Sask. gov't announces $4B project to double irrigable land in province

The government of Saskatchewan has announced a $4-billion project that will irrigate some 202,000 hectares of land with water from Lake Diefenbaker over the next decade, effectively doubling the amount of irrigable land in Saskatchewan.

202,000 hectares of irrigable land to be created over next 10 years

Water from Lake Diefenbaker will be used to irrigate up to 202,000 hectares of land in Saskatchewan, according to an announcement from the province issued on Thursday. (CBC)

The government of Saskatchewan announced a $4-billion project on Thursday. 

The plan is to irrigate some 202,000 hectares of land with water from Lake Diefenbaker over the next decade, effectively doubling the amount of irrigable land in Saskatchewan. 

Work is set to begin immediately according to a government news release, which said $22.5 million will be invested in engineering and initial construction costs. Preliminary soil quality analysis along the Qu'Appelle South irrigation project area will also start this year.

"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," Premier Scott Moe said in the news release. 

The project will take place in three phases. 

Phase 1 will cost $500 million and includes the rehabilitation and expansion of the existing westside irrigation canal system. 

That work will create about 32,300 more hectares of irrigable land and is considered one of the most "shovel ready" irrigation projects in the province. 

Phases 2 and 3 of the project could cost up to $3.5 billion.

Phase 2 would see the expansion and buildout of the westside irrigation project, creating 105,000 hectares of irrigable land. When complete, land near Macrorie, Milden, Zealandia and Delisle and Asquith will be available for irrigation. 

Phase 3 will see the buildout of the Qu'Appelle South irrigation project, adding another 48,500 hectares of irrigable land from Lake Diefenbaker south. 

The government news release said that project would run near Tugaske, Eyebrow down to Marquis and into Buffalo Pound Lake.

"It would provide 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 years to come," the release said. 

The government is seeking federal funding to support planning work and "significant long-term funding" to support the project.

Government touts economic impact

The government says the project will increase the province's gross domestic product between $40-$80 billion over the next 50 years. 

The project will also create about 2,500 construction jobs a year over the next 10 years according to the government release. 

"Irrigation is an important part of the Saskatchewan agriculture industry and the economy," said Lyle Stewart, legislative secretary to the minister of 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."

Further consultation to come

At a news conference about the announcement on Thursday, Stewart said consultation with stakeholders are set to begin immediately. 

Stewart said consultations with Indigenous communities along the project routes have not yet been completed.

"The negotiations with First Nations will begin immediately or almost immediately," Stewart said. 

"We don't expect great pushback; we know that they will appreciate the fact that this is good for the Qu'Appelle Valley water system and it should allow it, over time, to return to more normal conditions." 

Stewart said the government would do its best to mitigate any concerns from any stakeholder that arise during the consultation process.