Thursday, 29 June 2017 08:00

Irrigation districts have played an important role in southern Alberta’s productivity

Written by  Demi Knight
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Workers placing new pipes for the Raymond Irrigation District. Workers placing new pipes for the Raymond Irrigation District. Photo courtesy Raymond Irrigation District

With Alberta being a province known for its agriculture background, the importance of irrigation can sometimes be overlooked.

However, irrigation districts that supply water to the acres of farm land in the province are responsible for a large portion of Alberta’s productivity.
Within southern Alberta there are a few irrigation districts that help supply crops with water, those being the Raymond Irrigation District (RID), the St. Mary River Irrigation District (SMRID), the Taber Irrigation District and the Eastern Irrigation District (EID).
Gordon ZoBell, district manager at RID, says irrigation is imperative to the wellbeing of the province, especially economically.
“In southern Alberta the majority of the jobs are riding on the backs of irrigated agriculture,” he says. “Without irrigation Lethbridge would have a small population, maybe as little as 15,000 people. Irrigation is a large economic engine for the south enabling a large population to settle here and service the many spinoffs due to irrigation. More people, more jobs, more wealth for the area.”
The RID which was founded in 1925, operates, maintains and owns irrigation systems that deliver water to approximately 46,500 acres of land throughout the Welling, Raymond and Stirling areas of the province.
The Raymond Irrigation District has 81,000 acre feet of water licenses that are supplied from Waterton, Belly and St. Mary’s River.
This enables the district to supply people from the towns of Raymond, Welling and Stirling with their watering needs.
However, it’s not just fresh water the districts provide to their surrounding towns, but a better and more complete range of crops, says ZoBell.
“Irrigation gives a farmer in southern Alberta many more choices with regard to cropping. There is 40 different variety of crops grown on irrigated farms in southern Alberta. Up to five times the yield can be realized from irrigating a crop. Less land is required to grow a sustainable amount of agricultural commodities. The area is drought proofed due to irrigation.”
Along with its added benefits for crops, irrigation also works to provide agricultural processors that wouldn’t be available otherwise.
“There would not be the agricultural processors that are required to process potatoes, sugar beets, vegetables and canola. There would not be the large feedlots that produce thousands of head of fat cattle due to close proximity to feed. There would not be dairys and milk production,” says ZoBell.
The St. Mary River Irrigation District, is another important player to the province’s health. Being the largest irrigation district within Canada, the SMRID works to deliver water for more than 2,060 kilometres of canals and pipelines to approximately 372,000 acres of land south of Oldman river between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.
These large districts allow for the land to be better preserved and crops to be better nourished.
Although there are no more acres available for irrigation expansion or intensification within the Raymond District, the district board is considering creating more available irrigation acres by conducting a plebiscite vote to open up more land for this important process.
“Only four per cent of the agricultural land in Alberta is irrigated but it produces 20 per cent of the province’s agricultural products,” says ZoBell of the complete irrigation process provided to southern Alberta through these districts.

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