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Featuring: Serving the Irrigation Industry

Volume Fifteen • Number Two Fall 2011 • Price $3.50


Table of Contents Table of Contents........................................................................ 3 Editors Column........................................................................... 4 Letter to the Editor...................................................................... 6 Farmer Common Sense............................................................... 8


is a proprietary publication of

Guiding the Industry................................................................. 10 Rehabilitation of the Region..................................................... 11 Scheduling & Management.................................................. 12,13 Most Intensive Production Area........................................... 14,15 Boon for the Environment................................................... 16,17 Human Declaration to Share Water.......................................... 18 Ask the Pros.............................................................................. 20 Planning for a Brighter Future.................................................. 22 Land for Future Security........................................................... 23 Irrigation & Recreation............................................................. 24 A Voice in the Future of Irrigation............................................ 25 FEATURE Serving the Irrigation Industry.................................................. 27 Future Water Planning.............................................................. 28 Feeding the World Population................................................... 29 Boosting Bottom Lines............................................................. 30 Publishers Note: It is with great pleasure that we welcome our new Editor, Ric Swihart. Ric has been involved in the agriculture industry for many years, and is well known in the local community. I hope you enjoy the magazine that Ric, and our team have put together for you. ~ Jeff Sarich, Publisher.

Head Office 1320 - 36th Street North Lethbridge, AB T1H 5H8 Toll Free: 1-877-328-0048 Phone: 403-328-5114 Email: Reproduction or use of editorial content in any manner without written permission is strictly prohibited. Thank you for supporting our advertisers. Without them, this publication would not be possible. Irrigating Alberta is proudly produced in Southern Alberta and distributed inside the Farmer/Stockman AD-Viser to over 21,000 farms and ranches.

Publisher Jeff Sarich Editor Ric Swihart Advertising Consultants Al Such, Mel McDonald Pre-Press Production Sarah Lyon Advertising Co-ordinator Sarah Sarich


Volume Fifteen • Number Two Fall 2011 • Price $3.50 IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Fall 2011 • 1


Editor’s Column w


o irrigate or not to irrigate might be the question. Give many farmers the option of drought-proofing their dryland farm in drought-prone southern Alberta and most would likely pick irrigation.

In fact, many have over the years. Some families have grown up with irrigation, including some of the farm families between Barnwell and Taber who took the bull Ric Swihart by the horn in 1915 to seek a share of the runoff water that filled what became Chin Reservoir, took out a $250,000 loan and dug canals and ditches to launch irrigation. The First World War put some things on hold, and in 1920, the ravages of winds filled many of the ditches and canals, forcing a delay to 1921 before crops could be irrigated. So what would southern Alberta look like today if entrepreneur farmers not strayed from their dryland roots, if irrigation had remained a figment of somebody’s imagination? Some economists agree that would never have happened, that somebody would have started the ball rolling towards irrigation. But, what if. . . Drive back to the turn of the century and two Alberta communities were on parallel development stages. Drumheller and Lethbridge both had been built on the back of the coal industry. Agriculture developed partly to feed those communities and others. Both were similar size, with similar amenities and likely, similar dreams for the future. Southern Alberta farmers did develop irrigation, and eventually, the Alberta government through its agriculture department entered into a cost-sharing irrigation district rehabilitation program with government initially paying 86 per cent of rehab work and farmers through their annual water rates the rest. That formula a few years ago shifted to 75 per cent government, 25 per cent farmers. So what transpired, basically because of irrigation. Photo By: Jordan Ririe


Irrigation districts and private irrigators farm about 1.6 million acres, mostly in Southern Alberta. Total arable land is about 25 million acres. That puts irrigation land at 6.5 per cent of the arable land, a land base that produces 18.5 per cent of agricultural production in the province. Irrigation in Southern Alberta boosted crop production about three times compared with the average of production in all Prairie provinces. Just comparing irrigated with dryland production in southern Alberta, production with water jumped four to eight times depending on the crops. Just look at the key special crops in Southern Alberta, potatoes making the biggest impact followed by beans and sugar beets, and then a myriad of the crops that also could never be grown in southern Alberta without irrigation. So what is the difference between Drumheller and Lethbridge today. Drumheller has a bigger prison and a population of about 10,000. It also has a new Tim Horton’s run by former Lethbridge Herald general manager Bob Carey. A worldclass dinosaur museum and visitor centre is renown around the world. Lethbridge has the Lethbridge College, University of Lethbridge, Canada’s largest federal agriculture reseach station outside of Ottawa, a population of 87,000, several food processing companies from chips and snack foods to french fries and liquors, meats, chickens, dairy products, mustards, hot sauces, frozen corn and peas, canola oil and margarines and salad dressings. So when you drive through Southern Alberta in the middle of summer and see the water sprinklers boosting crop production, know it is more than farmers managing a major resource to grow more crops. It is a job-creation venture that gives irrigation farmers more stability while supporting a significant percentage of the region’s population, including those who depend on foodsector jobs in processing and transportation for their living. Hats off to Drumheller for making the best of the hand dealt. Give thanks for the hand generated by man and supported by government to create a garden in what could well be just another dust bowl many years.

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Letter to the Editor


he latest Alberta budget offered consideration and political posturing over-shadowed with much reference to “World Water Day” March 22. However during the same time, presentations at Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs, the Tiffin Conference at Lethbridge College and local editorials put some focus on water, water rights, allocations and irrigation. All are of huge significance to Southern Alberta while related views and issues have been aired and debated many times. All this made the May conference on Water, Agriculture and the Environment so important. Back in 2001, a drier year than the thirties, which featured low snow packs and half-empty reservoirs, all stakeholdes got together and unanimously agreed to a 60 per cent evenly shared water allocation. An unprecedented move and model for the future, if necessary. Yes, irrigation uses 70 per cent of the Oldman River basin’s allocation, but the irrigation districts’ vast networks of reservoirs, canals and piplines throughout the region, provide the lifeline for most of us in the region. The core of our commerce and economy revolves around a dynamic and diversified food, feed and forage production and processing industry. Thank irrigation for the Lethbridge population base and a surrounding trading area of vibrant towns, all equally based on diverted water and diversified agriculture. Think about it. Without irrigation and its 13 irrigation districts across the South, Lethbridge would be a Drumheller. Similar coal-mining and railroad histories. Take away over 40 multi-


use reserviors, numerous parks and recreation facilities and you have no significant body of water south of Calgary. No 300,000 acres of wetlands provisioned by irrigation and Duck’s Unlimited, far fewer trees and green landscapes, no Henderson or Nicolas Sheran lakes. Only fading villages around the region. Fortunately, we have a well-managed varied landscape of 13 districts of irrigated diversity interspaced with large tracts of native rangeland, and surrounded by the country’s most progressive, environmentallyminded dryland farmers. In combination, they are home to hundreds of species of wildlife, birds, fish and game. We enjoy a fabulous man-made mosaic. Oil, gas and energy instalations north and south of the Trans Canada, all add to our commerce, employment and tax base. Without irrigation in the Lethbridge equation, scale everything back by 80 per cent and you have Drumheller. Seventy per cent of us would be living someplace else. No college, no university, no Canada’s largest research centre. Take away our major medical centres, significant industries, along with our up-scale dealerships, services, retailers, hotels, restuarants and senior’s lodges. While we’re at it, minimize all our transportation corridors and the rails and trucking commerce that we depend on to keep things moving. And, by the way, even the dailies we’d be enjoying as a weekly. John G. Calpas. P.Ag. Lethbridge, Ab.


