The Western Irrigation District's roots are firmly planted in the history of Alberta. The federal government agreed to grant arable land to the Canadian Pacific Railway in payment for the construction of a railroad joining Canada from coast to coast. Included in this grant was land previously described as fit for homestead only if an irrigation system could be supplied. With the mountains in the background and the vast prairies to the east, the slope of the ground was ideal to construct a gravity irrigation system.
In order to attract settlers to the area, the CPR began construction of a network of irrigation canals and reservoirs starting with a diversion weir across the Bow River in Calgary in 1904. With the construction of Main Canal, water was carried from the Bow River into Reservoir #1 (Chestermere Lake) and in 1905 it was filled for the first time. By 1910 secondary canal systems were constructed and settlers had already received delivery of irrigation waters.
Following the collapse of the economy in 1929, the CPR planned to divest itself of the two irrigation districts which had been developed. On May 1, 1935, the Eastern Irrigation District (EID) was formed. Originally the CPR had planned on closing the western section but after two years of meetings between the farmers and the CPR, the Western Irrigation District (WID) was born on May 1, 1944.
The Western Irrigation District is managed by a five member board of directors who are elected for three year terms, and must operate under the rules and procedures of the Irrigation Districts Act. We are headquartered in Strathmore, Alberta, 40 kilometers east of Calgary.
Our district provides irrigation water to over 400 farms and 96,000 acres of land, and supplies municipal water to over 12,000 people in four different communities. Storm water drainage services are also provided for urban customers.
We are aggressively rehabilitating our water delivery system. Smaller canals are being replaced with PVC pipe to eliminate water loss from evaporation and seepage. Larger canals are cleaned and armored to reduce siltation and improve water quality. SCADA systems are being installed to automate control, provide real-time flow data and reduce return flows.
The environment and ecology are also very important to the Western Irrigation District. We enjoy a close relationship with Ducks Unlimited Canada, and provide water to many of their projects. Our association with the Partners in Habitat Development Program has resulted in excess canal areas being planted with shrubs, trees and grasses providing crucial wildlife cover.
Our reservoirs provide recreational opportunities for boating, water skiing, fishing, and many other year-round activities.
The next 50 years for the Western Irrigation District will differ greatly from the last 50 years. The WID will evolve from being a pure agricultural service provider to a multi faceted utility. This is as an act of necessity in response to the new societal pressures of Southern Alberta.
The Bow River was closed to new water license applications in 2007 and no new water will be allocated in the foreseeable future. As a senior license holder on the Bow River the task will fall to the District to share supply with new customer demand.
Secondly the economic growth in Alberta has led to rapid urban expansion. With the urban growth centered on the west side of this irrigation district, we will naturally be involved in providing solutions to new water demands.
Thirdly we will be challenged to make the water go further. The WID infrastructure still remains an early 20th century design, with built in inefficiencies. Canal rehabilitation will provide water savings which can feed urban growth for the next 30 years.
The Water for Life provincial strategy required irrigation to conserve 30% of its water use and/or increase its productivity by 30%. With good planning, the WID will attempt to achieve a substantial portion of both targets in the next 15 years. In doing so, we will evolve from an agricultural service provider to a multi-tasking water utility. This will be a great advantage to the irrigation farmers, who now will not have to shoulder the burden alone for funding the operation of this canal system. This will become a true agriculture/urban partnership, ready for another 50 years of service.