Alberta's Irrigation – A Strategy for the Future (the Irrigation Strategy) is intended as a guidance document to help focus the efforts of the Alberta government's Irrigation and Farm Water Branch over the next 10 to 20 years. It outlines how the branch will support the irrigation sector through research, information development, policy development and programming.

Although not a part of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP), the Irrigation Strategy is intended as a companion document, and supports the goals of the SSRP.

Most recent report:

Water storage and supply

Water storage opportunities in the South Saskatchewan River basin in Alberta

Through funding from the Irrigation Council, a consultant was contracted to investigate the opportunities for developing additional storage to improve future water security in southern Alberta. After reviewing previous studies and doing additional modelling and analysis, this study determined there is limited opportunity for additional water storage in southern Alberta.

The consultant (AMEC) reviewed existing studies and conducted modelling within the boundaries of current regulations and apportionment agreements.

South Saskatchewan River Basin in Alberta Water Supply Study

Water supply in the South Saskatchewan River Basin (SSRB) in Alberta is naturally subject to highly variable flows. Capture and controlled release of these flows is critical in the management of the available water supply. Expanding population, economic growth and climate variability add additional challenges to managing our limited water supply. Previous analysis in the SSRB in Alberta Water Supply Study (AMEC 2009) identified remanagement of existing reservoirs and the development of additional water storage sites as potential solutions to SSRB water management challenges.

Water quality

Nutrient Beneficial Management Practices Evaluation Project

Nutrients and the management of nutrients are critical for crop and livestock production. However, when not managed effectively, nutrients from agricultural systems can be lost to surface water bodies resulting in reduced water quality. Many beneficial management practices (BMPs) have been promoted and adopted to improve environmental sustainability of agricultural practices in the province, though there is limited information about the effectiveness of BMPs under Alberta conditions.

Development of a watershed approach to BMP implementation required the collective support of area residents and ongoing communication to share concerns and develop solutions.

Nutrient Beneficial Management Practices Evaluation Project:

Alberta Phosphorus Watershed Project: 2013 to 2020

Nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, in manure and inorganic fertilizers benefit crop production. However, surface runoff can wash valuable crop nutrients into streams and water bodies if nutrients are not managed effectively. Excess nutrients in streams can lead to water quality concerns including excess plant and algae growth, fish kills and odours.

The Alberta Phosphorus Management Tool (APMT) is a Windows-based (Excel) program developed by the Government of Alberta as part of the Alberta Phosphorus Watershed Project. The APMT is a risk assessment tool designed to help producers make livestock and nutrient management decisions that will minimize environmental risk associated with the loss of phosphorus (P), and to maximize the benefits of manure and fertilizer nutrients.

Livestock manure impact on groundwater quality in Alberta

Agricultural manure management activities can contribute nitrogen, phosphorus, organic carbon, salts and pathogens to groundwater. Recent reviews suggest that manure field application and storage facilities may pose a risk to groundwater quality in Alberta. However, little Alberta-specific information exists. The Alberta government and partners implemented a 7-year study to determine the potential risks of intensive livestock production to groundwater quality in Alberta.

Water quality in Alberta's irrigation districts

Alberta has the largest irrigated area in Canada with nearly 680,000 hectares of irrigated land. More than 80% of this area is in 13 irrigation districts. Within Alberta's irrigation districts, there are more than 55 reservoirs and approximately 8,000 km of conveyance works, including canals and pipelines, which carry nearly 2 billion m3 of water per year.

Good quality irrigation water is needed for all uses. Irrigation water is not only essential for agricultural production, it provides municipal water for more than 40 communities plus thousands of rural residents in Alberta. The irrigation infrastructure also provides habitat for wildlife and numerous recreational activities such as fishing, camping and golfing.

Economic value of irrigation in Alberta

Irrigation in Alberta, which began in the late 1800s, now takes place on about 690,000 hectares. This represents almost 70% of Canada’s total irrigated area. The majority of Alberta’s irrigation (566,000 hectares) occurs within the 13 irrigation districts, which are in the SSRB. An additional 125,000 hectares are irrigated throughout the province as private developments.

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