By Cole Parkinson
After another long, dry, hot summer, Bow River Irrigation District has seen quite a bit of irrigation demand throughout the region once again.
“Demand has been above normal this year. Obviously, it started slow with the winter that never wanted to end, but once it did turn to spring, people got their crop in. We had some rain in June and early July, but it has been awfully dry until we got that half inch (in late August),” said Richard Phillips, BRID general manager. “Ninety per cent of our district is below the Little Bow Reservoir, the rest is above it, except for the irrigated acres, so we always look at what we take out of Little Bow Reservoir. That gives us a good measure of irrigation demand and flow out of the reservoir for irrigation at the start of the season through today, we’re looking at 19 per cent above the long-term normal for the start of the season till the end of August. Normally we would have diverted 221,000 acre-feet out of Little Bow to this point, but so far we have diverted 263,000.”
With tracking happening on a day-to-day basis at the BRID, they have seen quite the spike over the last month in regard to daily demand.
So much so, Phillips says they have hit a few milestones in terms of daily high records.
“Our demand was above the daily average every single day from July 6 to August 27, and that is a long run. We actually set a few daily high records over that, and of course for every day, we track our average, our record daily high, our record daily low or that particular day. Currently, we’re running a little below average, as of the last couple days and that’s a nice break.”
While this year has presented similar conditions to 2017, the amount of water used was still higher last year.
“We used a little more water last year, this is our fourth dry year in a row. From 2002 to 2014, every single year was below average and now 2015 was a little above average, 2016 was basically right on long-term average. Now 2017 was a high-use year and 2018 is a high-use year again, not as high as 2017,” explained Phillips.
With hot, dry summers, there can be a problem heading into the winter months as storage levels can be low if a lot of irrigation is used during the summer.
That’s not the case for BRID this year though as of right now, they have more than they need currently in the three main reservoirs.
“They’re (winter storage levels) looking amazingly good, the storage in the big three reservoirs — McGregor, Travers and Little Bow,” said Phillips. “Those today were sitting at 24,000 acre feet above winter levels, so we need to get rid of water and draw those down to our normal winter levels still. That’s a really good position to be in, we’ll easily do that with our irrigation demand. We will just not take as much off the river over the next month. At Thanksgiving, which is our normal shutdown time, we’ll be exactly where we want to be. A lot of years in the past, during a hot summer, they’d be way down below winter levels in August and we’d have to work hard to recover.”
One reason for the added storage levels was due to the massive amount of spring flooding that happened around the region.
While it delayed the beginning of the season for BRID, they still got off to a good start by their standards.
“We didn’t start running water as early as we normally would, both out of Little Bow and off of the river, there was a huge runoff into McGregor. The spring flooding, of course it delayed seeding in the district. In terms of running water off the river to put into the reservoir, that was delayed but it really wasn’t a problem because there was so much local runoff into the reservoirs that it pretty much filled them up to where they need to be. We got off to a late start, but it was a good start,” stated Phillips.
With winter levels in check, they also have a few projects that will get their start in the coming months.
One on deck is a joint project between the Municipal District of Taber and BRID which is bridge file 80155/BRID Drop 5, located south of Enchant.
The drop structure, which was built in 1953, has been in serious need of replacement for several years and if it were to ever fail, Phillips had estimated over half of the district would be without water. Construction is estimated to begin in October once the irrigation waters are turned off now that both the M.D. of Taber and BRID have signed off on the project.
Another BRID project near the Enchant area will see completion before the next irrigation season.
“Right by Enchant, this winter is the third year of the single largest pipeline project we have ever done and this is the final year for that project. It serves over 12,500 acres of irrigated land, so it’s a really big project. Our crews will be out there this winter along with a couple of contractors,” said Phillips.
One question that has been brought up frequently was if the BRID was considering expanding in the near future. While the process has taken awhile to sort out, Phillips says they are working on the steps to see if everyone is in favour of adding to the BRID irrigation limit.
“The board has decided to propose a 25,000-acre expansion to the irrigators. Next steps, we will be having public meetings in early November, after harvest has wrapped up. At these public meetings, people will be able to hear why they believe this is a good idea and offer any input. If after those public meetings the board feels they should proceed, they will then approve a motion to have a plebiscite. The plebiscite could then be held in likely the first part of December, just based on the timelines we have to follow at which point irrigators would have their say on whether or not they wish to expand the district irrigation limit,” said Phillips. “If it goes through, we could begin selling irrigation acres to irrigators as soon as they have their land approved for inclusion within the district, had their soil tested, there are various steps to allow land to be irrigated and those would need to be followed. One thing we don’t know quite frankly is what kind of demand there will be for acres. We’ve had a lot of people calling expressing interest, so if you have a much larger demand than you have acres available that gets complicated, 25,000 acres is likely efficient to deal with all the demand we have.”