What Water Does
Average annual precipitation in the South Saskatchewan Basin is variable but the more arid regions see approximately 300 millimetres (12 inches) of annual precipitation and groundwater resources are limited. In addition to low annual precipitation most of the region was also lacking permanent standing waterbodies prior to irrigation. These factors limited the settlement and development potential of this area. Development of an irrigation distribution system was key to the economic and social development of this arid region. The irrigation system continues to play a significant part in the economy of the area.
Though the area is characterized by relatively high heat units and good soils, water was identified as the key limiting factor to the area. successful crop production.
Accumulation of snow in the Rocky Mountains from fall through to spring provide the water for the region through the summer season. As the temperature rises in late spring and summer snowmelt in the mountains feeds rivers. The rivers flow from the Rocky Mountains down across the region to the east.
By diverting water from the rivers and moving it through a series of canals and pipelines water is conveyed to outlying areas which would otherwise not have access to water. Irrigation storage reservoirs allow water to be captured and stored for later use. The benefits of this include not only protection from periods of low river flow but also for flood mitigation purposes as the presence of reservoirs can lessen the impact of extreme flood events by capturing excess water experienced during floods.
In southern Alberta irrigation and the water conveyed though it’s infrastructure provides a stable standard of living, increasing the quality of life for southern Alberta residents by providing successful crop production, water security for communities, economic diversification, sustaining wetlands and wildlife habitat and providing recreational activities.
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