Issue Brief: Irrigation Expansion Project in Southern Alberta

The single largest irrigation expansion in Alberta’s history is underway. By converting canals into pipelines and constructing new reservoirs, the $815 million project aims to boost irrigated land in the province without using more water. But the massive infrastructure project started without public consultation and an assessment of the cumulative impacts and effects on the health of the river ecosystem 

An agreement between the Alberta government, Canadian Infrastructure Bank and eight irrigation districts was announced in December 2020 and involves 57 projects in Southern Alberta. The infrastructure projects include:

  • Four offstream storage reservoirs (including new reservoirs and expansions)
  • Replacement of openwater canals to pipelines

By minimizing evaporative loss, the project will add 206,000 acres of irrigated land without using more water.

“Environmental risks need to be better understood before proceeding with a project of this magnitude – especially with such a large investment of public money,” says Phillip Meintzer, Conservation Specialist at AWA.

Concerns for the project include:

  • No public consultation
  • No consideration of instream flow needs for maintaining the health of aquatic and riparian ecosystems
  • No environmental impact assessment for the project and no consideration of cumulative effects of all 57 projects
  • Lack of consideration on the impacts of climate change on water availability
  • Expanding irrigated land may contribute to intensifying water use


Irrigation in Alberta (Alberta WaterPortal)

Concerns with an $815-million Irrigation Expansion Project in Southern AB (Alberta Wildness Association)

Irrigation construction, water use should be a municipal election issue (Letter to the Editor, Prairie Post)


Alberta hopes to attract investment through irrigation expansion projects(CBC News)

Conservation specialists concerned over irrigation expansion in southern Alberta(Global News)

Water shortages are a major risk of climate change. Alberta may already be seeing warning signs(CBC News)