Farmer Common Sense


he times are changing so it is little wonder Peter Schuld continues his passion to work in various facets of the agriculture industry he has called home most of his life in Canada. The action spot in his activities lately rest in the irrigation industry. Schuld is the new chairman of Alberta Irrigation Council, the grassroots advisory board to the Alberta minister of agriculture and the watchdog on provincial spending through the Irrigation Rehabilitation Program. His drivers licence says he is 75, but the lean, cut frame shows the years of building the family dairy farm, and with the move to town, plenty of daily walking to keep the frame in shape. Schuld succeeds Vern Hoff of the Gleichen area as AIC chairman. Schuld had served as a farmer appointee on council for nine years before accepting the new appointment this year. There has been a lot of change in the focus of council, Schuld said over a coffee. It is working more on forward planning, looking at the bigger picture in a move that gives irrigation districts more autonomy. Before, administering Irrigation Rehabilitation Program spending where government contributes 75 per cent of capital spending to rehabilitating Southern Alberta’s irrigation water distribution system while farmers contribute 25 per cent through their irrigation district payments was the main job of council. Still, council exists as a grassroots hand to monitor the construction and rehabilitation plans submitted by each irrigation districts to ensure government money is spent wisely. Peter Schuld at the demonstration farm

To create better planning and management, council is asking districts to submit three-year plans for their approval. That long-term planning facilitates the rapid move to more pipelines to distribute water to districts and to sectors of irrigated land. That pipe will be in the ground 50 years and council wants to make sure the new projects they are planning and doing fit into the long-term planning, he said. You can’t start and stop pipelines or dig them up. There is no more 8 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Fall 2011

By: Ric Swihart

pressure on irrigation districts they just have to take a longer term look. The role isn’t onerous. It means eight board meetings a year, time to meet with all 13 irrigation districts as needed, and to attend irrigation conferences. Schuld’s family farm was recognized in 2009 as Farm Family of the Year for the County of Lethbridge by the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. His roots are in Holland and the dairy industry. His father arrived in the Iron Springs area in 1928. That’s where Schuld grew up and assumed ownership of the dairy farm. He has lived through most of the technological changes in irrigation. He and his wife Alison and their son Edward and his wife Christine own and manage the operation. Schuld keeps busy outside of irrigation. When the Lethbridge Research Centre was going to close down its dairy research program, Schuld became chairman of the new Livestock Research Trust in 1991. The trust purchased the dairy herd, and in partnership with the centre, helped keep the research program alive until three years ago when the herd was sold. It also bought the beef herd at the station and at the substation at OneFour near Manyberries. The trust took over the fiscal management and maintenance of the dairy and beef herd, he said. It allowed the researchers to focus on research. And at the same time, any surplus money such as the funds earned from the sale of milk and beef and dairy cows was directed into the research program. Schuld expects to step down as chairman soon. He was also first chairman for the Alberta Dairy Herd Improvement Service launched in 1989, and first chairman for the Alberta Farm Animal Care organization. He also served as chairman of the Veterinary Infectious Diseases Organization run through the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon for many years. He has served three terms as chairman of Alberta Milk, and travelled many times to Ottawa to represent Alberta in the Canadian Milk Supply Management Program. His other children include Sharon, who runs her own woollen shop in Calgary, Dawne, who is an assistant professor of art history at Indiana University and Marsha, who runs a farm and ranch with her husband Dale Cameron near Rush Lake, Sask. The dairy farm milks up to 120 cows, and the family maintains about 4,000 beef animals in a farm feedlot as well as feeding animals with Dale and Marsha.



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Guiding the Irrigation Industry


rrigation Council consists of seven members appointed by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. It includes five public members and two government representatives, one from each of the departments of environment and agriculture. Currently there is one vacancy on council. Peter Schuld of Lethbridge is chairman. He was appointed in 2001. Prior to retiring to Lethbridge, Schuld was a long-time resident of the Iron Springs area, where he operated the family farm in conjunction with his son.

The farm businesses involved irrigation, dairy and a feedlot operation. He has served, and remains involved in a number of agriculture related areas, including the provincial and national boards of the dairy industry, the Board of Directors of the Veterinary Infectious Diseases for the University of Saskatchewan, and the Canada/Alberta Research Trust at the Lethbridge Research Station.

 Richard Stamp of Enchant is vice-chairman.
 Appointed in 2008, Stamp is a third-generation irrigation farmer with 1,500 acres irrigated and 420 acres dryland. He and his wife Marion operate Stamp’s Select Seeds. Stamp served as a board member for the Bow River Irrigation District, Municipal District of Taber Appeal Board, Alberta Seed Potato Growers Association, Farm Implement Board of Alberta, University of Lethbridge Water Institute Board, Alberta Pulse Growers Board and the Enchant Water Users’ Association. Stamp was also vice-president of the Alberta Branch of the Canadian Seed Growers Association and director with the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association.

Brent Paterson was appointed to council in 2007, representing Alberta Agriculture.
Paterson is director of the Irrigation and Farm Water Division, Policy and Environment Sector in Lethbridge. He is responsible for the development and supervision of programs that will promote the sustainable development of Alberta’s agriculture industry. Management of water for agriculture is a major program area within that mandate. Paterson has worked extensively on irrigation programs in Canada, as well as agricultural water management, land reclamation and water quality programs in a number of countries, including Pakistan, Egypt, India, China, Iran and Ethiopia.

 David Ardell was appointed to council in 2008, representing Alberta Environment. In his position as director of Water Management Operations, Ardell is responsible for the operation and maintenance programs for the provincially-owned water management infrastructure. His group also manages the provincial stream level, flow and water supply forecasting systems, as well as delivering canal and dam safety regulatory programs. Rebecca Fast is the office administrator with the Irrigation Secretariat. For the past 13 years, Fast has seen the Irrigation Districts Act reviewed and rewritten, giving the irrigation districts more autonomy and requiring less day-today administration. One of her key roles in the office is administering the multitude of irrigation rehabilitation projects which are cost shared with the irrigation districts and the province. Ensuring the provinces dollars are fully accounted for and reported is critical to the long-term success of any infrastructure program.

Svend Rasmussen was appointed in 2002. Rasmussen has farmed in the Brooks area since 1971. He and his sons are operate the farm together. They produce grain and alfalfa seed. His previous involvement in the irrigation industry includes a member of the Canadian Seed Growers Association since 1975, and serving on the Eastern Irrigation District Board of Directors in the early 1990s. Casey Gouw Jr. of Taber was appointed in 2009.
Gouw is a second-generation farmer in operation for 24 years. He farms 2,500 acres of irrigated land. Crops grown include onions, peas, beans, canola and pumpkins. Gouw is the owner of Gouw Quality Onions and has irrigated land in the Taber and St. Mary River Irrigation Districts and Oldman River basin. He has served on Taber town council and was the recipient of the MD’s 2008 Farm Family Award. 10 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Fall 2011

Alberta Irrigation Council

Rehabilitation of the Region

By: Ric Swihart


lberta Irrigation Council is the provincial government’s eyes and ears over future sustainability of the irrigation industry. Roger Hohm, council secretariat, said the farmercouncil is responsible for providing advice and regulatory administration in the sustainability battle for industry. Hohm outlined the council’s mandate: • To make recommendations to the minister on issues related to maintaining a strong, efficient and sustainable irrigation industry and act as an appeal body in accordance with the Irrigation Districts Act; and • To establish policies and procedures for the administration of the Irrigation Rehabilitation Program to ensure accountability for the public’s ongoing funding in the cost-shared irrigation district rehabilitation work. “For the last two decades, the primary focus of the council has been to assure an effective and wellmanaged irrigation administration and efficient and responsive irrigation infrastructure through appropriate use of funding associated with the Irrigation Rehabilitation Program,” said Hohm. The goal of the 13 Irrigation districts’ long-term management objectives the objectives of the IRP are common — maintain water conveyance infrastructure while improving efficiency and effectiveness to provide a reliable water supply system for agriculture and processing.


hile some Alberta irrigation districts are expanding boundaries significantly to come closer to their water allocation licence, individual farmers have an opportunity to expand also. Roger Hohm of Lethbridge said districts have an expansion limit, which is identified in the Irrigation Districts Act, and new acres can only be applied for if the district has room to add the acres within their expansion limit. Of the 13 irrigation districts, seven have a considerable amount of room for adding new acres either due to limited amount of acres added in the past or having voted on a bylaw to increase the expansion limit of the district. Before running out to purchase equipment a producer had best speak with the irrigation district to ensure they have acres available and have canal capacity to serve the new acres, said Hohm. Under the act, if the producer gets the go-ahead from the district, the land in question must have an irrigation land classification completed and it must have an irrigable rating. The land in question must also be added to the district and a notation added to the land title stating that it is part of the irrigation district. Hohm said adding a parcel to a district takes time. A district has 60 days to decide if a parcel can be added and then after advertisement must allow 30 days for possible appeals. If someone believes the addition would cause an impact in some way they have the right to appeal to council.

