milden, Zealan­dia, and as far north as Delisle and Asquith.

The third phase of the project will add an­other 120,000 acres of ir­ri­ga­ble land through the ex­pan­sion of the Qu’Ap­pelle South ir­ri­ga­tion project. The canal will link Lake Diefen­baker with Buf­falo Pound Lake and it will run past the com­mu­ni­ties of Tu­gaske, Eye­brow, and Mar­quis.

“It would pro­vide the Moose Jaw-Regina cor­ri­dor and southern Saskatchew­an with a se­cure wa­ter source for the next cen­tury and act as a cat­a­lyst for sig­nif­i­cant in­dus­trial ex­pan­sion in the years to come,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Moe the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment is firmly be­hind mov­ing for­ward with all three phases of this project, but it is also look­ing for fed­eral fund­ing to sup­port the cost of this large ini­tia­tive. He is con­fi­dent the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is in­ter­ested in par­tic­i­pat­ing in the project.

The dis­cus­sions with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment are co­or­di­nated by SaskBuilds in part­ner­ship with the Wa­ter Se­cu­rity Agency and the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture. The goal is to ac­cess all pos­si­ble fed­eral in­fra­struc­ture fund­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing through the Canada In­fra­struc­ture Bank.

“There may be mul­ti­ple paths through­out the 10 years, be­cause there may be mul­ti­ple fed­eral gov­ern­ments that we may have to work with through­out the 10 years,” he said. “But one thing that is in com­mon that I’ve seen in my elected time and be­fore, re­gard­less of who the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is, they’re all in­ter­ested in cost-shar­ing in­fra­struc­ture projects just like this that check all the boxes that this par­tic­u­lar project does, be­cause of the ben­e­fit to not only the peo­ple of Saskatchew­an but to all Cana­di­ans,” he said.

The project will cre­ate an es­ti­mated 2,500 con­struc­tion jobs every year for the next 10 years. The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment views this project as a sig­nif­i­cant build­ing block for re­gional eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in Saskatchew­an. Ini­tial es­ti­mates in­di­cate it will re­sult in an in­crease of $40 bil­lion to $80 bil­lion in the pro­vin­cial gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.

Stewart said this in­vest­ment of

$4 bil­lion is ex­pected to pro­vide gov­ern­ments with $15 bil­lion to $20 bil­lion in tax rev­enue over 50 years.

“This project has been talked about for a very long time and I’m proud to say that to­day we are mov­ing ahead with it,” he noted. “The tim­ing is right to move this for­ward. The vi­sion is for our grand­chil­dren and great grand­chil­dren and gen­er­a­tions to fol­low.”

He felt this project can in­crease food se­cu­rity for the province as well as the na­tion. It can also be­come a strate­gi­cally im­por­tant in­vest­ment for the agri­cul­tural sec­tor, be­cause the two main aquifers that pro­vide wa­ter to the ma­jor ir­ri­ga­tion ar­eas in the United States are pre­dicted to be out of wa­ter in 25 to 30 years at the present rate of use.

“So the op­por­tu­nity is huge,” he said. “I think more and more of our pro­duc­ers are aware of it and cer­tainly it’s go­ing to be front of mind for pro­ces­sors in the next 20 years or so. So I think we’re in a very good spot to de­velop more ir­ri­ga­tion now.”

The Lake Diefen­baker ir­ri­ga­tion project will ex­pand the op­por­tu­nity for pro­duc­ers to grow high value ta­ble crops such as pota­toes, corn, car­rots, beets, let­tuce, cab­bage, and cu­cum­bers. This di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of crop pro­duc­tion will ben­e­fit lo­cal economies and at­tract more value-added food pro­cess­ing com­pa­nies.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent world than it was in the 1960s when ir­ri­ga­tion was opened up around the Out­look area,” he said. “It’s a very dif­fer­ent mind­set. When peo­ple think of ir­ri­ga­tion these days, they don’t think about wheat and bar­ley and canola so much. They think about higher value crops and they think about ce­real crops, in­clud­ing corn, but gen­er­ally only to have value added to them through the live­stock feed­ing in­dus­try. So ev­ery­thing is based on adding value now and the in­dus­try is ready, I be­lieve that to be the case.”

The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment will carry out con­sul­ta­tions with First Na­tions and stake­hold­ers about the de­tails and dif­fer­ent phases of this large project. Ac­cord­ing to Stewart the ne­go­ti­a­tions with First Na­tions will be­gin al­most im­me­di­ately.

“We don’t ex­pect great push­back,” he said. “We know that they will ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that this is good for the Qu’Ap­pelle Val­ley wa­ter sys­tem and it should al­low us over time to re­turn to more nor­mal con­di­tions and re­store it­self when the wa­ter flow­down is al­lowed to re­turn to nor­mal. I’m sure there will be con­cerns, but we’ll do our best to mit­i­gate them and have ful­some con­sul­ta­tions with not only First Na­tions, but all po­ten­tial stake­hold­ers and wa­ter users in southern Saskatchew­an.”

The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment does not ex­pect the project will have sig­nif­i­cantly neg­a­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal con­se­quences. Wa­ter avail­abil­ity stud­ies by the Wa­ter Se­cu­rity Agency in­di­cated a pos­i­tive ef­fect on the Buf­falo Pound Lake re­serve and the Qu’Ap­pelle river sys­tem, be­cause there will be a higher flow of wa­ter into that sys­tem.

Re­search by the Wa­ter Se­cu­rity Agency in­di­cated the cur­rent ca­pac­ity for ir­ri­ga­tion from Lake Diefen­baker is over 900,000 acre-feet of wa­ter us­age per year. The com­ple­tion of all three phases of this ir­ri­ga­tion project will re­sult in ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter us­age of around 690,000 acre-feet per year, which will still leave a buf­fer.

Stewart men­tioned that ir­ri­ga­tion will usu­ally not in­crease the nu­tri­ent load in the en­vi­ron­ment, be­cause ir­ri­ga­tion takes place in a con­trolled man­ner and there is not runoff from that.

“En­vi­ron­men­tally I think this is a good project and it’s a key to cli­mate change re­siliency in this province,” he said. “In fact, cli­mate change in Saskatchew­an from all pre­dic­tions are ex­tended and more fre­quent droughts than we may have seen in the past and this is one way to pro­vide food se­cu­rity, not only for Saskatchew­an but for the whole na­tion and to give us some re­siliency against the ef­fects of cli­mate change.”

Face­book cap­ture

Leg­isla­tive Sec­re­tary to the Min­is­ter Re­spon­si­ble for the Wa­ter Se­cu­rity Agency Lyle Stewart speaks dur­ing the an­nounce­ment of the Lake Diefen­baker ir­ri­ga­tion project, July 2.

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