Managing water across the Prairies
A changing climate will affect the quality and availability of water across the Prairies including increased risk of more severe droughts and floods. A coordinated and collaborative water management approach will ensure that Prairie people, communities and agricultural producers have a sustainable supply of water for decades to come.
In 2019, the Government of Canada invested $1 million to work with partners and stakeholders to develop a new strategy to sustainably manage water and land on the Prairies. Over 15 months, Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) examined issues related to sustainable water management in the context of climate volatility, and identifying opportunities to enhance food security while improving the economic outlook for communities on the Prairies. This included:
- The Prairie Water Summit, which was attended by over 130 experts, Indigenous leaders, provincial and municipal leaders, industry representatives, and non-governmental organizations from across the Prairies
- Consultation and engagement workshops with experts from federal departments and academic institutions
- The study of the economic and environmental impacts of two major water infrastructure projects in Saskatchewan
WD has summarized what we heard and made recommendations in the report, Prairie Prosperity: A Vision for the Management of Water Resources across Saskatchewan and the Prairies.
The report recommends advancing transformative infrastructure projects to expand irrigation in central Saskatchewan in collaboration with Indigenous partners, municipalities, and other stakeholders.
Read the report [HTML] | View the print-friendly version [PDF]
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News release: Western Economic Diversification Canada releases report on Prairie water and land management
Transcript: “Water. The Opportunity for Saskatchewan: Interviews.”
(various images appear one after the other throughout the interviews)
(text on screen: Saskatchewan’s Irrigation Opportunity)
(Nigel Oram, Agricultural Producer - voiceover begins)
(text on screen: Nigel Oram, Agricultural Producer)
Um, well, I grew up on a family farm. And it’s been my whole life actually. We’ve, you know, I’ve learned a lot of good work ethic and good core values from farming. (2:31) Uh, we’ve, uh, greatly benefited from irrigation. (3:30) We’re able, we’re able to grow crops that were not allowed to grow in dry land because of the guaranteed water supply.
Well, I think there’s a huge opportunity for expanded irrigation in Saskatchewan for two reasons. We got, we got the best source of water at our fingertips. And we also have, uh, land that’s very sustainable, or suitable for irrigation. And we’re just, we’re just waiting on a couple things to, you know, help grow irrigation in Saskatchewan… (10:14) I think, um, it’s not a question of if it’s gonna happen, it’s when it’s gonna happen.
(Deb Thorn, Community Economic Development Specialist - voiceover begins)
(text on screen: Deb Thorn, Community Economic Development Specialist)
So, so I think uh, my involvement in agriculture in Saskatchewan started when I was growing up. I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, grew up in a, a small town and uh, loved farming life and that became a, a big part of who I am and, and the things that I, I value.
Well our community of Moosejaw really hasn’t benefited from irrigation. Uh, unfortunately we’re on the part of the leg of the Diefenbaker Lake that is, is not irrigated but has so much potential. And uh, as I look communities, and a good example is uh, the Lethbridge area, Alberta, Southern, Southern Alberta. We too in, in our area could, could have the same kind of uh, incredible economic spinoff had we, or had we uh, developed irrigation in our, in our area.
Uh, people need good jobs, they need high paying jobs, they need opportunities. And what happens when you irrigate is it creates a whole new inventory of, of industrial plants and, and opportunities. So that’s what communities need to focus on.
(Dan Erlandson, Owner, Spring Creek Garden - voiceover begins)
(text on screen: Dan Erlandson, Owner, Spring Creek Garden)
Um, my involvement in agriculture started when I was real young. My par- I grew up on the farm that we’re now farming. (1:34) On our farm, we grow a wide variety of vegetables. Um, for fresh consumption for the most part. Um, but the big crops we grow are carrots, cabbage, sweet corn, broccoli, uh, and Brussel sprouts are our major crops on our farm.
Irrigation is, um, in my opinion, the backbone of what we do. If we didn’t have irrigation, uh, we wouldn’t even attempt to grow vegetables where we are in Saskatchewan.
I think diversity, um, through, through irrigation on our farms, um, in Saskatchewan is important because it, it allows us to mitigate risk a little bit. (17:26) Where we can, we can diversify more into high quality, uh, hay land, grow cropping, vegetables, uh, potatoes. I think those things are important to, to use the land base that we have that can be irrigated. And, and allow ourselves to, to create a bit more diverse agriculture in Saskatchewan.
