Saskatchewan takes first step in $4 billion project to irrigate up to 500,000 acres

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says the province is making the initial investment in a massive project that would irrigate up to half a million additional acres of farmland with water from Lake Diefenbaker.

The entire project is expected to take 10 years to complete, with an estimated cost of $4 billion over three phases.

“The announcement of this generational project will see the vision of Lake Diefenbaker completed over the course of the next decade,” Moe said, announcing the plan on Thursday. “By doubling the amount of irrigable land in our province, this project will be a massive step in completing the goals our government has set out in our 2030 Growth Plan.”

The first phase would include expansion and rehabilitation of the existing Westside irrigation canal system, which would increase irrigated land by around 80 thousand acres. Its estimated cost is $500 million.

The second phase would bring water for irrigation to areas around Macrorie, Milden, Zealandia, and as far north as Delisle and Asquith — adding up to 260 thousand more acres of irrigated land.

Phase three in the plan includes the buildout of the Qu’Appelle South Irrigation Project, going south from Lake Diefenbaker near Tugaske, Eyebrow, down to Marquis and into Buffalo Pound Lake. This would add an estimated 120 thousand acres of irrigated land, as well as improve water security and increase room for industrial growth in Moose Jaw and Regina.

The second and third phases are estimated to cost up to $3.5 billion.

To start, Moe says the province will invest $22.5 million this year for preliminary engineering and initial construction to support the first phase. Soil analysis of the Qu’Appelle South Irrigation Project area will also begin in 2020.

“From diversifying crop production and attracting more value-added processing, to benefitting local economies and adding to our long-term food security, increased irrigation opportunities support a profitable and sustainable economy,” notes Agriculture Minister David Marit.

Former long-time Saskatchewan MP Ralph Goodale has been a vocal proponent of expanding irrigation infrastructure from Lake Diefenbaker to follow through on the original vision for channeling water to more of southern Saskatchewan, which dates back to the Dirty ’30s.

The province says discussions regarding investment from the federal government are being coordinated by SaskBuilds, in partnership with the Water Security Agency and the Ministry of Agriculture. Those discussions include potentially accessing funding through the Canada Infrastructure Bank.

The province says initial estimates show the $4 billion project will result in a $40 to $80 billion increase in the provincial Gross Domestic Product over the next 50 years. The project is also estimated to create 2,500 construction jobs a year, over the next ten years.

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