Sask. government's lack of consultation on $4B irrigation project 'perverse,' says environmental group

The Saskatchewan Environmental Society says there are too many unanswered questions about the provincial government's $4-billion irrigation plan.

Project to be largest in provincial history, work scheduled to begin this summer

Farm groups are lauding the Saskatchewan government's plan to invest $4-billion in irrigation expansion, but others are questioning the lack of environmental studies, absence of First Nations consultation and the large cost to taxpayers. (Don Somers/CBC)

The Saskatchewan Environmental Society says there are too many unanswered questions about the provincial government's $4 billion irrigation plan.

The government announced the project earlier this month and said work was to begin immediately. It said it will do environmental assessments and consult First Nations at some point.

Saskatchewan Environmental Society vice-president Bob Halliday said Wednesday the government has things backward. He said consultation is meaningless if you've made up your mind and begin work.

"There are many, many unanswered questions," Halliday said during a conference call Wednesday. "It's a perverse way of doing it."

Halliday said there are many environmental risks to the Saskatchewan River Delta or to water quality in Saskatoon. He said lost power generation at Gardiner dam due to lower water levels will lead to the burning of more fossil fuels. It will also cost taxpayers billions more, according to some estimates.

Saskatchewan Environmental Society vice-president says the provincial government needs to do its homework and consult before moving ahead with a $4-billion irrigation project. (Saskatchewan Environmental Society/Zoom)

He also said the project will help only the small minority of farmers who live along the proposed routes and that most of the province's 40,000 farmers will see no direct benefit.

"If you're not in those geographic areas, you're definitely out of luck. You know, a farmer in Yorkton or Nipawin isn't going to get a benefit from this project," Halliday said.

Halliday said there's also no point in putting the environment at risk when the economic case is risky at best. Government officials say the project will pay for itself through jobs and economic activity growing high value table vegetables, but Halliday said 88 per cent of all current irrigated land in Saskatchewan is used for low-value, high volume cereal crops.

He said the government needs to step back and do its homework before committing such a massive amount of taxpayer money and putting the environment at risk.

"Any assessment needs to include the positive and negative costs," he said.