Alberta Invests $19 Million to Modernize Irrigation Infrastructure Amid Drought Concerns

Alberta invests $19M to modernize irrigation infrastructure, boosting water efficiency and drought resilience for its agriculture sector.

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Sakchi Khandelwal
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Alberta Invests $19 Million to Modernize Irrigation Infrastructure Amid Drought Concerns

Alberta Invests $19 Million to Modernize Irrigation Infrastructure Amid Drought Concerns

The Alberta government is investing $19 million in the Irrigation Rehabilitation Program to help the province's 11 irrigation districts modernize their infrastructure and manage the dwindling water supply amid ongoing drought concerns. The funding, an increase of $5.5 million from 2023, will be used for planning, engineering, and construction of upgrades like converting open canals to pipelines to reduce water loss.

Irrigation is a major user of Alberta's water supply, accounting for 566,000 hectares in southern Alberta and producing 28% of the province's agricultural GDP. The investment aims to help the irrigation districts and farmers become more resilient and efficient in the face of severe drought conditions affecting the region. The program has been in place since 1969, with the provincial government covering three-quarters of the costs and irrigation districts contributing the remainder.

Why this matters: The additional funding is welcomed by irrigation district managers who say they have a long list of infrastructure projects to undertake to address aging infrastructure and prepare for a challenging year ahead due to the drought. Reliable water-delivery infrastructure is critical for the region's prosperity, as it has allowed for more than doubling the irrigated area since the early 1970s without increasing water use.

The funding will allow the districts to expand and upgrade their systems, such as converting canals to pipelines to prevent water loss. In 2022, about 9.2 kilometres of open canals were converted to pipeline under the program. "This increase in funding is very welcome as we have a long list of infrastructure projects we need to undertake," said Richard Phillips, general manager of the Bow River Irrigation District.

The Alberta government's investment in the Irrigation Rehabilitation Program is part of a larger effort to address the challenges faced by rural municipalities in the province, who are struggling to fund infrastructure upgrades due to changes in the provincial funding formula. The reduced funding has forced some municipalities to make tough decisions, such as raising property taxes, delaying projects, or cutting services.

The $19 million investment in irrigation infrastructure upgrades aims to help Alberta's agriculture industry remain strong and sustainable in the face of ongoing drought concerns. By allowing the same amount of water to irrigate more land, the upgrades will increase the resiliency and competitiveness of the agricultural sector. The provincial government states that the funding changes are aimed at creating a more predictable funding stream, with faster-growing municipalities receiving a faster rise in their funding levels.

Key Takeaways

  • Alberta invests $19M to modernize irrigation infrastructure, up $5.5M from 2023.
  • Irrigation accounts for 566,000 hectares, 28% of Alberta's agricultural GDP.
  • Upgrades aim to improve water efficiency and resilience amid drought concerns.
  • Funding allows converting open canals to pipelines to reduce water loss.
  • Investment part of effort to address infrastructure challenges for rural municipalities.