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The Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District

Our Treasured Heritage
A History of Coalhurst and District
Pages 81-84

It was apparent to many an ambitious homesteader in the Lethbridge area that irrigation was essential to ensure the necessary moisture for stable crop production. In 1910, an extremely dry year, farmers south and east of town were reaping incredible benefits from irrigated lands.

This was the same year in which the settlers of the fertile flat lands surrounding Iron Springs forwarded a petition to the Dominion Government for the construction of an irrigation system to supply water to their parched lands - The initial proposal was to pump water up the banks of the Oldman river into a canal system. As this involved a vertical lift of over 300 feet, little study was required to determine the plan was not feasible.

The determination of the settlers, represented by George W. Pearson, warranted the examination of several other alternatives. The first actual land survey study began in 1913. A scheme to divert water out of the Oldman river on the Peigan Reserve about forty miles west of Lethbridge was recommended. Surveys continued under the experienced Chief Engineer H. B. Mucklston to determine in depth, the canal locations, the acres which could be irrigated, and the costs involved. The general area considered suitable for irrigation consists of an irregular tract of land from Fort Macleod to Turin.

The Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District was enacted by a vote of the resident landowners on September 20, 1919, being 288 in favour, 3 opposed. The water license incorporated under the Irrigation District Act, entitled the District to divert 200,000 acre feet of water for the irrigation of 105,265 acres.

Funding for the construction of the project was obtained from debentures issued and guaranteed by the Provincial Government in the amount of nearly $6 million. In return the Province received about 10,000 acres in the District which was sold through the Colonization Branch as irrigable farm parcels.

The contract for construction included the erection of the head gates and diversion weir extending 650 feet across the Oldman, and the excavation of the 53 miles of main canal. To transport the water across the Rocky and Whitelake coulees, two wood staved syphons were built. As well, metal flumes over the width of the Oldman river and Willow Creek were required to complete the main canal. Concrete control gates were to be positioned at the east end of Keho Lake to regulate the water flow to the eastern half of the District. Twenty-two concrete drop structures were built to ease the water down the Albion Ridge to the heartlands of the project. Major canals were excavated by steamshovel, while delivery laterals were gouged with horse drawn fresnos operated by the farmers themselves on the most part.

The entire construction was under the direct administration of the Irrigation Council. The engineers responsible were C. M. Arnold, P. M. Sauder, E M. Wood, E H. Clarke, C. S. Clendenning, G. E Hilliard, and C. L. Dodge.

The general contract for the excavation and construction was awarded to Grant, Smith, & Company and McDonnell Limited, on June 21st, 1921. Official sod breaking ceremonies took place at Sauders Camp near Albion Ridge on June 16th. Premier Stewart and several thousand others were in attendance, to watch Lieutenant Governor Brett and "The Father of the Project", G. W. Pearson split the earth with the horse powered plow.

The Lethbridge Herald printed in 1924; "To "Old Man" Pearson is due the credit for initiating the scheme, and to the Lethbridge Board of Trade under the leadership of G. R. Marnoch must be given the credit for the persistence which finally overcame all the hindrances which stood in the way of its realization ".

The entire distribution system of the L.N.I.D. was complete on Oct. 19, 1922.

The first water was admitted into the main canal on May Ist, 1923.

However on the last day of May an unprecedented flood of the Oldman washed out the first three miles of the main canal and two 45 foot sections of the flume over the Oldman.

Repairs wasted all summer and $100,000.00. In October water was finally run through the system successfully. The next season marked the first full season of operation for the Lethbridge Northern, introducing water to 22,000 acres.

Thus began the irrigable transformation of that portion of semi-arid Southern Alberta, known to the "Old Timers" as Coyote Flats.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup