Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

August 1993


Published in Great Plains Research 3:1 (August 1993). Copyright © 1993 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


Reisner (1986) coined the term "Cadillac Desert" to describe the high costs associated with irrigated agriculture in the American west. This concept can logically be extended to the northern-most reaches of the Great Plains in Canada to perform a critical analysis of irrigated agriculture in southern Alberta. Today irrigation technology, which arrived with the Mormon immigration of the 1880s, keeps over a million acres of former shortgrass prairie green. Costs of one of the world's largest snow melt irrigation systems are examined on several dimensions: the massive infusion of state funds necessary to build and maintain the system, environmental degradation in the form of salinization, expansion of low or no food value crops, and intensification of the domination of the farmer-to-consumer chain by transnational corporations. Possible water regimes under global warming conditions are discussed, along with the implications of Free Trade.