The Saskatchewan government is looking at expanding irrigation in the province, though the process will take years and may not look exactly like the mega-project being proposed by a former member of Parliament.
Ralph Goodale wants to see Lake Diefenbaker’s potential fully realized through canals that would carry water southeast into the Qu’Appelle Valley and west toward Rosetown.
In an interview, Goodale cited private sector estimates around $3 billion or more.
“This would be truly transformational kinds of investments,” Goodale said.
With the province’s economy slowly coming back online after COVID-19 shut it down, the former representative for Regina–Wascana said the economic benefits outweigh the initial cost. The “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” could create thousands of jobs, Goodale said.
The conduits off the lake would also aid producers by opening up 400,000 acres for irrigated farming, he said, offering relief for many who have suffered through droughts and floods.
“If you build the infrastructure to better plan, coordinate and control the water flow, then you can eliminate some of those damages,” Goodale said.
The former MP’s vision may not be fully implemented, but the province is looking into it.
Saskatchewan’s Growth Plan for the next decade includes a target of adding 85,000 irrigated acres in the province. The government’s most recent expenditures plan includes $5 million to study expanded irrigation opportunities.
Patrick Boyle, spokesperson for the province’s Water Security Agency (WSA), said nothing is imminent beyond the first phase of the study.
“Water is one of those things where if you’re looking at moving it, constructing, doing something, there’s never an easy or quick solution,” Boyle said.
Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Agriculture and the WSA are both interested in the Westside Irrigation Project, which would stretch from Gardiner Dam to Asquith along the west bank of the South Saskatchewan River.
The study will also examine the Upper Qu’Appelle Water Supply Project, which would connect Lake Diefenbaker to Buffalo Pound Lake.
“The federal government, obviously, would need to be a partner in any of those and the province is very open to that possibility,” Boyle said.
At this point the impacts on water levels, recreational opportunities and other issues need further study, according to the WSA’s spokesperson.
Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD), a federal government department, is finalizing a report on a water and land management strategy for the Prairies.
The potential canal between Lake Diefenbaker and Buffalo Pound Lake is used as an example in the report, according to a WD spokesperson.
WD has not made any recommendations on the water and land management strategy or the possibility of a canal project.