Roger Hohm General Manager / Council Secretariat, Irrigation Council

After constructing the required works and installation of irrigation equipment, the farmer must pay all costs for classification, application and irrigation systems costs. IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Fall 2011 • 11

Computer Scheduling & Management


hroughout the world (ancient Mesopotamia, Rome, Peru, India, China), there is evidence of irrigation canal distribution systems dating back many millennia BCE (Kang, 1972). Obviously even then, cultivators of agronomic crops realized that without water, the ability to produce crops was at risk.

By Ted Harms

As we understand early irrigation systems, application of water would have been what we refer to as surface irrigation, meaning that the soil surface was used to distribute and infiltrate the applied water. Irrigation Management Specialist, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, Brooks, AB

Development of irrigation in North America followed the same system of distribution canals to transport the diverted water to the field, and surface irrigation to apply the diverted water onto the land surface. Early irrigation development was restricted to land that was relatively level so surface irrigation methods could be used. Distribution of irrigation water, both to the farm and onto the land surface, relied on gravity. The introduction of sprinkler irrigation in North America in the early 1950s, eliminated the necessity of having near-level land before considering irrigation development. The introduction and widespread adoption of sprinkler irrigation has been instrumental in expansion of the irrigated crop production area in North America and throughout the developed and developing world. Consistency of yield, efficiency of application, and quality of product are the consequence of a properly managed sprinkler irrigation system. The management of the irrigation system, as well as the entire philosophy about irrigation sufficiency, has changed with changes in irrigation methods. The application amount, with surface irrigation, was sufficient for water to travel from the top of the field to the bottom of the field using border dykes or contour ditches, or covering a confined area to a specific depth using basin irrigation methods. Application amounts were dependent on the length of the field and the width of the borders and contours or basin area. The approach to irrigation management using surface 12 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Fall 2011

irrigation systems was to “fill-up” the soil rooting zone each time an irrigation was applied, often in excess of what the soil could retain, and to rely on the stored soil water to supply the crop for an extended interval between irrigation applications. The approach to irrigation management did not change with conversion from surface to wheel-move irrigation. The wheel-move irrigation system was designed and sprinklers sized to apply approximately 13 mm per hour. Typical operation of a wheel-move system was to leave it in one spot for eight or 12 hours to apply 100 or 150 mm of irrigation water, respectively. The approach towards irrigation management was similar to surface irrigation; that was to “fill-up” the soil root zone each time irrigation water was applied and to rely on the retained water in the soil rooting zone to supply the crop for extended periods of time. With center pivot irrigation, to have a soil profile at field capacity or “full” is more the exception than the normal irrigation application goal. Center pivot systems were not designed to put on a large amount of irrigation water at one time, rather a two-day circle with a 400 m center pivot system with capacity of 950 US gallons per minute capacity typically applies 15 to 20 mm. The irrigation decisions are always based on how a crop uses soil water (transpiration) on a daily basis and management of the irrigation system is for a fairly shallow rooting depth. Irrigation scheduling for center pivot irrigation requires frequent applications that match the soil water extraction pattern of the crop grown. The best a properly designed center pivot system is able to do is to “keep up” with crop water extraction or evapotranspiration during times of peak demand. If the system is not adequate to meet peak water use requirements, it may be necessary or desirable to “build-up” soil water reserves during “offpeak” times for plant roots to access stored soil water during peak evapotranspiration. Proper irrigation management, when using a center pivot irrigation system, focuses on replacing the soil water transpired by the crop within the upper 50 cm or 50 per cent of the root zone depth. Continued on next page...

Continued from previous page...

Realizing that at peak water use, the 15 to 20 mm applied by the irrigation system in two days could be transpired by the crop within three days, timely information about soil water status is essential to ensure the crop is not stressed during critical growth and maturity stages. As desktop computers became commonplace, development of computer programs to assist with irrigation scheduling were created. Currently, computer models that estimate the rate at which the crop is transpiring soil water are becoming common place in irrigation scheduling. These models are based on easily measured meteorological parameters that influence evapotranspiration, like temperature, wind speed, incoming solar radiation, and relative humidity. Crop evapotranspiration can be assessed on a daily basis with the use of these computer models, and with this information, timely irrigation scheduling can be initiated. With the advancement towards web-based programs, more and more of the irrigation scheduling programs are being developed for web-based access. The following review highlights that the applications are similar, “to assist with timely irrigation scheduling”, but they

differ in the level of detail the irrigator may obtain for their specific operation. In Alberta, information available from the web-based Irrigation Management Climate Information Network (IMCIN) is very similar to many other websites designed for assisting irrigators with irrigation scheduling. The water balance method is used so an irrigator can get the information on how a specific crop is extracting soil water and decide on when and how much water to apply. Many irrigators apply irrigation amounts based on cumulative crop evapotranspiration for a period of time, perhaps weekly, minus any rainfall received; using information obtained from the website. The Alberta Irrigation Management Model (AIMM) is a more detailed software program that is specific to individual fields. There are many similar irrigation management software programs available; however, most are provided through irrigation management consulting firms. The AIMM model is fairly universal and can be applied to various geographic locations, but it has features specific to the irrigation district structure found in Southern Alberta.


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Most Intensive Production Area


ike other irrigation districts in southern Alberta, the Taber district is set to grow in area.

With careful thought by the Taber Irrigation District board of directors, and a ratepayer plebiscite, the district can expand to 92,200 acres, up about 10,000 acres. But few will notice any change to the district boundaries, says its chairman Keith Francis and general manager Kent Bullock. “While there will be a few quarter sections added to the water roll, much of the expansion will be irrigating farmers filling out irrigated parcels not able to be irrigated with flood irrigation, land which could not be added until the plebiscite,” said Bullock. “And many farmers will add corner arms to pivots to extend irrigation further into the corners of fields.” TID will remain the most concentrated block of irrigated land in Alberta, and will continue to boast the most diversified irrigation crop line-up also, said Francis. Both statistics stem back to about 1915 when farmers from Barnwell to Taber decided it was time they took advantage of the runoff water that poured into nearby Chin Reservoir. Taber was the first irrigation district established under the Alberta Irrigation District’s Act passed in 1915. But complications delayed construction until after the First World War. That work was finished in 1920 when the canal system was flushed to prepare for irrigation in 1921. But that winter and spring, winds filled the ditches and canals with drift soil. The first irrigation took place in 1922. TID was allowed to use 34,000 acre feet of water from Chin it purchased for $2 an acre foot from the CPR. The district grew, adding 4,600 acres in the Cranford area in 1929, 10,000 acres in the Big Bend area in 1951, and then 11,677 acres were added in the North Fincastle and East Horsefly areas in 1965.

By: Ric Swihart

Today, TID has about 500 ratepayers, and the centralized head office on the west side of Taber is no more than 20 minutes from the outlaying parts of the district. That fact allowed the district to dispense with ditch rider housing as they and work crews can easily get to work sites quickly. Francis said TID is noted for its crop diversity, a movement which started when Cont. on Next Page...

