Irrigation Has Brought Prosperity

A dinner meeting held Sept. 16, prior to APEGGA's Council meeting in Lethbridge, was reminded of the important contribution engineering - specifically irrigation technology - has made to the prosperity of much of Southern Alberta.

Stan Klassen, executive director of the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association (AIPA), traced the history of irrigation in the region, starting from the 1890s and including such major undertakings as the Bassano Dam early in the 20th century.

Today, said Mr. Klassen, irrigated land within the 13 irrigation districts covered by the AIPA, represents four per cent of cultivated land in the province. However, this acreage (1.27 million acres), an area twice times that of Prince Edward Island, is responsible for 16 percent of Alberta's agricultural output.

Recipients of the waters that flow through 7,600 km of canals include some 6,000 farms, 5,000 rural residents, 48 municipalities and 43 industrial users. Other benefits that flow from irrigation are recreational areas and fishing (particularly waterfowl) habitat and enhanced wildlife.

"Clearly, the benefits that have accrued to the area are the result of engineering," Mr. Klassen told the dinner meeting which included invited guests, among them elected officials from the Lethbridge area.

These irrigation projects have virtually "drought-proofed" the land and greatly diversified agriculture. This, in turn, has led to the development of value-added processing within the region.

"What started out as an agricultural necessity has become the lifeblood of the region"

Engineers have played an important role not only in the original construction but also in the maintenance and improvement of the infrastructure. Technologies developed in the Lethbridge area, such as standardized pipefittings, provide examples of how the irrigation administrations hope to work with members of APEGGA to develop manufacturing opportunities arising from irrigation needs, said Mr. Klassen.