Economic study shows irrigation pays big dividends

Irrigation adds about $3.6 billion to the provincial economy each year and has the potential to do even more

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In these tough economic times, irrigation is a good news story.

Irrigation in Alberta is attracting businesses, creating jobs, generating revenue for governments, and bolstering the economy.

How do we know this? The Alberta Irrigation Projects Association commissioned a study to look at exactly that.

While people in the irrigation industry understand the benefits and see the positive effects of investment in irrigation, the message needs to be clear to everyone, said Erwin Braun, the chair of the projects association.

“Even previous (Alberta) premiers have told us, ‘You need to tell your story.’ Now we have that story in economic terms,” said Braun.

And the numbers are big:

  • Irrigation adds about $3.6 billion annually to Alberta’s gross domestic product (GDP).
  • For every $1 in irrigation sales, increases GDP by $2.54 and labour income by $1.64.
  • Every $1 million in irrigation sales creates 39 jobs.
  • Every cubic metre of water delivered generates $3 to the provincial GDP and $2 in labour income.
  • Every $1 invested by the Government of Alberta in irrigation generates $3 in added revenue.
  • Irrigation sales are about $2,400 per hectare compared to $329 for dryland production.
  • Sales of irrigation crop and livestock products add $1.7 billion annually to Alberta’s GDP.
  • Processing of irrigation-related products adds nearly another $1.7 billion to the GDP.
  • Irrigation also generated about $1.3 billion annually to the provincial and federal governments, with revenues always exceeding expenditures.
  • Irrigation water and infrastructure used for non-irrigation purposes — such as recreation, drought mitigation and hydro power — generated an additional $85 million to the provincial GDP and $71 million in labour income.

“We’re here to stay — we’ve been here for over 100 years and we’ll be here for the next 100 years in a sustainable way,” said Braun.

“Here’s a study that shows we add $3.6 billion in economic value to the province every year, and there’s potential to do more. There’s potential to really add a lot to that. This is a good industry to invest in.”

But what does it take to turn this study into growth?

“We need a government that’s willing to support and take leadership in this important industry,” said Braun. “We’ve proven that we’re a backbone of our economy, and we’re needed now more than ever.

“We can build pipelines and extract oil but you can only do that once. You build a reservoir, you build off-stream storage, you build some pipelines and canals, you hook up state-of-the-art, world-class irrigation systems on land that is sustainably irrigated — now you’ve got an economic generator.”

The full study, done by Paterson Earth & Water Consulting and titled Economic Value of Irrigation in Alberta, can be found at

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