DID YOU KNOW........ Irrigation District is known as the most Taber intensely irrigated district in Alberta. The production base is relatively even —31.45 per cent cereals, 28.15 per cent forages, and 26.95 per cent specialty crops. It is the specialty side of agriculture, which TID has gained a reputation. That sector includes 3,045 acres of dry or green beans, 150 acres of fababeans, 252 acres of dry peas, 725 acres of fresh peas, 1,975 acres of fresh sweet corn, 150 acres of hemp, 6 acres of market gardens, 22 acres of nursery crops, 752 acres of onions, 8,827 acres of potatoes, 177 acres of pumpkins, 5 acres of small fruits, 32 acres of soybeans, 5,128 acres of sugar beets, 382 acres of sunflowers and 23 acres of turf sod. Total is 21,651 acres. Forage production is also varied. It includes 8,356 acres of alfalfa, 707 acres of alfalfa silage, 1,473 acres of barley silage, 175 acres of barley silage under seeded, 100 acres of brome hay, 3,010 acres of corn silage, 246 acres of grass hay, 240 acres of green feed, 256 acres of native pasture, 3,734 acres of tame hay, 15 acres of sorghum and 1,904 acres of Timothy hay. Total is 20,216 acres. Cereals include 7,617 acres of barley, 766 acres of grain corn, 537 acres of durum wheat, 13,353 acres of hard red spring wheat, 601 acres of oats, 547 acres of soft wheat, 30 acres of triticale and 489 acres of winter wheat. Total is 23,970 acres. Oilseeds include 6,628 acres of canola, 111 acres of flax and 97 acres of mustard for a total of 6,836 acres. Of the district’s 82,728 acres on the irrigation roll, 72,989 acres were cropped in 2010 Acres not irrigated totaled 9,739.


Continued from previous page...

the sugar industry built its first factory in Raymond. Sugar beets quickly moved into the Barnwell-Taber areas. In the early days, farmers dug the beets by hand and hauled them to railway location to be loaded on open rail cars. When the cars were full, harvest would normally be delayed until empty cars arrived. The beets were moved to the Raymond factory.

the days field workers were laid off in the fall to live off employment insurance. Now, the workers remain on the job year-round. These workers are kept busy making precast concrete pieces that can be installed in rehabilitation projects and making modular screens used where water enters a pipeline. It keeps weeds and algae at bay, helping to improve water quality.

Often, farmers would continue to harvest beets, especially if ground-freezing temperatures were forecast. The beets would be piled in the fields and covered with beet tops and soil to prevent freezing until they could be moved to the rail cars.

Francis said when the last land was added to the district, the board of directors was expanded to five from three. And during his tenure, the TID’s first general manager Ted Sundal kept busy in a research project to help determine crops which would do well in the district’s soil types and weather patterns.

Broder Canning Co. was the next impetus to crop diversification. It contracted corn, peas, green beans and pumpkin for canning.

Taber Irrigation District

Dyson Foods moved in and bought cucumbers from area farmers. The farmers delivered the cukes to wooden vats filled with salt brine. Those were moved to Winnipeg where the pickling process was finished. Crop production has expanded, partly as new irrigation crops were introduced. Potatoes remain one of the gems in that list, and industry has responded with fresh market potatoes, instant potatoes, french fries, chips and specialty potato products.


Specialty Crop Country

(Established in 1915) Taber is the centre of specialty crop production and value added processing in Alberta including sugar beets, hay, potatoes, corn and many other vegetable crops.

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TABER IRRIGATION DISTRICT Serving over 82,000 acres and 750 water users in the Taber area

TID has also responded to efficiencies. Gone are

Kent Bullock, left, general manager of the Taber Irrigation District, with district board chairman Keith Francis in a field of concrete water distribution pieces made over winter partly to keep staff employed year round.

Kent Bullock dwarfed by a major pipeline pipe measuring four feet in diameter.


Boon for the Environment


ike many Southern Albertans, I am committed to conserving water. I take short showers, turn the tap off while brushing my teeth and only do laundry when I can make a full load. Within the last few years my husband and I have transformed our yard from green lawn that needed to be watered and mowed regularly to a By: Cheryl Bradley pleasing mix of flagstone P Biol, Lethbridge Ecologist walkways, native grass patches and mulched beds of shrubs and perennial forbs that require little if any watering. I conserve out of concern for water scarcity in this semi-arid prairie environment. A watermark in Alberta’s water allocation history occurred in 2002. Then Alberta Environment stopped accepting applications for new water allocations in the entire Oldman, Bow and South Saskatchewan River sub-basins. This decision marked a societal recognition that ecological limits had been reached or exceeded. It acknowledged that in low flow years, new allocations would create an unacceptable risk to fulfilling water licences within the basin and meeting water sharing agreements with Saskatchewan and Montana. In addition, no longer could a blind eye be turned to expert assessments that concluded high levels of withdrawal degraded reaches of the Bow River and the Oldman River and its Southern Tributaries (Waterton, Belly and St. Mary rivers) below major dams and diversions. As an ecologist, I believe healthy rivers contribute to a healthy and sustainable society and vice versa. History provides many examples of civilizations that declined or collapsed because human activities polluted water, accelerated erosion, caused soil salinization or drew too heavily from water sources that could not accommodate demand during prolonged drought. I act out of hope that the water I save and the stewardship steps I take, however small, benefit my community and my Southern Alberta watershed. Of much greater potential benefit than my personal actions is the commitment to conservation planning in Alberta’s Water for Life strategy (2003). All water using sectors are to prepare conservation, efficiency and productivity (CEP) plans with a target of 30 per cent improvement in overall water efficiency and productivity from 2005 levels by 2015. The CEP plans 16 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Fall 2011

are to contribute to the three Water for Life goals: clean drinking water, healthy aquatic ecosystems, and reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economy. As of this summer, three sectors have completed the first phase of CEP plans – irrigation, urban municipalities, and oil and gas and oilsands mining. The completed plans have been presented to the Alberta Water Council, a 25-member partnership tasked with monitoring and stewarding implementation of Alberta’s Water for Life strategy. The completed sector CEP plans can be found on the Alberta Water Council’s website along with documents that provide guidance for CEP planning (AWC 2008, AIPA 2010, AUMA 2010, CAPP and OSDG 2010). A review of the three completed plans reveals opportunities and intentions to increase water use efficiency (accomplishing a particular purpose with less water) and productivity (producing a unit of good or service with less water). There appears to be, however, a fundamental and short-sighted assumption that the water saved will be used for the sector’s growth. So far, the CEP plans are notably silent on defining meaningful opportunities for using conserved water to achieve healthy aquatic ecosystems. The irrigation sector expects a 15 per cent increase in productivity by 2015 and a 15 per cent efficiency gain (AIPA 2010). The CEP plan, Irrigation Sector Conservation, Efficiency, Productivity Plan 20052015, developed by the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association, identifies three engineering measures for saving water. The first is to line large canals and to replace smaller canals and ditches with pipelines. The second is to automate water flow control and measurement in combination with more balancing ponds. The third, an on-farm measure, is to switch to high efficiency lowpressure drop tube centre pivots from flood irrigation, side roll wheel moves and high pressure pivots. The first two engineering measures dealing with district delivery systems have, and continue to be, implemented under the provincial Irrigation Rehabilitation Program begun in 1969. This is a cost-shared program between Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development and Alberta’s 13 irrigation districts. Since 1969 funding levels have varied between $600,000 and $33,400,000 per year. Continued on next page...

Continued from previous page...

