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Are Prairie Rivers at Risk? Irrigation and the Future of Southern Alberta’s Rivers

April 13, 2022

Wild Lands Advocate article by: Lorne Fitch, P. Biol.

Click here for a pdf version of the article.

The pathway to degraded rivers

The heat dome and severe low flows of 2021 had me reflecting on the recent scheme by southern Alberta’s irrigation sector to massively expand irrigated acreage. In response, I thought of the old hymn, “Shall we gather at the river”. Some of you with church experiences might remember the refrain: “Yes, we’ll gather at the river/The beautiful, the beautiful river…”

The details of this irrigation expansion, spun as a “modernization” project, are vague. Ten of the 13 Irrigation Districts with funding support from the Province of Alberta and the Canada Infrastructure Bank propose to “modernize” 86 components of irrigation infrastructure and construct (or expand) four off-stream reservoirs. Through increases in irrigation efficiency and water storage, the goal is to save sufficient water to increase the acreage under irrigation by 230,000 acres (+15 percent). This will be the single largest irrigation expansion in Alberta’s history.

There is an urgent need to engage people with nature. All aspects of it. Not just the pretty bears and cute snakes. Also the realities of it, the death, struggles, and pain. Not only are people losing touch with nature, they are losing touch with the realities of nature.
- Clayton Lamb, January 2018
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