May 25th, 2024

There isn’t enough water for everyone in the South

By Lethbridge Herald on April 25, 2024.


A month or so ago, I just finished reading a book, “The Oldman River Dam Building a future for southern Alberta.”

Ken Kowalsky, Alberta’s previous Public Works minister said at the time of the dam’s completion “that all our water problems will be solved now with the completion of this dam.”

I would like to ask all of the many hardworking irrigation farmers in the South if they would agree with his statement.

We do have a water management system in place. How effective is it?

Since the Oldman Dam was completed, I think that there has been way too much allocation of irrigation water rights to farms in the South. This is just my personal opinion.

Let’s bring in industries like Lamb Weston, McCain Foods and Cavendish Farms Ltd, to take care of the expansion of the potato industry. 

The plants themselves use a lot of water as do the farmers that pay their water rights to grow the potatoes.

Expanded irrigated acres have meant an increase in many specialty crops. These crops help feed the world. That’s a good thing.

The law of supply and demand has to be taken into consideration when irrigating is concerned. Farmers demand, or ask, for more irrigation rights to, as an example, raise potatoes. 

I believe potatoes have to be rotated every three or for years.

The big corporate farms keep getting bigger. They have to be bigger to accommodate the crop rotations of the specialty crops.

You make very good money on irrigated farmlands. You also spend a lot of money for expenses. Farmers buy more land, to make more money. These farmers also require more water to irrigate those crops.

Now we are in a serious drought situation. We have been for the last couple of years. It does not look like it will get any better.

Because many farmers bought more land to raise more specialty crops and other crops to justify their expenses, there is simply not enough water to go around for everyone.

Who is responsible for over-allocating the water licences in southern Alberta?

Someone in the know should have predicted a scenario where there would not be enough water for everyone to irrigate their crops.

Right now, the government and St. Mary’s Irrigation District is expanding the capacity of Chin Reservoir but you don’t even have enough water to fill it and other existing reservoirs.

Guarantee a continuous supply of fresh water to the South and then expand irrigatable acres. This would make more sense, wouldn’t it?

I propose that in order to solve the long-term water shortage in the South that we look at inter-basin water transfer from some of the bigger rivers up north. 

Is this possible? Would it make economic sense?

Get the engineers and university academics to see if this would or could be even possible. Possibly generate hydro power at the same time that the water would be brought down south.

Build many reservoirs to store the water in winter so as when the growing season comes, there will be plenty of water for everyone.

This would be a huge undertaking but if done right it could even guarantee the expansion of irrigatable acres further.

More water could be accessed to even irrigate land further north of the existing irrigation in the South.

This expanded acreage would grown the much-needed food for the world.

Rob Stanko


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The letter begins by admitting that reservoirs don’t create water, and ends by suggesting we build more reservoirs. Perhaps we should direct some of the $5 billion taxpayer dollars being discussed to engineer water transfers within the province towards preserving the headwaters from clearcut logging and coal exploitation. An intact headwaters absorbs water and releases it in late summer without building what are essentially huge evaporation ponds. We should repair the damage already done to the functioning of the aquatic ecosystem before we exacerbate the crisis with vain water management schemes. Maybe the province could even commit to reducing emissions that are linked to long-term declines in water flows in our rivers.

As a minimum, could we accept that we’ve reached a natural limit and ask the Irrigation Districts to stop their 250,000 acre expansion plans?

In none of these discussions does the notion of maintaining healthy rivers flows come up. Do we allow the rivers to be sucked dry to grow crops? We rely as much on biodiversity, and the clean water that comes with that, as we do growing potato chips, fries, sugar and corn syrup … to fatten the world.

We all know how important our agriculture industry is to our region, not to mention the food grown, but we may need to have some grown-up discussions around limits to water. Expensive engineered water management infrastructure must be designed with consideration to water realities. Storing and pumping water doesn’t work well when there is no water.


so on the mark, so common sense filled…ah, that is just too much for stupid, ignorant, self serving politicians to acknowledge. to get the ear of that type, tell us how alberta can become the great feeder of potato chips to the world…maybe even develop a way to use alberta oil to cook ’em in.

