‘It’s a total mess’: Farmers in the LNID concerned over lack of water access for livestock, crops

Relief is in sight for those in southern Alberta who rely on the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District (LNID) for their water supply.

Farmers and their livestock have been cut off from access to water for more than a week as the Piikani First Nation and the government negotiated who would handle repairs to the water system.

A deal was struck late Tuesday, but it could still take days for fresh water to start flowing.

The LNID provides water to roughly 200,000 acres of cropland in southern Alberta and also supplies water to Feedlot Alley, which is considered the largest concentration of cattle in Canada. But some say the water hasn’t been flowing since April 16 putting winter crops at risk and animal welfare in danger.

“There’s 250,000 cows right now that are at risk, and will definitely be at risk within a week,” said farmer Stephen Vandervalk.

“Never mind the crops are starting to fail, all the winter crops that were seeded in the fall are starting to fail already.”

SLOWED TO A TRICKLE

When water slowed to a trickle from the Oldman River Dam into the irrigation canals, no one really knew why. Rumours began to circulate about a blockade from the Piikani Nation, because of allegations stemming from a decades-old dispute over the building of the dam upstream of the Piikani people.

But in a statement Piikani Chief Stan Grier denied talk of any blockages, saying instead the situation stemmed from repairs needed on the water system at Piikani.

Dive crews continue to search the Old Man River after a boy was reported missing on Friday, July 6, 2018.

AGREEMENT REACHED

“I am pleased to report that an agreement has been reached between Piikani Nation and the government of Alberta regarding the Oldman River project,” he said, adding, “while the terms will not be disclosed, Piikani council is satisfied with the agreement and want to express appreciation for the efforts put forth in a meeting today.”

The provincial government wouldn’t say whether repairs were needed or who would pay. Instead, environment minister Jason Nixon and Minister of Indigenous Relations Rick Wilson released a joint statement saying only “Alberta’s government advanced important environmental, cultural and economic matters with Piikani Nation.” and thanked the nation for their partnership in the process.

While farmers in the area are pleased the dispute has come to an end, it will take days for that much-needed fresh water to arrive. What’s worse, the reserves are already running low for some.

“It takes seven days for the water to get down the canal, it has to flush so the water isn’t useable, and so even today we’re seven days out and some cattle are out of water today,” described Vandervalk. 

“It’s a total mess.”

The Irrigation District acknowledges it’s not a quick fix. It says it will take five to seven days for water to travel from the Oldman River through to the Monarch main canal diversion including flushing of the Monarch canal.

An LNID spokesperson sent a statement to CTV early Wednesday evening.

“Alberta has established a bilateral table with Piikani Nation to address environmental, economic, and cultural impacts of concern to Piikani Nation,” it said. “We are committed to the table in partnership with Piikani Nation on these matters and on ensuring long-term prosperity for the Nation and the province. We want to thank Chief Grier and council for their hard work in this process and look forward to advancing our partnership. Piikani Nation has agreed to honour its existing commitments to water access for the irrigation district.

“Work crews were on-site this morning to conduct start up work, and water is now flowing to downstream users.”

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