Some are predicting a barrel of water will one day be worth more than a barrel of oil.
Ron Renwick isn’t into predicting prices, but is certain water will always flow to the highest bidder.
The pricing structure allows farmers to sell rights for a year or forever to other farmers within the same water management area, said Renwick, former general manager of the St. Mary River Irrigation District (SMRID). Some irrigation districts have amended water licences to allow them to sell water for non-farm uses, except for deep well petroleum recovery work.
That farm-to-farm water movement generally comes when one farmer sells his water rights or his farm to another farmer, Renwick told the recent Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs meeting in Lethbridge.
He said irrigation is the best friend citizens have when it comes to water supply. Irrigation district and irrigation farmers have boosted their water-use efficiencies in the last few years to 87 per cent and 82 per cent respectively. That means less water is being diverted from southern Alberta rivers, and any irrigated acreage expansion is being done within the boundaries of the 13 irrigation districts in the south.
Demand for water from outside of irrigation and agriculture is so small in low-populated southern Alberta, that sector will not put any strain on available water supplies, said Renwick. He said that irrigation districts already supply domestic water to 47 southern Alberta communities.
Cheryl Bradley suggested there is a water market in Alberta because the Western Irrigation District (WID) sold water rights to the Airdrie- Balzac mall complex, although Len Ring said that water transfer was made to the County of Rockyford, one jurisdiction to another, and Rockyford determined the ultimate use of that water.
Other water rights transfers can be made by an irrigation district, but an irrigation farmer plebiscite would be required since transfers could leave producers short of water in some years, said Renwick.
Much of the increased water use efficiency by irrigation districts and farmers comes from system rehabilitation, Renwick noted. He pointed to 821 kilometres of pipelines of various sizes installed in the SMRID. That means stopping all seepage issues and ensuring most of the allocated water through the pipe is used by farmers. Pipeline construction is expensive, a major reason the main canals will not be changed, but SMRID will likely install another 200 kilometres of pipe over time, he said.
Lois Frank of the Blood Reserve asked if irrigation districts will be involved in supplying water for the pending major natural gas drilling and recovery project on the reserve. Renwick said SMRID isn’t involved in that area, but even if it was, it couldn’t supply water for deep well injection to recover petroleum.
Knute Petersen, an official with Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs, asked if there was opportunity for more hydro-electric generation capacity using the free-flowing irrigation water. Renwick said so far, three hydro sites on the St. Mary River Project main canal operated by SMRID, and the Raymond and Taber irrigation districts have yet to generate a profit, but loans are being paid down. When those projects are in a profit position, the three irrigation districts which funded them will earn the money.