The provincial/irrigation district cost-share ratio has varied starting at 86 per cent province/14 per cent irrigation district in 1969 and changing to 75 per cent/25 per cent in 1995. In addition Alberta Agriculture has already instituted a program to advance water CEP on farms. In the closed sub-basins of the South Saskatchewan River Basin, the irrigation sector is the 800 pound gorilla in the water allocation arena. It accounts for about 80 per cent of total water allocation and 85 per cent of actual use according to 2006 figures. A one per cent efficiency gain in the irrigation sector is a saving of about 23 million cubic metres of water annually. This volume equates to a flow of 0.73 cubic metres per second for a year. A 15 per cent efficiency gain by the Irrigation Sector would conserve a volume of water similar to the mean annual flow of the Elbow River. Unlike CEP plans for the upstream oil and gas and municipal sectors, the AIPA notes that the irrigation sector CEP plan presents “tremendous potential to free-up the available water supply for environmental purposes, industry, municipal use and irrigation growth in the South Saskatchewan River Basin” (according to AIPA in 2010). Conserved water is already being used for growth in irrigation districts, amounting to a 12 per cent increase in district expansion limits over the last decade. Like CEP plans for the upstream oil and gas and municipal sectors, the irrigation sector CEP plan has a big blind spot; it does not specify opportunities for contributing to the Water for Life goal of healthy aquatic ecosystems.

Council’s CEP Plan Team. The paper asks for the following improvements in CEP planning: • Identify aquatic ecosystems under stress in the watersheds where the sector, or an individual company, municipality, or irrigation district operates; • Define specific and meaningful opportunities for applying some conserved water to improve aquatic ecosystem health; • Involve Watershed Protection Advisory Councils in review of draft CEP plans to determine if the healthy aquatic ecosystem goals of watershed management plans are being addressed; and, • Target a specific “conservation for the environment” amount and commit to applying it to identified environmental opportunities. As I water the plants in our garden from the rain barrel, I contemplate why my husband and I go to the extra effort and investment to conserve water. My thoughts flow from this small act of water conservation to the rivers that provide the lifeblood for my prairie home. Water conservation, efficiency and productivity planning by major water using sectors provides a window of opportunity for Albertans, at home and at work, to make this link between water conservation and river health. If done well, CEP plans will help us a great deal in our quest to achieve clean drinking water, healthy aquatic ecosystems, and reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economy. Much work still needs to be done.

Although overall sector plans are completed, individual municipalities, irrigation districts and oil and gas companies have yet to develop CEP plans. Other major water use sectors in the province, including power generation, forestry, chemical and petrochemical sectors, are currently developing CEP plans. Opportunities to benefit aquatic ecosystems stressed by high water withdrawals will be irretrievably lost if clearer direction is not provided on using conserved water to benefit the environment as part of CEP planning. Environmental organizations participating in the Water Caucus of the Alberta Environmental Network have prepared a discussion paper for the Alberta Water IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Fall 2011 • 17

Human Declaration to Share Water


By Ron McMullin GM, AB Irrigation Projects Association

lberta’s irrigation districts were created so that farms, towns, and businesses would flourish in this dry region. The districts operate Alberta’s “water highways” which generate commerce, meet human needs for water, and also supply water for wetlands and recreation. District roles in today’s society are no less important, and their value heightens in times of drought.

To encourage the development of irrigation so its citizens could reap the benefits, government granted large water licences to irrigators. The large and senior licences promoted investment in the construction of the thousands of miles of canal and laterals that make up the water delivery system. Recently, some people have taken exception to the districts having large, senior licences. They have expressed concerns that districts may not share water with communities and other junior licensees during the next drought. To alleviate these concerns, the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association, made up of all of Alberta’s irrigation districts, created and passed a declaration that they will share water with people and their livestock in the case of drought in the future. The Human Use Declaration, states that if a drought occurs and causes a water shortage, the districts will share their water to meet human needs and sustain livestock. The districts passed this motion at their last annual general meeting and the declaration was announced by MLA Broyce Jacobs in the Alberta Legislature last spring. The declaration would be triggered if a community in the basin had priority called on their junior licence by a more senior water licence holder. A priority call would limit or eliminate the right of that community to access water for its people. If that were to occur, the districts would share water with the community to make sure that people’s needs for water are met. To make it happen, the districts would assign a portion of their licence to meet the water needs of that community until the priority call was lifted. The districts would accomplish this via what is called a temporary assignment of water as described in the Alberta Water Act. The community would have water, 18 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Fall 2011

and the irrigation district would continue to operate, less the amount of water it took to meet the community’s needs. The districts in the Bow River system would take care of the needs of the communities in the Bow Basin, and those districts in the Oldman Basin would take care of those communities in the Oldman Basin. This follows, in many regards, the process of water sharing taken in 2001’s drought by most of the communities and the irrigation districts in the Oldman Basin. All licensees who wanted to participate in the water sharing worked together to ensure that everyone got a fair share of the water. With the help of government officials, it was determined that everyone could receive 60 per cent of their licensed water volume. All shared in the burden of a lesser supply but all benefited from having a significant portion of the water. This voluntary sharing of water was recognized by the international Irrigation Association with its annual award because it captured the imagination of many people outside this country who would normally fight in the courts over every drop of water in a river system. Farmers were willing to share their water because they believe they are members of a larger Southern Alberta community where everyone is “part of the community family,” and because they know it is the right thing to do. When the next drought occurs, farmers in irrigation districts will again “tighten up their belts” and conserve as much water as possible, but will also expect everyone else to conserve water when water supplies are short. This is a matter of good practise in any situation. With the Human Use Declaration in place, people can rest assured that, within their power to help out, the districts will share water during the next drought.


3005 – 18th Ave. N., Lethbridge, Alberta


Daytime & After Hours: Call Toll Free 1-800-461-5356

PHONE: 403-329-8686

Ask the Pros The question: Irrigation management is the newest science in the industry, yet it stems from the old Alberta Agriculture irrigation scheduling program that has been privatized. How can this program help irrigation farmers? Dave Hyland of Bow Island, a provincial irrigation management specialist, responds. The challenge for irrigated agriculture in all developed and developing nations is to increase food production, even with reduced water supplies. Estimates suggest irrigated agriculture produces 33 per cent of the world’s food supply on about 18 per cent of the cultivated land base. It is anticipated global irrigation by 2025 will be producing half the world’s food supply. Irrigation management is the determination and control of the rate, amount and timoing of application of irrigation water in a planned and efficient manner. One of the tools available for irrigation management and scheduling is the AIMM (Alberta Irrigation Management Model) which is a free Irrigation Scheduling computer model. To download the program go to IMCIN, net and follow the links. Another tool is the Irrigation Management Workshops put on each year in different locations by the Irrigation Management Section of Alberta Agriculture. Why an irrigation scheduling computer model? It provides daily information to help irrigators prioritize time, anticipated when water is needed, assists decision making with information you need, when you need it, record keeping for all fields, soil analysis, fertilizer applications, pesticide/herbicide/fungicide applications, irrigation applications, pumping records, moisture levels, complete field summary and complete meteorological records from the nearest weather station. Approximately 200,00 acres of irrigated land are scheduling irrigations using the AIMM .


IMCIN or Irrigation Management Climate Information Network is the other source of information. It is a new agro-meteorological network that is designed to deliver near-real time decision support tools to irrigators in southern Alberta, with information such as daily agrometeorological data, crop heat unit and irrigation forecasts. Continued improvements in technologies to increase water use efficienies are limited, and system efficiencies are at or near maximums. Continued gains in water use efficiennchy and system efficiency are near maximum also. Continue improvements must be achieved through improved irrigation management or improved irrigation information, for both. Question asked: Why does Lantic Sugar have a research department? By Peter Regitnig, head of the company research department in Taber. Sugar beets are a specialized crop and agronomic practices used in other crops do not necessarily apply to growing beets. The sugar industry has changed and adapted over the years and the research department has provided the company and growers with answers to questions unique to this industry. Growers and company personnel work together on a joint committee to give direction to a research program that addresses issues ranging from the best varieties to grow in southern Alberta conditions, weed and pest control and pesticide registrations, soil fertility and other agronomic issues related to an intensively managed row crop. The research department carries out most of its investigations using small plot field trials conducted at multiple locations. Some work like variety testing is ongoing, while other trials address issues and questions that arise in a particular growing season. There has never been a shortage of questions to investigate and the goal of the research department is to provide answers and information to help make sugar beet growers more efficient at what they do.