Southern Albertan

Unfortunately, it’s not as if this drastic drought and water shortage situation wasn’t recognized by many, for years, and ignored. Now we’re trying to mitigate what could have been prevented? Read on:
“Alberta’s Brutal Water Reckoning. Scientists who studied the region’s arid past warned this drought was coming. Thirst for growth won out. A Tyee special report.” The author, and contributing editor is Andrew Nikiforuk, “an award winning journalist whose books and articles focus on epidemics, the energy industry, nature and more.”
And more unfortunately, Alberta has an ever increasing population by the 100s of thousands whole all need water for life alone. And the Smith/Parker UCP/TBA? Still entertaining water thirsty open pit coal mining and the ongoing oil and gas industry? And irrigation expansion? What would take priority? Open pit coal mining and oil and gas over irrigation farming? And appointing an advisory body with no known water experts? Adverse to scientific research, advice, and early warnings? Now, we’re in this expensive mess.


There are a lot of very good points that I agree with! I have watched irrigation pivots being placed all over the region in the last fdw years and wondered where all the water would come from and know that the potatoe process plants take up a large amount of water, as do the farms who grow this crop which takes a lot of water. Their water allotments have been slashed in half this year from last year and it should be interesting to see if there will be a change in crops this year.
I know many of the dams/reservoirs built and others not built were researched and planned several decades ago by the US Army Corp of Engineers, if you can believe that . . . and I also remember hearing the environmental activists screaming ‘doom’ that the impact would change the weather and wildlife would all be negatively impacted . . . never happened of course! Where would we be without those dams today!
I cringe when I hear the words ‘climate change’ due to the greedy billionaires push to make more money in green alternatives. I do believe there is a change in climate, as there has been since the world began, and I do believe we all need to look after the planet better.
I do find it very suspicious that Canada has been the great polluter that the world focused on and demanded we change, when we only emit 1.6% of the world’s GHG, while China emits over 30% yet no one is demanding change.
In fact, China, the US and the EU emit almost 60% of the world GHG’s. At the very best, Canada could be able to reduce emissions to 1%, but the biggest difference would be pressure on China and India . . . so why is Canada selected as being the evil, big polluter? Money and oil-gas markets!
We need to adapt because the changes in climate are not going away. That is where the focus should be on! We must make changes! The solar panels, wind generators, EV’s are a joke because the all have a much bigger carbon footprint than fossil fueled vehicles and generation, yet we blindly follow the greedy leaders pushing them, while ignoring other alternatives to such as hydrogen fueled vehicles/ power generators or even natural gas generators.
There are, as always politics involved as well! I believe the long term plan is to have ‘the West’ pay other countries to help support them, creating a huge social welfare system, that the West pays for, operating by none other than the failed United Nations.
Our focus should be on a freeze of more pivots in the area, crop changes that see crops that are use less water and increase water storage in reservoirs where possible. I think one issue is though, we have to allow reservoirs to be low in spring in case warm rains melt the snow pack fast in the mountains . . . this will cause reservoirs to become too high and the flow gates having to be fully opened, as we say in 1995, creating flooding downstream.
I agree with you . . . we just do not have the water storage to support the number of irrigated farms now in the region. We must face the facts!


Dams have done great and irreversible damage to the health of rivers and riparian areas both locally and worldwide That decision makers chose to accept this damage for electricity or irrigation is one thing, to deny the damage is plainly oblivious.

But the main point is that we do not need more storage. The studies you note all concluded that these reservoirs were not economic or in the public interest.

Consider that you have a piggy bank. You know that the money inside must have been inserted through the slot on top. But when you overspend and run out of money you want a bigger piggy bank.

Why are we ignoring the source of coins? Why are we not first investing into the health and functioning of the headwaters?

Watch ‘Dried-Up’ from the Livingstone Landowners, and see what reservoirs do as silt-settling, ecosystem-disrupting, evaporation ponds.

