The project — which is expected to be completed in 10 years — will be built over three phases and will cost around $4 billion, the government of Saskatchewan says.
Premier Scott Moe said Thursday that the project “will be a massive step in completing the goals” the government has set out to grow the province by 2030.
“Irrigation is an important part of the Saskatchewan agriculture industry and the economy,” said Lyle Stewart, legislative secretary to the minister responsible for the Water Security Agency.
“It supports the growth of diverse, high-value crops, which increases on-farm profitability, value-added processing opportunities, business attraction and employment.”
An initial $22.5 million will be invested during the preliminary stage for engineering and initial construction, with work beginning immediately.
Phase 1 of the project is estimated to cost around $500 million and will include the rehabilitation and expansion of the existing Westside irrigation canal system, the government says.
This phase will increase the amount of irrigable land by 80,000 acres alone. This target is within Saskatchewan’s Growth Plan, which was previously announced.
Phase 2 will involve expanding the Westside Irrigation Project, which would stretch from the Gardiner Dam to Asquith, 40 kilometres west of Saskatoon, along the west bank of the South Saskatchewan River. This will allow for land to be made available for irrigation near Macrorie, Milden, Zealandia, Delisle and Asquith.
The third phase will be the buildout of the Qu’Appelle South Irrigation Project, adding an estimated 120,000 acres of irrigable land.
The project — which was championed by former Regina MP Ralph Goodale — will start at Lake Diefenbaker and go south running near the communities of Tugaske and Eyebrow down to Marquis and into Buffalo Pound Lake.
Goodale said the irrigation system will offer producers a greater diversification of high-value crops and a chance for processing ability.
“All of that means a very significant business investment and agricultural investment in Saskatchewan and a more prosperous economy overall,” he told Global News.
The former cabinet minister also said the results of this project could increase the province’s gross domestic product by four percentage points.
Additionally, the project 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,” the government said.
“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 in a statement.
“Projects like this put Saskatchewan producers in a very strong position to create a sustainable and secure food supply for Canada.”
The government says it will continue to consult stakeholders and First Nations as the project progresses.
-With files from Kyle Benning