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