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Home > Alberta's Resource Inventory > Soil and Agriculture > Resource Development > Irrigation

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Irrigation

IrrigationIrrigation is any man-made way of applying water to land in order to grow food and other crops. It helps farmers grow more and different kinds of crops. The quality of the crop and the amount grown are also improved because the application of water is there when needed, applied deliberately. Irrigation takes a lot of water. These water delivery and crop-watering systems need to be used carefully to protect the environment. 

Alberta is fortunate to have an abundance of fertile land. However, large portions of the southern and eastern areas of the province receive very little rain or moisture. The use of irrigation increases crop production and minimizes the dangers of drought. Irrigation is one of the primary methods of improving agricultural productivity. 

Through irrigation, it is possible to grow a wider variety of crops than was possible before. Irrigation enables the growing of crops, such as sugar beets and soft spring wheat, that would not survive with the limited rain and moisture found on the drier lands in Alberta. Finally, irrigation is also valuable in terms of increasing the productivity of the crops already grown in these regions. 

There are concerns with irrigation as well. There may be large amounts of water loss, not used for the benefit of the crops. Because of this, knowing where and how these water losses occur is the first step in improving irrigation water management practices. Sugar beets and other vegetables, fruit, oats, alfalfa, and barley are the principal irrigated crops.

The earliest irrigation developments in Alberta were when ranchers, in their efforts to grow winter feed, diverted water from the smaller streams to adjoining native meadowlands. The first recorded irrigation scheme was developed in 1879 when John Glenn, a settler, created an irrigation ditch, which diverted water from Fish Creek to irrigate native hay meadow. During the following years, numerous small projects were developed throughout southern Alberta. These efforts demonstrated the value of irrigation and indicated the probability of extensive water use for irrigation in the future. Also apparent was the need for a governmental authority to control this resource, to avoid any jurisdictional and legal problems, which could arise without it. As a result, in 1894, the Parliament of Canada passed the Northwest Irrigation Act.

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