Reactions to massive irrigation project at Lake Diefenbaker

Ten-year project has many excited about realizing lake area's potential

Last week’s blockbuster announcement of a ten-year project aimed at rocketing the irrigation sector in the province to the heavens certainly has people talking, and producers in the Lake Diefenbaker region very excited.

The excitement is indeed palpable when one might consider the possibilities, especially when one remembers that the town of Outlook itself is billed as the ‘Irrigation Capital of Saskatchewan’.

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Premier Scott Moe revealed the news on Thursday, July 2, spelling out the first steps of a generational project that the government says will fulfill the vision of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker to ensure the prosperity of Saskatchewan people and irrigate up to 500,000 acres of land from Lake Diefenbaker, more than doubling the irrigable land in Saskatchewan.  The project is beginning with an immediate $22.5 million investment in preliminary engineering and initial construction.

Construction on the project is expected to take place over the next decade in three main phases, and the entire initiative carries a cost of an estimated $4 billion.

As far as industry is concerned, water may have just become the new oil in the province of Saskatchewan.

“The announcement of this generational project will see the vision of Lake Diefenbaker completed over the course of the next decade,” Premier Moe said in a release.  “By doubling the amount of irrigable land in our province, this project will be a massive step in completing the goals our government has set out in our 2030 Growth Plan.”

Phase 1 of the project is estimated to cost $500 million and will include the rehabilitation and expansion of the existing Westside irrigation canal system.  This work will increase the amount of irrigable land by 80,000 acres in the area.  It is considered one of the most shovel ready irrigation projects in the province with 90 per cent of the current canal already in place.

Phases 2 and 3 of the irrigation project are estimated to cost up to $3.5 billion.

Phase 2 will see the further expansion and buildout of the Westside Irrigation Project, adding an additional 260,000 acres of irrigable land.  Once fully built and developed, the project will eventually see land made available for irrigation near Macrorie, Milden, Zealandia, and as far north as Delisle and Asquith.

Phase 3 will see the buildout of the Qu’Appelle South Irrigation Project, adding an estimated 120,000 acres of irrigable land.  Starting at Lake Diefenbaker and going south, the project would run near the communities of Tugaske, Eyebrow, down to Marquis and into Buffalo Pound Lake.  It would provide the Moose Jaw-Regina corridor and southern Saskatchewan with a secure source of water for the next century and act as a catalyst for significant industrial expansion in the years to come.

This year, $22.5 million is being invested as part of Phase 1 to immediately begin preliminary engineering and initial construction of the Westside Irrigation Project.  Preliminary soil quality analysis of the Qu’Appelle South Irrigation Project area will also begin this year.

lake
The waters of Lake Diefenbaker. - Derek Ruttle

“Saskatchewan has one of the most unique opportunities across the country,” Minister Responsible for the Water Security Agency Greg Ottenbreit said.  “We are well positioned to further develop while providing a secure water supply for generations to come.   I am very confident Legislative Secretary Lyle Stewart will move this project forward to ensure certainty for our economy and a secure water supply for decades to come.”

These irrigation projects are building blocks for regional economic development in Saskatchewan.  Initial estimates show the investment will result in a $40 to $80 billion increase in the provincial Gross Domestic Product over the next 50 years.  The project is estimated to create 2,500 construction jobs a year, over the next ten years.

“I look forward to working with producers, industry and government partners to expand irrigation capacity in Saskatchewan,” Agriculture Minister David Marit said.  “From diversifying crop production and attracting more value-added processing, to benefitting local economies and adding to our long-term food security, increased irrigation opportunities support a profitable and sustainable economy.”

“Irrigation is an important part of the Saskatchewan agriculture industry and the economy,” Legislative Secretary to the Minister Responsible for Water Security Agency Lyle Stewart said.  “It supports the growth of diverse, high-value crops, which increases on-farm profitability, value-added processing opportunities, business attraction and employment.”

“Lake Diefenbaker is a major resource for this province, and it is very encouraging to see the government taking this next step,” Saskatchewan Irrigation Projects Association Chair Aaron Gray said.  “Projects like this put Saskatchewan producers in a very strong position to create a sustainable and secure food supply for Canada.”

The offices of Arm River MLA Greg Brkich, who represents Outlook and communities on the east side of the South Saskatchewan River, provided The Outlook with a statement on the project:

“I am pleased to say that on July 2, our Premier announced the first steps of a multi-generational project in the Province of Saskatchewan,” Brkich said.  “This project was originally started in the 1960s and has taken 60 years to work to get to this next stage.  This will be huge in the agriculture industry in the Province of Saskatchewan.  The total investment will result in a $40 to $80 billion increase in the Provincial Gross Domestic Product over the news 50 years.  And the further good news is that this will create 2500 construction jobs a year over the next 10 years!  This project will be a part of the Provincial Government’s $7.5 billion two-year capital plan to build a strong Saskatchewan and stimulate the economic recovery.  I believe this project strongly speaks to our Government and our ability to utilize the potential to grow the Province forward.”

Garry Hnatowich, Research Director for the Irrigation Crop Diversification Corporation at CSIDC in Outlook, is very happy with the project announcement by the province.

“ICDC, like all parties involved in irrigation, is extremely happy with the announcement,” said Garry.  “I wish to congratulate the provincial government and also the Board Members, past and present, of SIPA for their continual promotion and encouragement of this initiative.  ICDC strives to conduct agronomic research to enhance the profitability of irrigators.  With approximately a doubling of the irrigable acres in Saskatchewan, ICDC envisions that our research program may expand, and with certainty, we will undertake a large educational commitment in order to transition outstanding dryland producers to exceptional irrigation producers.”

The Town of Outlook provided The Outlook with the following statement as it relates to the project, pointing to the work already being done to move the community forward and be ready for more possible opportunities in the future:

On behalf of the Town of Outlook, Mayor and Council is pleased with the Province’s recent announcement of a $4 billion irrigation project.

Council wants to be ready for the growth that this project will create, both in terms of construction jobs and long term employment for the region.  Plans are already underway for an industrial subdivision, a commercial subdivision, as well as a residential subdivision, and a grant application has been submitted for Federal-Provincial infrastructure funding to ensure a sustainable source of water for the community.  This is all part of the process necessary to ensure that Outlook is a viable option for the potential opportunities that this huge project will provide, to cement Outlook as the Irrigation Capital of Saskatchewan.

Discussions with the federal government are being coordinated by SaskBuilds, in partnership with the Water Security Agency and the Ministry of Agriculture, to leverage all possible federal infrastructure funding opportunities, including through the Canada Infrastructure Bank.  Saskatchewan is seeking federal funding now to support planning work and will be seeking significant longer-term funding to support this multi-year, multi-phase construction project.

The province expects to complete further consultations and discussions with stakeholders and First Nations as the project progresses.

© The Outlook

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