Chin Reservoir expansion moving forward: $133M project to be completed by spring 2028

When completed the project could add up to 200,000 new irrigated acres to the irrigation districts, create jobs in southern Alberta and help to attract value-added food processing to the province.

The Alberta Government, Canada Infrastructure Bank and three irrigation districts are investing up to $133 million to expand the Chin Reservoir.

When completed the project could add up to 200,000 new irrigated acres to the irrigation districts, create jobs in southern Alberta and help to attract value-added food processing to the province.

“Expanding the Chin Reservoir will mean tremendous new opportunities for farmers, ranchers, food processors and the communities they support,” said Devin Dreeshen, Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

“More water storage capacity in the Chin Reservoir is good news for the producers and processors in our area,” added Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter.

FIRST RESERVOIR EXPANSION IN OVER 35 YEARS

This will be the first reservoir expansion in the St. Mary River irrigation district in over 35 years.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said David Westwood, SMRID General Manager, who noted the Chin Reservoir dates back to the early 1950’s.

“Being able to expand it and also rehabilitate the western dam and conduits, that’s a really fantastic thing for us.”

The Chin Reservoir is located about 40 km east of Lethbridge. It is currently about 24 km long, and has a water storage capacity of over 207 million cubic metres (168,000 acre-feet).

While extending the east end of the reservoir, the SMRID is also improving the efficiency of other irrigation infrastructure, by converting 150-kilometers of lateral canals and ditches into pipelines.

That work will cost an additional $130 million.

Combined, the projects will eventually allow for the expansion of irrigated acres in the St. Mary, Taber and Raymond irrigation districts. 

WATER SECURITY

“Expanding Chin will not only provide further water storage security for our region, but will also enable the RID to provide irrigation to more farmland near Welling, Raymond and Stirling,” said Jason Miller, Raymond Irrigation District General Manager.

“2021 is proving to be a dry year and highlights how important irrigation is to agriculture in southern Alberta.”

“It just gives you security that you will get a crop,” added SMID Chair George Lohues. “Provided there’s no hail.”

He said that security is not only important for farmers, but also for food processors.

“We expect that more irrigation will attract more processors.”

He said that would benefit even farmers who don’t increase acreage, because it would make more contracts available and open up opportunities to grow other kinds of crops.

“That’s good for the whole area,” added Lohues. “Farmers tend to spend every nickel that they have so there’s a lot of economic spinoff for the economy in our local area, and Alberta.”

Dreeshen said irrigation expansion acts as a magnet for food processors, who are seeking a consistent supply of whatever crop they are using.

“Irrigation allows not just for higher yields, but also consistent yields, year after year.” 

Mike Wind, chairman of the Taber irrigation district, said the TID has long been promoting increasing water storage capacity, to capture Alberta’s share of water from the Rocky Mountains.

The reservoir expansion is still in the early design engineering phase, and it is expected to take from two to four years to get all the regulatory approvals in place before construction can begin.

Westwood said the goal is to have the project completed by the spring of 2028.