The federal government has thrown its support behind the $4-billion Lake Diefenbaker irrigation project announced by the province in July.
Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) released a report on prairie water resources Monday, saying Saskatchewan should develop the infrastructure required to expand its irrigation capacity.
Over the past 16 months, WD has examined sustainable water management to identify opportunities to enhance food security, while improving the economic outlook for some prairie communities.
The report recommends Saskatchewan move forward on two components of the Lake Diefenbaker project — the Westside irrigation canal system and the Upper Qu’Appelle Canal, both of which the province has already committed to developing.
Using the water resources of Lake Diefenbaker, the projects could enhance water security and support irrigation expansion by nearly 500,000 acres in south-central Saskatchewan, according to officials.
“In this age of climate instability, we need to secure our water supply both for the economy and growing our agri-food industries, but also for protecting against the impacts of climate change — both drought and flooding,” said Terry Duguid, Parliamentary Secretary to the economic development minister.
The Diefenbaker project has received some pushback, with critics noting the province has yet to conduct an environmental assessment or consult with First Nations.
Both of those things are key recommendations in WD’s report, Duguid said.
“Everyone wants the best project possible,” he told Global News in an interview on Tuesday.
“This is what environmental assessments and economic analysis is all about — does this project make sense? We want to proceed responsibly with the Saskatchewan government, and that’s what we intend to do.”
Duguid said most projects that undergo consultation and environmental review are usually adjusted based on those assessments.
Officials said advancing the irrigation projects will help position Saskatchewan and the Prairies as global leaders in agri-food production and processing.
“The government of Canada is supporting growth and prosperity as we help to ensure a sustainable supply of water available to cities and towns, Indigenous communities, farms and industry across the Prairies,” Mélanie Joly, the minister responsible for WD, said in a news release.
“(The report) is a first step, providing a starting point for discussions and activities to advance transformative infrastructure and work collaboratively with partners and stakeholders.”
The federal endorsement for the project could be backed by federal dollars in the future, Duguid said, with preliminary discussions on funding models underway.