Last edited 29 days ago by SophieR

i agree with sophie’s point with regard to the reservoir issue. perhaps i could have noted that, barry, when i said pretty much agree with your entry. perhaps you will agree that we need to use sustainability as our cut line, more so than the economy. the former is essential, the latter is a human construct that certainly has far more wiggle room than does sustainability.

Southern Albertan

Thanks for posting the website for the documentary, “Dried Up.” I had been meaning to watch it and now have. The photo/video/drone documentation is shocking. I am afraid now, that this drought situation is severe and emergent. Even water sharing agreements are moot if there is no, or not enough, water. Climate change has certainly brought this drought phase on very quickly. Other drought phases in the past have lasted for 10-12 years. I believe we are in big trouble.


well, barry not sure where my aliases stand on this entry, but here, biff pretty much agrees with you


Interesting . . . I better go buy a lottery ticket! . . . 😊
I have harvested spuds in the fall for several years on a major growers farm and watched the expansions of the processors, along with the dramatic increase of pivots and wondered when we would hit this wall. I won’t working the harvest this year and wonder after the millions they have invested in the last 3 years, how they will fair. Over 20 million invested. Although the potatoes went to the plants for fries, etc. they also supplied stores with carrots and celery . . . all requiring more water than other crops . . . I wish them well.
I do agree with comments on coal mining. We should not be mining coal anymore, even if it gets shipped overseas, because it all gets burned and ends up in the atmosphere and because they do not have all the filters and scrubbers that reduce the emissons in their plants overseas as we do, it is much worse.

Dennis Bremner

There is a piece of the puzzle not spoken because the contractor was supposedly Indigenous. About a year ago,so the fall 2022- winter of 2023 the water levels were taken lower than the norm to allow some repairs. The contractor under contract with a Alberta Gov agency was to dig out and install a liner of a section that inherently leaked weakening the sidewalls of the are. The contractor, did the job, but supposedly decided he did such a good job that the “liner” could be driven over numerous times with his bulldozer. Of course, he perferated the liner!
So suddenly we entered the summer with lower the normal levels, and could not reflood, because the liner was perforated, and because of it, had to ration water to that section of the Irrigation system.
The interesting thing, the Alberta Agency paid the contractor even though he did not fulfill the requirements of the contract and “left us with the same problem that we started with.
Now, I quite realize some of the above may be out of sequence and the dates slightly askew but the bottom line is this is the sequence

-water levels lowered abnormally
-contract issuedcontractor screws up the job by driving equipment over liner\
-water cannot be raised without compromising retaining walls so kept low
-parts of St Marys Irrigation has to continue to be kept low
-enter 2024 winter season already below normal because of bad work
-no snow/rain and we are now compromised.

So the question remains, why are people guessing as to how we got here and what should be done next. Why is there not an investigation and perhaps, heaven forbid, an explanation that is accurate given as to why we are where we are today!
Must be one of those wokey things I do not understand, we must not want to hurt feelings or someone will be deeply offended and cry. Or perhaps because treating people equally and crap on them for a bad job could be seen as racitst? Correction, the wokey would say it is racist! Why is it everyone has an issue with “the Truth”?
We are so offended by the truth it appears “Jack Nichelson’s character was correct”…….YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!
PS- Yes lets remove the dam and preserve nature but keep spinning them windmills killing raptors and smaller birds by the thousands Sophie R
PPS Yes, consider a pipeline and by the time we get by all of the Eco Nuts and the conspiracists that believe it won’t be used for water but clandestine oil usage, we sould be able to buy water from Costco for $86.00 a bottle $2580 a case….but golly gee, the bottles are plastic oh what to do oh what to do? Bring in more wokey’s we need a conference! Well we have an empty building next to Henderson covered in glass made for “birds” we could use? Dead Bird Patrol to the rescue!
PPPS hmmm somehow we could turn it into a war rally too? Perhaps anyone thats going to build the pipeline may have a personal investment in a fund, that owns a fund, that has interest in a company who sells toilet seats to a jewish company, or perhaps palestinian…oh the “Opportunities to be had here are endless”
It must suk to be you !

Last edited 22 days ago by Dennis Bremner

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