In November of 2018, Robert Irving appeared before the Standing Committee on Communities, Land and the Environment. He had been asked to speak about his corporation’s land holdings but he really never did get around to that. There were other things on his mind. Once again he demanded that the moratorium on high capacity wells be lifted, to allow for a research project involving 3 watershed groups and UPEI and government researchers. Read the full research proposal here. At the same meeting he asked for land limits under the Lands Protection Act to be effectively doubled.
Here’s what Marie Ann Bowden from the Coalition said in a Letter to the Editor, after the Charlottetown Guardian published an editorial in support of Irving’s project idea:
The Guardian editorial of December 5, “A sensible suggestion,” clearly supports the proclaimed commitment to environmental sustainability expressed by Cavendish Farms. While I salute the editor’s optimism, it raises a few questions:
The province has indicated that the moratorium on high capacity wells for agriculture will remain in place at least until 2021, when the research of Dr. Mike Van den Heuval and the Canadian Rivers Institute is completed. No new high capacity wells should be considered or permitted until that time.
If this proposal were to be accepted, and the water drawn from these wells used to irrigate agricultural lands, would this simply be a happy byproduct of “determining the impacts of agricultural irrigation on the water table”? And if Island water sources are shown to be “at risk” as a result, how would those negative impacts be addressed?
The editor states, “The Irvings are successful because they make sound, and sometimes hard, business decisions.” So when exactly does a “pilot” project undertaken in the name of sustainability become a hard business decision to irrigate more agricultural lands, and circumvent a moratorium on deep water wells endorsed by Islanders?
Let’s call “a spade, a spade” or in this case ” a spud, a spud.” The proposal requires violating the moratorium. The “sensible suggestion” is that government should simply reject it on that basis alone – no matter who is making the application.
You are invited to a general meeting of the Coalition for Protection of PEI Water on Monday, January 7th, 7:00 pm at the PEI Farm Centre.
A few members of the Coalition will meet with Minister of Environment, Richard Brown on January 3rd – a lot of time has elapsed since we’ve heard anything about the Water Act and its regulations, so we’re hoping to be able to provide some kind of update on the 7th.
There will also be time to share ideas/concerns about issues that we might want to take action on, and to talk about organizing for the next election.
Recently in the legislature, Opposition MLA Steven Myers challenged Minster Richard Brown on the undue influence of Cavendish Farms on government policy, particularly the Water Act. After several frustrating attempts to clarify what private meetings the government had held during the time when regulations for the Water Act are being developed, he concluded: “Irvings get to have a special seat at the Liberal table when it comes to making policy . . . especially when it comes to dealing with our water . . .”
The minister emphatically denied any special relationship. “We are working with anybody that wants to work with government that has the interest of the environment first. We will continue to meet with each and every person in order to make our environment great.”
But this is simply not the case. Everyone does not have ready access to a place at Minister Brown’s table. I am a member of three organizations that have ‘the interest of the environment first.’ Each has had considerable difficulty arranging a meeting with Minister Brown.
The Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water formed in 2013 in response to the Cavendish Farms proposal for lifting the moratorium on high capacity wells for agriculture. Its membership includes 20 environmental, watershed and social justice groups and more than 200 individuals. The coalition has been actively involved in the ongoing process of development of the Water Act. The previous minister, Robert Mitchell noted in the legislature the important contribution the Coalition had made to the Water Act.
The Coalition made several requests for meetings with Minister Brown since he was appointed in January. Eventually a meeting was arranged and then cancelled by the minister. He said he would reschedule. We contacted him again at the end of May. We’re still awaiting his call.
The Environmental Coalition of P.E.I. has a long history of working on behalf of the environment. For 30 years, ECOPEI has been a leader in environmental education, done pioneering work in the restoration of the Acadian Forest through the MacPhail Woods Ecological Forestry Project, and done extensive tree planting across the Island, and organizing electoral forums on environmental issues.
ECOPEI has made several requests for meetings with the minister since January to discuss our concerns about a range of important environmental issues. He called back in June, talked about setting up a meeting. We’re still waiting for his call.
The Citizens’ Alliance (CA) formed out of the response of a large group of concerned Islanders to the Plan B project. And while the battle to stop Plan B was unsuccessful, CA formed to continue the spirit and energy of this group. Its mission is to be a vigilant observer and advocate for the environment and to promote democratic process. CA was instrumental in the initial organization of the Water Coalition, in bringing the Blue Dot/Environmental rights campaign to P.E.I., and in opposing the plan to bottle P.E.I. water for export.
CA’s request for a meeting with Minister Brown also went unanswered.
By contrast, there’s Cavendish Farms. Government is interested in developing collaborative relationships with them. They are welcomed at the government table, supported with public money, lauded by the minister for their environmental stewardship. Environmental costs, like the steady decline in the organic content of Island soils in a province with a dominant potato industry, were not even mentioned at a recent Cavendish Farms presentation to the standing committee. [GS2]
Why such a different response? Do the citizens of Prince Edward Island really feel that industry deserves meetings and access while the public does not? Do Islanders believe that the health of the environment that sustains all of us should always take a back seat to the promotion of unlimited economic growth? Do citizens believe that those interests with money and power are entitled to more of a say about what happens on P.E.I. than the rest of us?
