By Cal Braid
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Bow River Irrigation District (BRID) released their fall newsletter in October, and in the two months since then some of the year’s numbers have been updated. Richard Phillips, general manager for the district, explained how its systems of infrastructure and water diversion work. “The total diversion for the year was 461,000 acre feet,” he reported. So what does that mean?
“(It’s) the total diversion at Carseland and that’s not just BRID,” Phillips said. “That’s the water also diverted for Siksika Nation, the Alberta Government, for Ducks Unlimited projects, for the Vauxhall and District Regional Water Services Commission, the feedlots, and basically everyone else who has a water license.”
It also includes evaporation from the reservoir. Of the total diversion of 461,000 acre feet in Carseland, the BRID holds 90 per cent of the license. So, 90 per cent of the 461,000 was BRID’s share of the diversion.
‘Acre feet’ is a volumetric measure of water, and Phillips said it’s a handy unit when using very large volumes of water. “Gallons or cubic meters are a really meaningless unit when you’re dealing with that quantity. It simply means the volume of water that would cover an acre of land a foot deep.” He said an acre foot is basically 1233 cubic meters of water and it’s easier for farmers and people in general to visualize an acre at one foot deep than it is to visualize 1233 cubic meters.
Phillips took the time to explain the district’s mapping and infrastructure. For the physical infrastructure, he said, “We take water off the river at Carseland. There’s a canal from Carseland down to McGregor Reservoir, and McGregor flows almost directly into Travers, which is connected to the Little Bow and out of the Little Bow into our huge system.”
He said that the diversions from Carseland to McGregor and then Travers and Little Bow are all owned by the Government of Alberta, but the irrigation that happens off of that canal and directly off of those reservoirs is part of the BRID. “It’s government infrastructure but the irrigation is BRID irrigation, except for Siksika Nation, which is 5,000 Acres off that canal up by Arrowwood.
“There’s about 20-25,000 acres irrigated off that canal and directly off the reservoirs that is part of our district,” he said. “Everything downstream of the Little Bow is what we actually own for our infrastructure. Ninety per cent of our irrigation is from infrastructure that we own. Lomond, Enchant, Vauxhall, and Hays areas–that’s where the bulk of our irrigation is at.” The BRID map denotes those as the same towns and villages that receive their water supply from the district’s infrastructure.
Phillips said a good example is the Vauxhall and District Regional Water Services Commission. It supplies the town of Vauxhall and the hamlets of Enchant and Hays. The commission has a significant reservoir on the north end of the town of Vauxhall that stores water to get through the winter when the district is not running water in the canals. “All the raw water comes out of our canals, and of course they treat it for potable water.” Phillips said that the winter storage in McGregor, Travers, and Little Bow reservoirs at the end of the season was 287,000 acre feet, or 88 per cent of normal winter storage (326,000 acre feet). “The full storage target for early summer is 400,000 acre feet, but we often don’t get them quite that full. Most reservoirs in most districts have winter target levels that are less than the full storage levels for summer.”