Division of C&H Irrigation Ltd.

Division of C&H Irrigation Ltd.

Lethbridge, Alberta 403-328-9999

Taber, Alberta 403-223-1170

Medicine Hat, Alberta 403-526-3294

Brooks, Alberta 403-362-5133


Planning for a Brighter Future


he well-treed, tidy farmstead six kilometres west of Nobleford was typical of late summer – a table ready to mount on the swather. Inside the 1917 home, Damon and Samantha Postman mull over a future as the next generation on the land and the changing dynamics of farming. Irrigation has played a small role on the farm. Damon’s father put a pivot on a quarter section 14 years ago, a time when the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District was considering capping water rights. Today, a brand new one-section pivot sits in an organized pattern on the ground adjacent to the field where it will be built this fall. LNID moved three years ago to allow irrigation acres to expand. It will be a major step for the couple on a farm which has been mostly a dryland operation, a farm Damon remembers during drought years when it took three swather cuts to make one swath for the combine, a time when the crop was so short, wheat heads would bounce on the cutter bar before heading for the swath. Farm management has changed over the years. Zero tillage was introduced in 1994. Chemicals are used to control weeds and seeding is done directly into stubble, conserving soil moisture and preventing wind erosion. Even the irrigated quarter section seldom seeds cultivation, and Damon appreciates

By: Ric Swihart

the shorter periods on the tractor and fuel savings. Samantha, with a university degree in business management, is the numbers person, leaving the farming expertise to Damon. The pivot decision wasn’t made over a coffee shop discussion.The first step was to reclassify the prospective parcel of land, assuring it was suitable for irrigation. They sought a feasibility study from Meyers Norris Penny in Lethbridge to help confirm their plan. For instance, water rights could be purchased for $150 an acre in 1994. Today, that cost to secure the right to water for irrigation is $1,250 an acre. Their decision was based on economic realities, anchored by worst-case scenarios. The location for the pivot is a half section already owned and a half section just purchased. The plan is to grow canola on the section next year. Commercial production or canola seed is yet to be determined. Damon said dryland farming has been such a roller coaster. He considers the new pivot a form of security for production, recognizing there will still be increasing machinery and input costs and uncertain market conditions. It should also mean increased productivity on owned land rather than counting on rented land. He doesn’t discount adding more irrigation to the farm if and when feasible as he sets the table for the family’s future.

Samantha and Damon Postman waiting for new pivot to be built.


Land for Future Security


ove of agriculture penetrates every waking moment for Lisa Harbers.

Raised on the 700-acre dairy farm on the outskirts of Monarch, she and brother Jeff are working close with father Bryon as the team to get the job done. She also finds time to work at times on a neighbouring cattle feedlot, buys and sells beef cattle she puts through pens on the farm or in a near-by feedlot recently purchased by the family. Four years ago, Harbers took a major step to plow her anchor even deeper into agriculture. She bought a quarter section of irrigation land, and already has harvested crops, mostly barley sold as grain or silage as a standing crop, to area feedlots. Last year, she produced seed canola. Last spring, she decided to expand her land base. She bought a quarter section from an uncle, but won’t be able to plant her own crop until a renter’s lease expires. To help with costs, she rents out the farmstead on that quarter. Harbers is proud of her good relationship with Farm Credit Canada, and while assistance was available

By: Ric Swihart

from family, she is investing in land on her own. She acknowledges the higher price of irrigated land and infrastructure, but knows its increased productivity — and the peace of mind and insurance of a crop even in times of drought is always at hand. The higher yields with irrigation translate into land base requirements, she said. Forty bushels an acre in a dry year, 50 bushels with manure applied, might be a reasonable expectation. With irrigation, that yield potential jumps to 110 bushels an acre. And with irrigation, barley weights and grades are always higher. “I would need at least twice the land base without irrigation,” she said. Irrigation equipment counts. She runs a centre pivot sprinkler on one quarter, and plans to put a pivot of the other quarter next year if it is feasible. Harbers isn’t afraid of the extra work on top of her family farm commitments and feedlot job. For her, agriculture is an investment for the long term.

Lisa Harbers knows how to run a pivot - now she is running on her own.


Irrigation & Recreation


By Ron McMullin GM, AB Irrigation Projects Association

hen you enjoy “a day at the lake”boating, fishing, or on the beach anywhere south and east of Calgary, you are really enjoying “a day at the reservoir. “ The vast majority of waterbased recreation east of the foothills in southern Alberta is dependent on Alberta’s irrigation system.

Recently, I was at Crawling Valley Reservoir near Bassano for the first time and was quite surprised to see so many boats on the lake and at the boat dock in the small, but attractive, constructed harbour. Fishing rods were set with bells to alert their owners when they should pay more attention to the fish on the other end of the line than to the stories their fishing buddy was telling. Kids were swimming, and splashing each other, and others were dangling a line hoping to catch a fish themselves. As I looked over the campground, two families on bikes whizzed by, a puppy with an inquisitive look came up nonchalantly seeking some attention, and the smell of barbeques and their sizzling contents made me wish I was invited for supper. My wife sat in the shade of an accommodating tree reading a book, while I checked out this oasis that the Eastern Irrigation District had constructed. We left later in the evening just as the sunset began to fill the western sky with its flaming orange and reds, and campers gathered to share the warmth and congeniality of their campfires. There’s just something about sitting around the flickering flames of a campfire in the evening, enjoying the relaxing, mesmerizing, dancing flames. There’s just something about being by a lake having a lazy day without phone calls or cares. A recreation study done by AIPA in the past found that the average distance people travelled to get to Crawling Valley was 224 km; those traveling to Kinbrook Park drove on average 237 km, while reservoirs like Chin Reservoir drew more local people. Calgary residents made up 81% of the campers at Crawling Valley, 54% of the people visiting 40 Mile Coulee were from Medicine Hat, and 71% of the people camping and boating at St. Mary Reservoir were from Lethbridge. These reservoirs meet the needs of locals for recreation as well as those willing to travel some distance to enjoy the wonders of water. About ¼ of recreationists come to fish, another ¼ come to boat, water ski, windsurf or jet ski, another ¼ are just out to enjoy the out of doors and visit, about 24 • IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Fall 2011

15 per cent come to go swimming, and the rest come to observe wildlife or other purposes. Park Lake, Kinbrook Island, and Little Bow, all Provincial Parks on irrigation reservoirs, boast over 450 campsites. Twenty other developed campgrounds or day-use areas exist on the water bodies owned by irrigation districts or Alberta Environment. AIPA has produced a photo-packed booklet that describes most of these campgrounds and day use areas. Unfortunately, one of those, Stafford Lake Park, closed this year. If you would like a copy of the booklet, go to our website,, click on “Contact Us” and send your name and address. Counties, towns, villages, private associations, and businesses, as well as Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation and irrigation districts, operate these recreational facilities to increase the quality of life in this region. Many of these reservoirs provide great fishing and some of the province’s largest fish come out of the reservoirs each year. You can enter AIPA’s “Big Fish” contest with a couple photos of any lunker you catch out of an irrigation reservoir. Check the AIPA website for details. Prizes are available for largest pike, walleye, trout, whitefish and burbot. Visit www.aipa. org. The contest closes in October. Water and tourism go hand in hand. Alberta Tourism Parks and Recreation recently joined forces with AIPA to fund a study on the feasibility of novel recreational uses for the irrigation system. Options like a windsurfing park, a network of bird watching platforms among the 82,000 acres of irrigationcreated wetlands, a tow-rope wake boarding park, and a kayaking course in a canal stretch are some of the ideas for new ways to enjoy the irrigation-based recreation potential of southern Alberta. While you wait for these and other ideas to change from dreams to reality, you can do your own dreaming as you enjoy your ”day at the reservoir.”