(Jeff Ewen, Irrigation Producer - voiceover begins)
(text on screen: Jeff Ewen, Irrigation Producer)
I’m actually a third generation farmer from Riverhurst. Ah, so I still got my dad on the farm. My Grandpa was there before me and I do farm with both of my siblings, both brothers and their families. So, ah, we are still a family farm and operate in that manner.
So, our community specifically has, uh, really benefited from irrigation due to the fact that it’s created jobs. Uh, as you add the irrigation there becomes a little more management. Um, it also brings in more business, uh, with crop inputs and fertilizer, being that we put more, more product on the land to produce a higher, higher amount of yield.
I think the future really is moving beyond growing some of the traditional crops that we’d grow and growing more higher value, getting into vegetables and, and, you know, type of stuff that you see in the supermarket versus ingredient based things or export type things. So, I think there’s a lot of potential here to, to really look at home and feed our own, as well as continue to support the world.
(text on screen: Western Economic Diversification Canada’s signature)
(text on screen: Canada Wordmark)
Transcript: “Water. The Opportunity for Saskatchewan: Animated Short.”
(various images appear one after the other throughout the video)
Did you know that sixteen per cent of global food production relies on irrigation through groundwater, which is often used at unsustainable rates? While irrigation is an idea still growing in Saskatchewan, it’s not new to many parts of the world.
(Text on screen: The State of Water)
In the American Midwest, two interconnected aquifers - Ogallala and High Plains - have created one of the largest agricultural economies in the world. However, some regions dependent on these groundwater aquifers are using them at unsustainable rates. Much of the southern part of these aquifer systems could be depleted as soon as 2050.
California’s Central Valley is another major agricultural region, producing more than half of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts grown in the U.S. Parts of Central Valley are also emptying their groundwater aquifers more quickly than they can be restored naturally, and could be out of water by the 2030s.
(Text on screen: The Opportunity for Saskatchewan)
But... what does this have to do with Saskatchewan?
While Saskatchewan doesn’t have the milder climate of California and the US Midwest, Saskatchewan has a remarkable opportunity to help feed our growing global population. We have a secure, abundant water resource in our province with the potential to improve our economic prosperity and further increase our agricultural production - Lake Diefenbaker.
(Text on screen: Lake Diefenbaker)
To date, Lake Diefenbaker only provides water for 120,000 acres of irrigated farmland, through the sustainable use of surface water. The reservoir capacity of Lake Diefenbaker has the potential to responsibly expand irrigation for another 500,000 acres, or more. Two regions near Lake Diefenbaker offer examples of where irrigation expansion could occur.
The Upper Qu’Appelle Canal, located along the Qu’Appelle Valley, and the Westside Canal Expansion, located northwest of Lake Diefenbaker, could create more than 400,000 acres of irrigated farmland. These projects would complement existing initiatives to diversify agriculture in Saskatchewan, while benefitting nearby communities.
These kinds of irrigation projects take the vision that began to take shape decades ago and brings it into the 21st century. These projects can attract investment, create jobs, increase agricultural production for tens of thousands of acres of land, lead to rural revitalization in the region, and contribute significantly to prosperity in Saskatchewan and Canada for decades, all while show-casing how major water infrastructure projects can be collaboratively advanced.
Any environmental challenges posed by these projects could be an opportunity to bring together all of the impacted sectors to develop solutions with a collaborative process that leads to a robust agricultural drainage plan and minimal impacts to downstream water users.
The Upper Qu’Appelle Canal and Westside Canal Expansion are more than just infrastructure projects. They represents a bold new direction and investment in Saskatchewan’s future.
(Text on screen: We Can See the Possibilities)
The Upper Qu’Appelle Canal and Westside Canal Expansion are a sustainable use of Saskatchewan’s abundant supply of surface water. Saskatchewan leads the world in cutting-edge agricultural and biotechnology research, making breakthroughs in how we feed the world. With the addition of more irrigable acres, farmers can focus on producing high-value crops in demand at home and abroad. Irrigation agriculture also helps with climate change adaptation, as irrigated farmland is effectively drought-proof.
(Text on screen: Let’s Move Forward)
Projects of this magnitude require great effort. They require the will of the people to see the future with a vision of prosperity. They require patience, foresight, sacrifice, and a commitment to see something through to the end that is bigger than any one of us.
(Text on screen: This is the Future of Saskatchewan)
It’s time to grab the opportunity in front of us and run with it because ... no great thing is ever created suddenly.
(Narrator’s voice over ends)
(text on screen: Western Economic Diversification Canada’s signature)
(text on screen: Canada Wordmark)
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