Breaking Irrigation Records


W. A. Craick September 1 1912

Breaking Irrigation Records


W. A. Craick September 1 1912

Breaking Irrigation Records


W. A. Craick

One of the things we are trying to accomplish through the medium of this magazine is to give Canadians in all parts of the Dominion a better conception of their country. In this connection we have been running from month to month articles descriptive of big undertakings in Canada. This month we give the facts regarding the irrigation of over a million acres of land in Southern Alberta. British capitalists are making farmsteads on a big scale, and their system is said to be the largest of its kind in the world.

One million, three hundred and thirty thousand acres! By the time the works now under construction are completed and the water is turned on, this will be the extent of the territory which will be irrigated artificially in Southern Alberta. It is a vast slice of the earth’s surface, capable of supporting a big population, with potentialities for a huge production of food; and yet by the time it is all settled, there will doubtless be further projects under way that will add considerably to the total.

One is inclined to think of the irrigated tracts as of fairly good size ; of the systems as containing some remarkable engineering triumphs; but it takes a consolidation of figures, such as the

above, to bring home vividly the really tremendous scope of these undertakings. One of the systems is reputed to be the largest of its kind in the world, which is saying a great deal, when one recalls facts and figures concerning some of the immense conservation works in the arid regions of the western states.

There are to-day three main systems in Southern Alberta, of which the largest, that controlled by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, is divided into three sections. Following this in size is the project of the Southern Alberta Land Company, a British corporation, and lastly there is the pioneer scheme of the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company, which passed at the begin-

ning of the year into the hands of the C. P. R. A comparatively small tract of land has been acquired by the Aylwin Syndicate, on which a fourth system will doubtless be constructed in the near future.

A good deal of interest naturally centres in the undertaking of the British syndicate, which is now practically complete. With characteristic reserve the directors have permitted very little information to get into print concerning their work and, with the exception of brief descriptions w h i c h have appeared in certain Anglo-Canadian publications, there seems to have been little publicity accorded their enterprise.

To observe the way in which their engineers have carried through a difficult piece of construction work, to trace the course of the main canal over hill and dale, to note the reservoirs, the dams, the siphons and the flumes, all built at heavy expense, is to engage in quite a fascinating study. It illustrates, as scarcely anything else can do as well, the specialized attention which is being paid nowadays to agriculture. It is in the cause of agriculture that all these forces of capital, science and labor have combined.

The British syndicate has as its head no less distinguished an individual than Major-General Sir Ronald B. Lane, K.C.V.O., C.B. It numbers in its ranks many noted Englishmen, including not a few members of the nobility. On this side of the Atlantic its opera-

tions are under the control of James D. McGregor of Brandon, one of the best known agriculturists on a large scale in Western Canada, who occupies the position of managing director ; while the engineer-in-chief is Mr. Arthur M. Grace, a Civil and hydraulic eningeer of great ability, whose experience in irrigation work has specially qualified him for the task in hand.

It was as manager of a 100,000 acre ranch in the valleys of the Bow and Belly Rivers that Mr. McGregor became intimately a cquainted with Southern Alberta and its potentialities. lie began making farming experiment s, which proved successful and it was not long before he had 1,700 acres under crop, raising wheat, oats, vegetables a n d fruits, including apples and field corn. Seeing a great future for the country if only irrigation could be provided, he conceived the present scheme, went to England, secured the support of British capital and 1 a u n c h e d the Southern Alberta Land Company.

Five hundred thousand acres lying to the south of the Bow River and between it and the Belly River have been acquired by the company, of which it is proposed at present to irrigate 350,000 acres. The actual work of constructing the system was commenced five years ago and operations have been continued steadily since then, with a fair prospect that the finishing touches will be put to it this year. It has been a big undertaking in more ways than one, and the moneyed interests behind the company

have had to put up in the neighborhood of four million dollars to finance it. However, the sale of land at greatly increased prices has begun and the affairs of the syndicate are now reported as being on a dividend-paying basis. At the last annual meeting held in London last March, Sir Ronald Lane announced the sale of 21,760 acres of fifty per cent, irrigable land at $35.00 an acre, which netted a profit of nearly half a million dollars.

Meanwhile, it will perhaps be of interest to describe the irrigation system and trace its course from the intake of the main canal to its termination, thereby affording readers some idea of just what an irrigation plant consists of and how it is constructed. The water for the system is taken from the Bow River, the company having the right to divert 2,000 cubic feet of water per second at high and flood stages, which is later stored in reservoirs along the route of the canal, for use as required. A dam and intake have been constructed on the river at a point about twenty-five miles west of Gleichen and forty miles south-east of Calgary. An island onethird of a mile wide in the middle of the river afforded a natural means of reducing the cost of diversion. A concrete dam was thrown across the main channel, an earthen embankment spanned the island and a spill dam was run

over the minor river bed. The dams are 500 feet long, 22 feet high and 10 feet above the bed of the canal. They are so amply planned that they will permit the passage of the entire flood discharge of the river, before the earth embankment can be overtopped and injured by erosion. It is figured by the engineer that sixteen thousand cubic yards of concrete were required for the dams and the intake.

