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Conservation specialists concerned over irrigation expansion in southern Alberta

Click to play video: 'Major irrigation investment raises concerns for conservationist group' Major irrigation investment raises concerns for conservationist group
The Alberta Wilderness Association is sharing its worries over a historic $850-million investment into irrigation infrastructure in southern Alberta. Eloise Therien has more on why they’ve raised a red flag. – Oct 20, 2021

On Oct. 13, the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) released a statement of concern regarding the potential environmental impacts of a massive southern Alberta irrigation investment.

It was announced last fall that $815 million in funding from the government of Alberta, Canada Infrastructure Bank and eight irrigation districts is going into modernizing irrigation infrastructure and increase water storage capacity throughout southern Alberta.

Its first phase includes the conversion of canals to pipelines, while the second phases involved the expansion of four reservoirs.

Read more: ‘Historic’ $815M irrigation investment announced for southern Alberta agriculture

“It sounded like the project hadn’t gone through any sort of public consultation period or environmental impact assessment,” conservation specialist with the AWA Phillip Meintzer told Global News.

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“Our concerns were really around if instream flows — so the water that remains in the waterways for ecosystem needs — (whether) that was being considered.”

Meintzer said the group isn’t opposed to the projects, as it understands the efficiencies that come with it.

“If we can have an environmental assessment done that considered the cumulative impacts of this project as a whole on instream flows, that’s kind of our main priority here.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta hopes to attract investment by funding irrigation projects' Alberta hopes to attract investment by funding irrigation projects
Alberta hopes to attract investment by funding irrigation projects – Mar 12, 2021

David Westwood, general manager of the St. Mary River Irrigation District, said a total of eight canal to pipeline conversions within their jurisdiction are set to be complete next spring.

“There are no requirements to conduct any sort of environmental impact assessments to do that kind of work,” he explained, while adding the reservoir expansion will require an environmental impact assessment.

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That project has a timeline of eight years. He added there are potential benefits to the investment as well.

“Through these infrastructure projects, we will be able to irrigate more acres with the same amount, or less water, than we’re currently using,” Westwood added.

“Those canals were man-made at some point within the last century, and one of the mandates whenever we do a conversion back to an enclosed pipeline, (and) put (it) underground, is that the landscape is returned to what its natural state was.”

Global News also reached out to the province for a response to the AWA’s concerns, but was told it could not provide one on Wednesday.

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