By Cal Braid
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
New pipelines will replace many open canals in the Bow River Irrigation District, reducing spill and conserving the land’s most valuable resource. General manager Richard Phillips said the District’s pipeline projects are underway, with others scheduled down the line in the not-too-distant future. He called BRID’s progress “a good news story.”
“Some good news,” Phillips said. “And there was a lot of news about some of the challenges for irrigation, but we had a good year. One of the things is that we set a new record for lowest amount of return flow ever in the district. This year’s return flow was 33,000 acre feet. The best we’ve ever done before was 39,000 and in recent years were typically about 44,000. So that was a very good news story. Again, as we finish off these big pipelines, 12,000 of that 33,000 won’t need to be spilled anymore. So it’s really significant what these pipelines are doing for us.”
The pipelines are BK-1, BK-2, BK-2-2 and BK-3. Phillips said the latter two are “sort of midway between Vauxhall and Lost Lake. BK-2-2 is actually right beside Lost Lake and BK-3 is a little closer to Lost Lake than to Vauxhall, north of our main canal. A lot of people call that the Circle Hill area–there’s a Circle Hill Hall there–so right now that part of the district is sort of our last remaining area where it’s predominantly small open canals.”
He said that by the spring of 2027, the entire area will have closed pipelines. “We started the BK-3 last year, and put in about half of it. We’re finishing that this year. That is one of the three big pipelines. It’ll be operational next spring. Next winter we’re looking at doing the entire BK-2 pipeline, which will leave us with just one big pipeline left, and we anticipate phasing over two years to finish that system.”
BK-2-2 is relatively small compared to the three big ones. BRID started putting pipe in the ground during the summer on pasture land, and expects to get the rest of it in the ground before the spring.
“With every open canal, you put water in at the top and if you don’t pick it up it spills out at the bottom. It’s running downhill and there’s no way to stop that water. So every open canal has spill, or return flow, going out the bottom end so it’s returning to the river. When you replace an open canal with a closed pipeline, there’s nothing spilling out of the bottom end of the pipeline. So you eliminate a lot of that spill water which we call return flow. In the drain that collects all of the return flow from that big block that this BK system will replace, we are always over 10,000 acre feet.”
He said the number usually lies between 10,000 and 14,000 and averages out at about 12,000 acre feet. Once the pipelines are installed, that’s 12,000 acre feet of water no longer wasted, and available for better uses.