Running eastward from the intake, the canal parallels the river, following the slope of the river valley, for about five miles. Then the river swerving to the north, it became necessary to swing the canal out of the valley. This was achieved by making a heavy cut out of the river basin towards the east. To do this it cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars, for the division necessitated an excavation extending for 7,700 feet at a maximum depth of 65 feet, which required the removal of 1,200,000 cubic yards of material.

However, what was lost in cutting through the hillside was more than compensated for later on, as will subsequently appear. The canal following the height of land presently reached the valley of the West Arrowwood Creek, hiere was a second obstacle to progress. To overcome the depression the canal was carried across the valley in an overhead flume, built on heavy trestles.

The flume is 1,056 feet long and at the highest point is 45 feet above the water level. Not far beyond the West Arrowwood Creek, the East Arrowwood Creek is encountered. Here was another obstacle to progress and a somewhat more serious one, because the valley was wider and deeper. Instead of running a second flume across at the canal level, the engineers found it more economical to employ the siphon system. Two big inverted siphons, made of seven foot wood stave pipes, were accordingly constructed and these are today picturesque features in the landscape, running with a graceful curve down one side of the valley and up the other.

And now, following the canal as it proceeds in a southerly direction, the observer emerges into a great natural valley, which has become the keystone of the whole system. Without this valley it would have been impossible to have carried the undertaking to a successful conclusion. By damming both ends, the depression has been converted into an immense reservoir or lake, which to-day bears the name of Lake McGregor. Twenty-one miles in length, two and one-half miles broad at its widest point and nowhere less than half a mile in breadth, it ranks fifth among the great storage basins of

the world. Its average depth is 38 feet. The utility of the lake is selfevident. It provides sufficient storage capacity to tide over the driest season, making the system entirely independent of the uncertainty of the river’s flow. Had it not been for the existence of Snake Valley, the consulting engineers would have condemned the whole enterprise.

From the southern end of Lake McGregor to the valley of the Little Bow River some stiff work was required. Over 200,000 cubic yards of solid rock had to be removed, entailing heavy expense. But after this section had been passed the great obstacles were at an end and the canal proceeded out on to the prairie. It now extended along the table land lying between the valleys of the Bow and Belly Rivers, a district which lies beautifully for irrigation purposes. A depression, known as Mile Wide Valley is crossed by means of a second flume, fifty-six feet high, built on concrete pedestals.

The canal next approached the valley of the Bow River again and to overcome the grade, several concrete drops have been built, which are nothing more nor less than troughs down which the water can shoot. In time these drops will doubtless be used for the generation of electric energy, which will be

utilized for various power purposes on the farms. For the passage of the Bow River, heavy pnd costly construction has been required. Here the maximum head is 180 feet. An inverted siphon, eight feet in diameter and built of wood staves, hooped with steel, fills the requirements. It is 6,500 feet long and has a capacity of 650 cubic feet per second.

After crossing the Bow River Valley, the canal divides, the main portion running in a north-easterly direction and a lateral paralleling the Bow River south to the neighborhood of its junction with the Belly River. The next interesting feature to be encountered is Reservoir No. 2, a smaller storage basin intended to equalize the flow and economize water. It has a capacity of 36,-

000 acre feet and will be found useful for supplementary purposes, when the canal to the west is carrying a heavy load. Like Lake McGregor, it has been formed from the damming up of a natural depression in the land.

Beyond Reservoir No. 2, the canal again divides, one arm running in a northerly direction into a block of 64,000 acres owned by the Canadian Wheatlands, Limited, a subsidiary company in which several of the directors of the Southern Alberta Land Company are interested and the other proceeding eastward towards the valley of the South Saskatchewan River. About 32,000 acres of the Canadian Wheatlands’ section will be irrigated at present.

The entire canal system of the South-

ern Alberta Company will extend to 123 miles, not counting laterals, which of course will be numerous as development work and settlement proceed. It is 46 miles from the intake to Lgke McGregor, 21 miles down the lake, and 56 miles across country afterwards. These figures give a good idea of the extent of the system. As for the main canal it averages from 15 to 30 feet in width and 7 to 10 feet in depth, and has had to be concreted for a considerable portion of the route.

So much for the engineering side of the project. In 1910 a town site was laid out at Suffield on the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway and quite a settlement has now sprung up there. Town lots to the extent of 30 acres were sold at an average priqe of $1,500 per acre and Suffield is to-day in the centre of the Canadian Wheatlands’ district. The Southern Alberta Land Company, however, are about to throw open other townsites throughout their property, first of which will be a place on the Bow River near the siphon crossing, to be called Ronalane in honor of the chairman of the company. An ideal location has been selected and the

prospects are that a fine town will grow up there, as a sort of capital for the district.

So far as rail communication is concerned the property, lying as it does between the main line of the C. P. R. and the Crow’s Nest Branch, is not well served. To obviate this a new line is to be constructed from the neighborhood of Medicine Hat right through the centre of the property, which will be a great incentive to settlement. The prospects are that this line will be completed

this year, as there are no engineering or other difficulties in the way. It is further anticipated that the company will have 12,000 acres in shape for settlement this season, and will go in at once for ready-made farms on an extensive scale. Dairy farms will be started and every endeavor made to have a good class of settler take up the land.