The issue of access to water and the health of our waterways is of great importance to all Islanders and not just to those who own processing companies. It’s time for Minister Brown and the government to listen carefully to all of us who truly do have ‘the interest of the environment first.’
– Don Mazer is a member of the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water, ECOPEI and the Citizens’ Alliance. He lives in Suffolk on the Winter River.
Sacred Water: Standing Rock is the first in an 8-part documentary series that showcases Indigenous activists across the Americas rising up to protect their ancestral homelands and the environment. There will be a public screening of the documentary on Monday, April 23 on the UPEI campus (7:00 pm) in honour of Earth Day 2018.
The film will be introduced by Eliza Starchild Knockwood, who has recently released her own film about water protectors – TheWater Protectors Journey – Along the Sipekne’katik River. (Since the fall of 2016 Mi’kmaq Water Protectors, supported by non-Indigenous allies, set up a treaty truck house along the banks of the Sipekne’katik River near the Alton Gas brine-dumping site.)
More about Sacred Water, Standing Rock:
The people of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation of North and South Dakota are fighting to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from being built on their ancestral homeland. The pipeline would snake its way across four states, bisecting sacred Indigenous sites and burial grounds along the route.
The 45-minute film was shot towards the beginning of the Standing Rock protests in 2016, and ends just as new protestors and allies join them, responding to desperate social media calls for support. It is a moving examination of a protest movement on the brink of gaining international attention.
Monday, April 23 at 7:00 pm
Duffy Amphitheatre, UPEI Campus
Admission by Donation
Hosted by: the UPEI Aboriginal Student Association, Sierra Club PEI, Cinema Politica Charlottetown and the UPEI Environmental Society
Award-winning journalist and author, Joan Baxter will be in PEI to talk about and read from her book, “The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest”, on Sunday, May 6th.
Since 1967 the Abercombie mill, under various owners, has used the tidal estuary at Boat Harbour as a waste lagoon. Boat Harbour (A’Se’K), is traditional Mi’kmaq territory, of great importance to the Pictou Landing First Nation. It was historically used as a harbour and was rich in eels, lobster and other shellfish. As a result of the continuous dumping of wastewater, today it is a toxic soup containing some of the world’s most dangerous chemicals.
In 2015 the Nova Scotia Government passed the Boat Harbour Act, which requires the Abercrombie mill to have a new treatment facility in operation by 2020 and which mandates the clean-up of the Boat Harbour lagoon. Late in 2017, Northern Pulp, current owners of the mill, made public its proposal for a new effluent treatment plant. The new system would see up to 90 million litres of litres treated wastewater discharged into the Strait each day.
The mill is situated directly across the Northumberland Strait from Prince Edward Island. Local fishermen have expressed concern about the potential impact of such a large amount of fresh (and warmer) water being discharged into the Strait, which is prime lobster fishing ground.
Melanie Giffin, a marine biologist and program planner with the Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association, says even if the effluent is as clean as possible, the sheer amount of fresh water being introduced into the Strait could have a detrimental affect on multiple species. “As we know, fresh water floats and so does all of our larvae, more specifically lobster larvae,” she says. Giffin will also be present at the event to offer some local perspective on the Northern Pulp waste treatment plan.
The event will take place on Sunday, May 6th at 2:00 pm at the PEI Farm Centre on University Avenue in Charlottetown. It is being hosted by the PEI Chapter of the Council of Canadians, Save our Seas and Shores PEI, Sierra Club – Atlantic Canada Chapter and the McKillop Centre for Social Justice.
Opinion Piece published in the Charlottetown Guardian, December 7, 2017
By Catherine O’Brien and Marie Ann Bowden
The Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water recently met to discuss the newest draft of the Water Act. After an inclusive and thorough participatory process, we are disappointed that no public consultation was allowed for this final draft.
The unveiling of the Water Act did little to resolve the central issue which sparked the creation of the Act – the moratorium on high capacity wells. Over 90% of those who participated in the extensive Water Act consultations were in favour of maintaining the moratorium. Unfortunately, the Act does not reflect this strong consensus.
To be clear, the draft Water Act does NOT include a moratorium on high capacity wells. Surprisingly, “high capacity wells” is only mentioned in a slide presentation on the Act, not in the Act itself. Under the heading “High capacity wells for Ag irrigation”, it says that “Water extractions will be addressed in regulations once the research on stream flow has been completed.”
The problem is that a very complex issue appears to have been simplified to a question of volume. In the face of climate change and competing needs, will we ever have enough scientific certainty to accurately predict how much water might be available for different uses? Even if we do develop trustworthy models, there is so much more to the question of how to safeguard PEI’s precious water resources for future generations than mere volume. Continue reading “A Troubling Issue of High Capacity Wells”→
The Water Act was tabled for second reading in the P.E.I. Legislature on November 29. As debate continues, and in the absence of further public consultation, it is important for MLAs to hear from us. The Coalition has identified several ways in which the act could be improved:
Enshrine that water is a right.
Make the fracking ban a real ban
Use the right names for the terms: precautionary principle, intergenerational equity
Do not allow municipalities to to exceed limits on water withdrawals
Put the moratorium on high capacity wells in the Act
Recognize Indigenous title and jurisdiction to watersheds in the Water Act.