By Trevor Busch
The St. Mary River Irrigation District (SMRID) has invested federal funding into piloting a water stewardship plan for an integrated southern Alberta potato value chain.
As part of a major federal investment announced recently for southern Alberta through Prairies Economic Development Canada (PrairiesCan), SMRID received $85,000 through the federal government’s Regional Innovations Ecosystems (RIE) program.
The RIE program stream aims to create, grow and nurture inclusive regional ecosystems that support business needs throughout the innovation continuum, and foster an entrepreneurial environment conducive to innovation, growth and competitiveness.
“We just came back from the Alberta Irrigation District Association’s conference where we actually had a chance to present as part of a panel discussion to all the players that were involved in that project,” said David Westwood, general manager with the SMRID. “And yes, we, as one of the participants in that pilot study, we were able to access some funding that allowed the ability to engage some consultants to help organize and drive the study. But we thought and wanted to participate in a very interesting project where we wanted to look at a pilot, where they decided to study the water value chain, and then they chose the potato lifecycle.”
The pilot and study through SMRID partnered with a major value-added agricultural processor in the region, Cavendish Foods in Lethbridge.
“So we signed up to be the pilot participants from the supplier side of an irrigation district, then there was a producer that was involved in the project,” said Westwood. “And then ultimately, Cavendish Foods was part of it as the end processor and talked about what it meant for all the organizations from what water stewardship looked like for them in their particular operation, what that meant from an end consumer and customer perspective at the Cavendish level.”
The project piloted water stewardship planning with operations at different levels within the supply chain, and assessed the opportunities and challenges of water stewardship for the agriculture and agri-food industry.
“A great outcome was that some draft template stewardship plans were developed… Cavendish did a separate one, the producer did a separate one, and then the irrigation district did one with the hope that if other irrigation districts were interested in looking at what we did, there’s an ability if a district chooses to, there’s an international standard now for Alberta water – the Water Stewardship Alliance – that you can go for international certification if you want to be certified as a water steward,” said Westwood. “So this was a pilot project to see what that would look like if an organization wanted to receive that.”
The project used the Alliance for Water Stewardship Standard as a guide for the water stewardship planning process. The internationally recognized standard was designed based on the ISO 14001 and is an involved process with a cycle of continual improvement.