St. Mary’s Reservoir Photo courtesy of Jon Nelson

A Voice in the Future of Irrigation

By: Ric Swihart

Society will hold sway on the future of water development in southern Alberta, says Alberta’s deputy agriculture minister John Knapp. Knapp said many ideas to change and improve the power of the South’s water resource have been trumpeted, but government tends to listen to the public before acting. “Social licence is needed in Southern Alberta on agriculture-water interface,” Knapp told 200 at the 2011 Water, Agriculture and the Environment Conference in the Lethbridge Lodge Hotel. He defines social licence as gaining enough broadbased public support to give government confidence to go forward in a policy direction. And the change continues, he said. Different things are happening globally not seen before, said Knapp.

future access to water to produce more food. “Agriculture will have to strengthen its social licence with the general public,” said Knapp. Government decisions will rely on public input. Progress will still require continued investment in research, development and innovation by industry and producers. “Still, getting the general public on side through social licence remains critical to much of future development,” he said. That can be done by encouraging consumption of as much locally-produced food as possible, promoting government support of water use by irrigation, continued efficiencies on water use and consumption, and continued investment in research and development of more innovations in irrigation, he said.

For instance, now is a period that all prices in all commodities have risen and stayed up. For all commodities, that is unprecedented.

Industry must interface more with agriculture and the environment, helping strengthen water management. Knapp said all the advances in the irrigation industry have produced a better future in the last decade than most think.

Food has never been so important, he said. China has locked down 4.89 million acres of land in Africa to bolster its food security. A host of other nations are doing similar things. And now, Saudi Arabia is coming here for wheat stocks. He credits growing concerns for food supplies to political crisis, population growth in politically uncertain times and a philosophy of good business. “Food stocks are part of global leverage, and it makes good sense to lock down to secure food supplies.” said Knapp. That scenario means great things for Alberta.

Jim Csabay of Readymade, a director with the St. Mary River Irrigation District, said many think additional water storage is needed to feed the world population. One of the things lacking in Alberta and Saskatchewan is added water storage. “There is lots of water in our part of the world, but not always in the right place at the right time.” Premier Stelmach last fall was informed of the need for added water storages. Knapp said government is having those discussions. But industry can drive for increased reservoirs on the back of irrigation only so far. “Build your case on the rest of society, you will have a good case.”

Studies have been done on the global food situation, and adjusted for climate change, water availability, cost of ocean freight, and other factors, resulting in a rough clustering of agreements. Some feel that in 15 years, only six of globe’s countries be food exporters — Ukraine, France, Argentina, United States, Australia and Canada. “Within Canada, Saskatchewan and Alberta will be the powerhouses for food exports,” said Knapp. “That is a remarkably powerful position on policy.” Some in industry feel up to 80 per cent of the food needed to feed 9.3 billion by 2050 will have to come from irrigation. Knapp said that raises profound public policy issues for government. The world will need food from Alberta and that means agriculture will need

Cheryl Bradley, a Lethbridge environmentalist, said Water for Life had three key goals — clean drinking water, a healthy ecosystem and a water supply to sustain the economy. She pondered the government’s priority.

Jack Halma Taber Producer

Knapp said all three goals are on equal footing, but progress will vary. Progress on all three could come at different times. Buoyancy of economy and drought can be factors which speed the work on the three points. “Over time,” he said, “Social licence is, and should be, equivalent.” IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Fall 2011 • 25


Serving the Irrigation Industry


an Rijn Electric in Coaldale is certified CSA Standards and UL Standards for electrician work, but it proudly advertises its specialty — electrical for irrigation. Launched by brothers Jack and Hank 25 years ago — nephew Jason Van Rijn who has been with then for years has bought into the business — the company has evolved into a large parts department, manufactures electrical boxes and works on the concrete water control structures in irrigation canal systems. They started their career as electricians with C&A Electric in Lethbridge. They were working on the Maxwell Plum restaurant owned by Fred Weatherup, which is now Moxies Classic Restaurant, when the firm failed. The Van Rijn’s approached Weatherup to be allowed to complete the wiring job, and Weatherup put money up front to help them buy supplies. “We never looked back,” said Jack. “We had a readymade clientele, and since we worked on irrigation systems already, we decided to specialize.” The irrigation industry continues to become more modern and efficient. Centre pivot sprinkler systems are the norm, both on new lands and to replace the old side wheel move systems. The recent move in the past two years of irrigation districts expanding their water rolls by expanding acres is good news for the Van Rijns and a host of other subtrades.

The pivot must be purchased, a concrete support pad built, and a pump site developed and pump installed. Trenches must be dug for the water supply lines and the wires that link the pump site to the pivot point to allow finite management of the pivot. Another company is hired to erect the pivot. All those trades must buy supplies to be able to do their work, said Hank. He said irrigation is also boosting efficiencies in irrigation design. Long gone are the high-pressure sprinklers that pushed water high into the air. Now, drop tubes allow spray to fall a short distance to the crops. That has allow farmers to cut their pump horsepower requirements in half, expanded the size of the pivots being used and cut per-acre pumping costs in half. Jack said the newest project is working to install wireless transducers on the end of towers to allow more efficient control of the corner arms which extend out to irrigate more land in the corners of an irrigated field. He said that technology is simply more to help farmers apply the optimum amount of water to generate the optimum yields on a bigger percentage of a field.

For instance, Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District has added 50,000 acres to its irrigated land base, St. Mary River Irrigation District added 35,000 acres and Taber Irrigation District added 10,000 acres. The expansion is possible because irrigation districts and irrigators have increased their water use efficiencies. Districts had surplus water capacity under license, and to protect that license volume, decided to use it. Jack said all the new lands proposed for irrigation must be assessed for suitability. Then irrigation systems must be designed for the new lands, either those connected to existing irrigated parcels or new parcels. Jason Van Rijn checks a field electrical box North of Coaldale


Future Water Planning


lberta gets credit for deciding to conserve water for the environment because it is a major part of the water circle. Howard Wheater, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan, said water often is taken for granted in Canada, but if there were shortages, all would be willing to pay for the vital resource. Increasing demand for water has continued, and where it happens, the unsustainable use of water is creating some problems, he told the 2011 Water, Agriculture and the Environment Conference at the Lethbridge Lodge Hotel. He said there are 900 million in the world who lack clean drinking water, and 1.4-2.1 million live in water-stressed areas. All this is creating increasing competition for water resources, at local, regional and international scales, he said. The growing concern is degradation of water quality, much of it from pollution. Wheater said the increasing demand for water comes from increasing populations around the world, increasing economic development, agriculture being called upon to feed the world and the increasing demand for energy. Environmental changes are occurring, he said. Land use and land management changes are part of today’s scene, and when you add climate change, experts forecast there could be six billion living in water-scarce areas of the world soon. Wheater said a big problem is balancing demands for the limited water resource. That puts more pressure on issues of sustainability that must be addressed, he said. Included are complex problems of uncertain water futures, which must be confronted and managed. A consistent societal agenda is needed for water, food and energy, addressing both climate change and migration, he said. A big job will be informing policy makers to shift policy goals to meet the water issues. Wheater said the Saskatchewan River is critically important for the Prairie provinces because it serves all three. The water rises up in Alberta, and by agreement, 50 per cent must flow into Saskatchewan. About 75 per cent of South Saskatchewan River water comes from the Rocky Mountains, but while it has significant flows, the river has reached limits for use in Southern Alberta. At the same time, water quality and pollution issues are growing. Irrigated agriculture has demands for clean water,


By: Ric Swihart

and yet agriculture is blamed to some degree for the increasing river water quality issues, he said. Climate change and land management are changing the land and its water in complex ways, affecting the flows and prairie hydrology. He praised prairie water officials for working through the water issues, mostly on a personal relation basis. Water is critical, and the prairie drought of 1999 to 2004 was billed the most severe natural disaster in the region’s history, he said. The opposite has happened, times when prairie soils are saturated entering winter with the potential for major floods in the spring. That has happened the last two years in southern Alberta, delaying spring seeding and putting extra time pressures on farmers. Wheater said climate is warming, river flows are reducing and water use is increasing, creating concerns for the future. Managing water under such conditions puts more pressures on regulators and policy makers, he said. That will be more important as the periods of drought and flood become more pronounced. Wheater said society has a big job ahead.