As an assistance to settlers, the company has maintained a demonstration farm on their property for several years and have had the utmost success with all sorts of crops and trees. They have now forty-four varieties of English trees growing there, as well as native trees. Yields of grain have been highly satis-

factory ; two years ago oats threshed 102 bushels to the acre, while last year it ran 70 bushels per acre, with equally good results in wheat and barley.

Farms of from 80 to 640 acres will be sold, carrying with them water rights. After that a charge of $1.00 per acre will be levied each year for maintenance of works. Of course irrigation is not always a necessity, nor is it regarded as such. It is, however, a form of insurance, which safeguards the agriculturalist from dangers resulting from dry seasons. The method of applying the water to the land need not be detailed here. The illustrations give a fairly good idea of how it is carried along in ditches and applied as required.

The original irrigation system in Southern Alberta, which was also built by Mr. Grace was a much less spectacular undertaking, though it was of considerable magnitude. It was the project of the Alberta Railway & Irrigation Company, of which C. A. Magrath, exM.P., was the leading spirit. This was on the whole, a pretentious undertaking. Not only did the company propose to irrigate a big block of land and to settle it, but also to supply railway communication. The tract which amounts to about 100,000 acres of irrigable land lay along the St. Mary’s, Belly and Milk Rivers in the southern part of the province near the International boundary. A main canal 51 miles in length, with twTo branches, the Lethbridge, 32 miles long and the Stirling, 22 miles long, were constructed at a cost of nearly half a million dollars, the water supply being derived from the St. Mary’s River, and a railway was built from Lethbridge into the district.

Development work progressed steadily, following the completion of the irrigation system, and the land became fairly well settled. The growing of sugar beets became a feature of the district, and a large sugar beet factory was started at Raymond. However, during the past winter, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company secured control of the independent company and now operates both the irrigation system and the

railway with a prospect of enlarging the scope of the whole undertaking.

This brings the reader to the largest system of all, that of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, about which a great deal has been written. As it stands this project is divided into three sections, a fact which often escapes the attention of those who take an interest in the subject. The whole C. P. R. irrigation tract covers over three million acres, extending from the city of Calgary in a strip forty miles wide and 150 miles long in the Bow River Valiev. The only section to be complete is what is called the western section, which lies in the immediate vicinity of Calgary. The character of the work here is cheap as compared with the far more elaborate plans now being put through in the eastern section.

At any rate, the western section has under irrigation 370,000 acres. A canal system, including main and secondary branches and distribution ditches, of 1,600 miles in extent covers the district, in the construction of which ten million cubic yards of earth had to be excavated. Most of the land in this section has now been sold. At Strathmore a few miles east of Calgary is located a fine large demonstration farm, where practical training in the use of irrigation is given. It is from this farm that the railway draws its dining-car supplies.

In the western section also, the earliest experiments in settling ready-made farms have been made. Here again is a subject about which a great deal has been written. These farms were started fourteen miles from Strathmore in the year 1910. They comprised 80 acres of irrigated land and 160 acres of non-irrigated land, on which a tworoomed house and a barn were built, a well dug and fifty acres fenced, broken in and sown. In 1.911, seventyfive more farms were sold similarly equipped, and the idea will be carried on as an annual feature until the land is all taken up. The main point is that it has been irrigation which has made this plan so fascinating.

The eastern irrigation system is still under construction. It is to this section that the famous Bassano dam belongs, work on which is now nearly complete. The big dam is being thrown across the Bow River at the Horseshoe Bend, three miles south-west of the station of Bassano on the main line of the C. P. R. An embankment 7,000 feet long and 45 feet high stretches out from the south bank of the river. In the river channel there is a 700 feet spillway, 40 feet high, terminating in the head-gates of the canal at the north end. Immense quantities of steel and concrete have gone into its construction.

The main canal leading from the dam is 70 feet wide, with eleven feet of water, giving a flow of 3,000 cubic feet per second. The estimated length of the canal system is 2,500 miles, including canals, laterals and ditches, and twenty million cubic yards of earth will have to be removed in constructing it. When finished, as it is hoped it will be this year, an area of 440,000 acres will be brought under irrigation.

In addition to the eastern and western

sections there is a central section in the C. P. R. system, comprising 70,000 acres of irrigable land and lying between the other two. The preliminary surveys for this section were made last year and construction work will soon begin. The water supply will be taken from the western section.

If the irrigation system built by the Alberta Irrigation & Railway Company and the western section of the C. P. R. system be excepted, it may be said that the idea is still in its infancy in Southern Alberta. Both these pioneer systems are comparatively crude and while they have served to demonstrate the efficacy of the remedy for droughts, they have not been altogether successful. Not until the more elaborate systems described have got into working order will an accurate idea of the possibilités of the scheme be obtainable. Meanwhile the tendency will be to encourage small holdings, intensive cultivation of the soil and mixed farming, which will result in a denser population in these parts. That this is not a bad result is obvious and if for no other reason, these irrigation projects are to be commended.