Irrigation is the age-old agricultural practice of supplying water to land through artificial means. Irrigation increases crop yields and reduces the risk of crop failure for producers.
The first irrigation schemes in Saskatchewan pre-date the Northwest Irrigation Act, which was passed in 1894 by the Dominion government to regulate use of water for irrigation. Late 19th-century settlers near Maple Creek in the province's southwest used canals to divert water from streams on to adjacent hay lands. In 1930, the federal government transferred authority over water resources to the provinces. The Saskatchewan government immediately put much larger and more advanced irrigation systems into place in the province's drought-ravaged southwest. Between 1935 and 1950, the federal Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration assisted the province in its rehabilitation of the southwest by constructing irrigation works near Val Marie, Eastend, Consul, Maple Creek, and Swift Current. Today, nearly 350,000 acres of land are irrigated in Saskatchewan, mostly in the southwest and west-central regions of the province. These regions have reliable sources of quality water (e.g., the South Saskatchewan River, Frenchman River, Swift Current Creek) that make irrigation development feasible. The province's most extensively irrigated region is around Lake Diefenbaker, a large reservoir formed by the Gardiner and Qu'Appelle River dams. More than 100,000 acres of cultivated land near Lake Diefenbaker benefit from irrigation. In Saskatchewan, irrigation is used largely for forage and cereal crops, but also for oilseeds, pulses, horticulture, herbs and spices.
Irrigation has made possible in Saskatchewan the successful production of non-traditional crops such as beans, potatoes, timothy hay, and native fruit. Water for irrigation is extracted primarily from surficial sources such as streams, rivers, lakes, dugouts, reservoirs, and wetlands. Groundwater from aquifers provides a secondary source. Irrigators in Saskatchewan use two methods of application: sprinkler and surface. Sprinklers deliver water to farmer's fields via above-ground high-pressure sprayers; surface, or “flood,” irrigation uses dykes, ditches, and furrows to channel and confine water to a field. Irrigation has played a valuable role in stabilizing crop production and diversifying Saskatchewan's economy. In 1986, the Canada-Saskatchewan Irrigation Diversification Centre was established at Outlook, near Lake Diefenbaker. The Centre is a joint federal-provincial agency that promotes economic development and rural sustainability through its extensive irrigation research programs.