Nutrient loads from sewage effluent and fertilizers and manures lead to potential pollution issues like algae. Risks to humans and the environment from exotic chemicals with human and veterinary medicines are also a rising challenge. The supply-demand water picture means a balancing role for the water industry between humans, agriculture, hydropower and the environment. There is a major set of challenges to balance agriculture and the environment. It will focus on nutrient loads, and while agriculture is blamed, much of the pollution is from human activity off the farm. As agriculture intensifies, the landscape has changed. Wetlands, often sinks for the nutrient load before they can reach the water system, are at risk. And that move also creates a bigger flood concerns and drought resiliency, he said.

Feeding the World Population


hisky for drinking, water for fighting might have been taken off the pages of a poet’s work, but it was made popular by former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein. Bob Tarleck, former Lethbridge mayor who sits on the Alberta Economic Authority board, said there have been war rumblings in some countries over water. Water won’t be a fighting issue in Alberta, Tarleck predicted at the 2011 Water, Agriculture and the Environment Conference. Such conflict will be avoided, for instance in southern Alberta, because there is a strong economic development voice for water management dialogue for the SouthGrow Regional Initiative made up of 27 area communities, municipalities and the city until the city and the County of Lethbridge withdrew earlier this year. Tarleck had served as vice-president of SouthGrow. Solutions to feeding 9.2 billion by 2050 are many, and Tarleck is expecting the best. A first expectation is food, he said. Loss of agricultural land to development to such topics as depletion of underground acquifers is helping more think more in terms of harvesting the water resources rather than mining them. Tarleck said there are growing pressures with significantly less wheat and corn being produced in the world. In Southern Alberta there is no worry, no doom and gloom. Rather the picture is for opportunities, significant economic opportunities for grains and oilseeds, all framed with rising demand for energy and foods around the world. Irrigation will be key to the extra food needed in the world, and Tarkeck said both the city and county of Lethbridge must be involved in the dialogue. “How it will be done is yet to be determined.” Tarleck confirmed that scenario proves, in his mind, that charges of conflict of interest between urban and rural Southern Alberta is not an issue. Tarleck said water supply is not an issue yet in

By: Ric Swihart

Southern Alberta’s irrigation sector. By 2030, water use in southern Alberta will increase from 1.98 cubic decameters to 3.04 without endangering the water sharing agreement with Saskatchewan. And that will happen without robbing from environment or irrigation. He said the water use agreement calls for Alberta to pass through 50 per cent of the water rising up in the province to Saskatchewan. Because of limited water storage it has been passing 81 per cent of river flows. Tarleck said the problem is not water shortage in Alberta. But that is a perception. “We must address that firmly and responsibly.” Tarleck said increased water use efficiencies in irrigated agriculture is a boon to water supplies. In the past 50 years, the Bow River system increased irrigated land acres 2.5 times, and did it without using any additional water. Tarleck borrowed recommendations from a study done for SouthGrow by a University of Lethbridge team. Recommendations include: • Need to establish a protected water reserve for the environment; • Build a water transfer systems with clear goals and objectives; • Create an information platform available to all; • Develop a staged approach to metering systems for water uses, and; • Develop guidelines for ground water transfer. Tarleck said the Government of Alberta must retain overall control to gain consistency for the new look for water management. Tarleck said residents of the area likely live as close to water issues as anywhere in Alberta. All are connected to water in Southern Alberta. The pressing need — communicate, advocate and collaborate — by Albertans is vital because that is the sector which will be most strongly impacted. IRRIGATING ALBERTA - Fall 2011 • 29

Boosting Bottom Lines

By: Ric Swihart

Global warming is playing a role in the project, he said. Global warming and associated increases in plant evapo-transpiration is expected to destabilize crop production, said Acharya. This will impact areas such as the Canadian prairies more where natural precipitation is limited. He points to the provincial government decision not to issue more water licence capacity to irrigation.


orages comprise more than 37 per cent of the area cropped within the region’s 13 irrigation districts, and the Lethbridge Research Centre has launched a major study on finding ways to reduce the amount of water used to irrigate forages while boosting bottom lines for producers. Shelley Woods, a soil and water research scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, has a keen interest in the project — the province has contributed the irrigation equipment at the Canada Alberta Irrigation Demonstration Farm at the centre. “In order to achieve optimum yields on a crop of three-cut alfalfa hay, a total of 540 to 680 mm of water is required from a combination of precipitation, irrigation, and stored soil moisture,” she said. Surya Acharya, the forage specialist at the centre for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, is the lead scientist supervising a major part of eastern side of the demonstration farm. The project covers a large area because the individual replicated plots are separated by check plots to assure proper measurement of irrigation water applications. “This project will assess risks to crop production associated with variable water supply and the costs and benefit of water management,” said Acharya. Acharya’s federal peer, agricultural economist Elwin Smith, will weigh the economics. “We will determine the effect of irrigation strategies on production of perennial forage species — alfalfa and bloat-free sainfoin — and identify desirable traits for breeding crops and perennial forage crops in particular. “The project will determine water savings from changing water management, irrigation systems and crop type using a regional water resource model for other parts of Canada.” The weather did not co-operate in 2011 — the abundance of rain early in the year offset the benefits and impacts of irrigation, but provided the test crops with an ideal start for the final three years of the project.


“To meet growing demand for irrigation water, innovative methods have to be used to increase the irrigation area with existing water supplies, he said. “We plan to determine if different combinations of crops and management practices can be used to minimize water use without causing economic hardship to producers.
His project objective is simple — find ways to increase more efficient and productive use of southern Alberta’s limited water resources that would allow a much larger area to be irrigated with the same amount of water. The backbone of the study is to determine how different cropping practices; crop varieties and water management practices under different soil conditions affect crop production. It will also attempt to determine how changes in water management may influence economic returns for forage producers. “It will also determine if low water use cultivars need to be developed for future use,” he said. Acharya said neutron soil moisture probes would play a key role. The probe access tubes have been located in the centre of each plot to measure soil moisture levels at several depths. Irrigation rates will be 75 per cent of recommended rates, 50 per cent and 25 per cent, with one replication getting no irrigation water. Observations will be made on biomass yield, forage quality, water use efficiency and water loss from the plots. High-yielding cultivars of perennial alfalfa and sainfoin, and the annual fenugreek, will be used. A similar project is being run in the Picture Butte area. Acharya said one part of the project could set the groundwork for improving water conservation, potentially making water available for a larger area or for new users. It will also improve irrigators’ water management options to increase onfarm water use efficiency and productivity. Acharya expects the project to create a quantitative estimate of potential water savings while growing forage crops, define the economics of growing different forage crops under different levels of irrigation, and set the stage for serious consideration for low-input agriculture, including breeding crop cultivars that can produce well with less irrigation water.

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Irrigating Alberta Fall 2011  

Irrigation in Alberta Fall 2011 edition