REGINA -- The Saskatchewan government is slated to embark on a $4 billion irrigation infrastructure project at Lake Diefenbaker, an investment that the province says will be tranformational.

The plan, announced Thursday, will see the province initially spend $22.5 million for preliminary engineering and initial construction. It’s the government’s biggest ever infrastructure project to date. 

“We’re committed to seeing this through because of what it can do for enhancing our economic fortunes in this province and really changing the face of agriculture,” said Premier Scott Moe while announcing the plan.

He said construction is expected to occur over the next 10 years in three main phases. Once complete, the total cost is expected to be $4 billion.

The first phase of the project is estimated to cost $500 million. It will include the rehabilitation and expansion of the existing westside irrigation canal system. Moe said this project is considered the most shovel-ready.

Phase two and three of the project are estimated to cost $3.5 billion.

Phase two will see the further expansion and build-out of the westside irrigation project, adding an additional 260,000 acres of irrigable land. Once it’s built and developed, land will be available for irrigation near Macrorie, Milden, Zealandia, and as far north as Delisle and Asquith.

Phase three will see the build-out of the Qu’Appelle south irrigation project, adding an estimated 120,000 acres of irrigable land, running near the communities of Tugaske and Eyebrow, as well as down to Marquis and into Buffalo Pound Lake.

The province projects the investments will result in a $40 to $80 billion increase to Saskatchewan’s GDP over the next 50 years.

Lyle Stewart, the legislative secretary to the minister responsible for the Water Security Agency, said the project will be transformational.

“This is probably the biggest thing we could have done," Stewart said during the announcement. "It shows vision, a vision I hope to see from my government."

The government said it will create more than 2,500 construction jobs per year over the next ten years.

Once land is irrigable, it would provide farmers with additional opportunities to grow high-value crops.

Stewart said producers could grow an assortment of vegetables, like carrots, potatoes, beets and lettuce. He said a food processor has expressed interest, though he did not specify the name of the company.

As well, he added, it could benefit the province’s livestock sector as irrigable land could grow feed crops, like corn.

Other industries that aren’t related to agriculture may also be able to access the water, Moe said.

Stewart suggested the project won’t have negative impacts on the environment.

He said irrigation will be key in addressing climate change because it would provide food security for people in the province and country. One of the province’s greatest climate risks is extended drought.

The province is looking to see if the federal government can help pay for the costs of the project. Those discussions are underway.

As well, the province expects to complete further consultations and discussions with stakeholders and First Nations as the project progresses.

Stewart said he understand there may be concerns from water users in the area about the project, but added the province will continue consultation efforts.