By Cole Parkinson
Alta Newspaper Group – Taber
As harvest rolls on in southern Alberta, St. Mary River Irrigation District (SMRID) is reporting good levels within their reservoirs.
While there was more precipitation this spring and early summer, SMRID saw less demand from irrigators which has led to reservoirs with fairly normal levels across the board.
“Our levels are good. Virtually almost all of the reservoirs were about normal, if you want to call it that, for this time of year. It’s where we want to be and we’re pleased with that,” said David Westwood, SMRID general manager. “We definitely had lower demand to start up because we obviously had a wetter spring than that is maybe typical for southern Alberta. And even into July there was a lot of stop and start irrigation where they would pull back because there was some rain so they didn’t need to irrigate as much. As the summer progressed from July into August and we got some heat, we had demand and it was quite a bit above average. Overall, throughout the entire season, I’d say it was about average from what we’d see from beginning to where we are at this time of year. I think it has been an interesting season but overall, it’s been pretty normal in terms of the total volume of irrigation.”
Due to the amounts of rain received, and the ability to irrigate across the district when it was hot during the summer months, Westwood says crops are looking great as harvest continues.
In his travels, he says both dryland and irrigation farmers are in great positions this fall.
“Obviously, what you are really going to see, and what I’ve seen from travelling around the entire district, is the irrigated area crops are doing fantastic and the dryland areas are really good as well. I’m assuming that will be above average, subject to any weather issues through harvest.”
Winter may still be a few months off, but SMRID is projecting a fairly normal level of snowpack and winter storage.
“Winter levels will be where we normally see them and we are targeting, basically all of our reservoirs, to be at normal winter levels. With Chin, probably approximately 125,000-acre feet of storage going into winter and that’s normally where we like to be,” explained Westwood.
When the cold weather does hit in southern Alberta, SMRID will hit the ground on several projects to upgrade infrastructure.
With three major projects scheduled for construction over the last months of 2020 and into 2021, SMRID is expecting a busy off-season.
“We’ve got three major capital projects going on this winter to the tune of an estimated cost of $9 million,” said Westwood. “They are projects all in our western part of the district, between Lethbridge and Chin. The work includes probably 18 kilometres of buried PVC pipe replacing open-ditch canal on our Eight Mile and Cameron laterals, that’s our two major projects. That will include about 27 farm turnouts and about 11 domestic deliveries for household purposes as part of those rehabilitations as well. We also have a third project going on, which is a canal rehabilitation, in our Chin lateral two area. It is about two kilometres of canal trimming, armouring and structure replacement.”
As part of the Irrigation Rehabilitation Program introduced by the Alberta government, SMRID received $2,651,848 in funding.
Overall, $10 million in funding is being provided to the province’s irrigation districts for infrastructure improvements.