History of the EID
The area now known as the Eastern Irrigation District is situated within the
Palliser Triangle - that area of the western prairies characterized by low
precipitation. The average annual precipitation within the area of the EID
is 30 centimeters (12 inches) with an average of approximately 15 centimeters
(6 inches) falling during the growing season. This average is much less than
the water requirements to successfully grow most agricultural crops.
In 1903 the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) received title to 1,215,000
hectares (3 million acres) of arable land on the rail line between
Medicine Hat and Calgary from the Dominion of Canada as final payment
for the construction of the national railway. The area now known as
the Eastern Irrigation District was part of this land grant and was
referred to by the CPR as the Eastern Section lands.
Though the amount of sunshine hours and the heat units were adequate for
growing crops, the CPR felt settlement of the Eastern Section lands would
be challenging because of the lack of precipitation in the area. Because
of this, the CPR believed the actual value of the land granted to them was
less than the value calculated by the Dominion of Canada for payment.
To add value to the land grant, the CPR convinced the Dominion of Canada
to allow development of an irrigation conveyance system to the Eastern
Section lands. The proposed head works of the irrigation system, to be
located on the Bow River, would divert water into a network of canals to
supplement precipitation and assist in the production of crops in the
Eastern Section lands. The CPR hoped that construction and operation
of an irrigation conveyance system would support the successful production
of agricultural products and assure the company revenue from settlers in
the form of land sales, water conveyance payments and fees for the
transportation of settlers, supplies and agricultural products on the CPR rail line.
In 1910 the CPR commenced construction of a diversion structure on the
Bow River southeast of the community known as Bassano. During the same
period water conveyance canals, wooden and concrete flumes and reservoirs
were constructed to allow water to flow by gravity to most areas of the
Eastern Section lands. At the same time and in conjunction with the
Dominion of Canada, the CPR undertook an extensive marketing campaign
to attract settlers to the area.
For close to 20 years the CPR owned and operated the irrigation conveyance
infrastructure. Their ownership of the system coincided with the economic
depression and drought of the late 1920’s and 1930’s. Plunging commodity
prices resulted in many landowners being unable to sell and ship their
product to market. As a result, many landowners, not able to sell product
and make their payments to the CPR, made the decision to leave the area.
With more and more landowners defaulting on their payments, the operation
of the irrigation system became a non-profitable venture for the CPR, a
company whose main operations were already significantly impacted by the
By the mid 1930s a growing number of landowners from within the Eastern
Section became more and more frustrated with the CPR’s operation of the
irrigation conveyance system. Unaddressed problems with water delivery
and disputes over the classification of irrigable land by the CPR were
just some of the issues that contributed to the landowner’s frustrations.
The CPR’s Calgary based administration office added to the problems by
increasing the cost and time required for landowners attempting resolution
of disputes. More and more landowners began to believe that operating as
a collective group they would be able to run the irrigation system in a
more efficient manner. In 1935, a group of landowners from within the
Eastern Section approached the CPR proposing to take over ownership and
operation of the irrigation conveyance system. The deal negotiated
between the irrigation landowners and the CPR saw:
- transfer of ownership to the landowners of all the irrigation conveyance infrastructure including the Bassano Dam, conveyance canals, flumes and reservoirs,
- all the land from the original land grant still owned by the CPR at this time,
- $300,000 to assist the landowners with first year operating costs.
- upon finalization of the deal, the CPR would have no further interest in the Eastern Section lands.
Upon agreement between the two parties, the Eastern Irrigation District
was officially created with the passing of the “Act to incorporate the
Eastern Irrigation District” by the Province of Alberta on April 23, 1935.