Coalition Response to Revised Water Withdrawal Regulations, Part II

Comments on the Revised Draft Regulations for the PEI Water Act

From: The Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water

To: The PEI Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability

Date: April 15, 2021

We appreciate your invitation for submissions concerning the revised regulations of the Water Act, and the work of the multiparty Standing Committee and your efforts to bring forth meaningful recommendations about the Act after careful deliberation.

But we must confess that we approach this process with both wariness and weariness, being mindful of the quote often attributed to Einstein: “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  We believe we made a careful and comprehensive presentation to you last fall covering a range of concerns about the regulations and the Water Act, as did other groups and individuals. We felt your committee heard us well, and took our perspective, and those of others into consideration and brought forth a set of meaningful recommendations after careful deliberation.

And so we were disturbed to see your work dismissed by a Minister of Environment so new that the ink had barely dried on his mandate papers. Minister Myers, and so the King government made it very clear that all decision making rested with him alone, and that the role of your committee was only advisory.  And so, he ignored the advice in your recommendations, save one: he did agree to proclaim the Water Act. To use and extend his metaphor: Minister Myers would drive the car, and Premier King would set the route. The rest of us could just go along for the ride.

And by casually dismissing the value of consultation with his own multiparty government committee, Minister Myers also made it abundantly clear that he rejected any meaningful consultation with Islanders who have been deeply involved and concerned about water issues for many years and had worked collaboratively with previous ministers in developing this legislation.

Continue reading “Coalition Response to Revised Water Withdrawal Regulations, Part II”

Coalition Response to Revised Water Withdrawal Regulations

April 16, 2021

Comments on the Revised Draft Regulations for the PEI Water Act

From: The Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water

To: The PEI Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability

Thank you for inviting us to, once again, comment on the PEI Water Act’s draft water withdrawal regulations. This has been a long process, made more complicated by changes in government and in Ministers responsible for the Act, as well as differing interpretations of the role of your committee.

Our commitment to the process is based on our belief that water is not simply a resource to be extracted, it is not a commodity to be bought or sold or traded. Water is a common good, a shared responsibility and its preservation is essential for the ecosystems that we and all other living beings depend on.

The Coalition for Protection of PEI Water is comprised of both urban and rural individuals including farmers, as well as environmental and community organizations whose “interests” include social justice, democratic process, climate justice, and environmental protection.

In 2019, we spent a significant amount of time reviewing the first draft of the withdrawal regulations, line by line. We met on several occasions with the then Minister, Deputy Minister, and the Department staff who were responsible (and still are responsible) for writing the regulations. We are resubmitting these (attached) comments for your information. In addition, we would like to make the following points, in response to the revised draft regulations and current public discussions.

Continue reading “Coalition Response to Revised Water Withdrawal Regulations”

Consultation on the revised draft of the Water Withdrawal Regulations

Deadline Saturday, April 17th, 2021

https://www.assembly.pe.ca/consultation-on-the-revised-draft-of-the-water-withdrawal-regulations

The Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability considers issues concerning agriculture, fisheries, land, water, forests, wildlife, energy, natural resources, environment, climate change, and issues related to natural resources and the environment.

The Water Act was passed in 2017 and will be in force on June 16, 2021. Regulations to accompany the Act are being developed and the Committee would like to hear your input on the revised consultation draft of the Water Withdrawal Regulations.

If you or your organization would like to share your views, send us your comments by April 17, 2021, to:

  • email: assembly@assembly.pe.ca
  • fax: 902-368-5175
  • hand delivery: Office of the Clerk, 197 Richmond Street (Church Street entrance)
  • fill in this feedback form (please type “Water Withdrawal Regulations” in the subject)

Submissions will be published on this page.

Proposed Water Withdrawal Regulations

from:
https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/environment-energy-and-climate-action/proposed-water-withdrawal-regulations

The Water Withdrawal Regulations will be established under the Water Act to regulate the withdrawal of water from groundwater and watercourses.  Both the original and revised drafts of the regulations are found on this page.  

The plain language summary for the revised draft of the regulations addresses only the changes between the two drafts.  For a full understanding of the regulations, please read the plain language summaries for both drafts.  In addition, the supporting documents include a policy description of how government will determine what agricultural research warrants approval.  The revised draft of these regulations are planned to be approved for implementation on June 16, 2021.

The revised draft of the proposed regulations and plain language documents are available (from a LIST on the government’s webpage, LINK HERE)

Respect the Spirit and Intent of the Water Act

Guest Opinion, Charlottetown Guardian, March 12, 2021

Members of the Coalition for Protection of P.E.I. Water were certainly glad to learn that the Water Act will be proclaimed in June. This is long overdue. It will have been seven years since the process began and three-and-a-half years since the act was passed in the legislature. Six ministers of the Environment have presided over the slow progress of this act.

And while there are many good features of the Water Act, and there have been times when a truly consultative, collaborative and respectful relationship between government and people deeply concerned about water seemed possible, the content of Minister Myers’ announcement on Feb. 19 makes two things perfectly clear:

  1. Government cannot be trusted to protect P.E.I. water.
  2. The voice of industry is far more important to government than the voice of the people.
Continue reading “Respect the Spirit and Intent of the Water Act”

Open Letter to Minister Myers – Respect the Spirit and Intent of the Water Act

Honourable Stephen Myers, Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Action

Dear Mr. Myers:

We, the member organizations of the PEI Coalition for the Protection of Water, are writing this open letter to you to express our grave concern and huge disappointment regarding your recent announcement that all irrigation holding ponds and any others that may be built before June 16th of this year will be grandfathered, exempt from regulations associated with PEI’s Water Act.

We are also concerned that the PEI Government will now pay for and allow for high-capacity well research, which requires the construction of 5 new high-capacity wells for agricultural irrigation, despite the moratorium contained in the Water Act.

We believe these decisions are not in the public’s interest nor for the common good, and certainly do not protect our groundwater from exploitation and contamination. They represent a violation of the spirit of the Water Act that many Islanders have worked so hard to develop. Here is why:

  • Cavendish Farms, the PEI Federation of Agriculture and the PEI Potato board have been actively lobbying over the past few years to have the moratorium on high-capacity wells lifted.
  • Islanders have said “no” to high-capacity wells for agricultural irrigation. They have said “no” because of the need to protect our groundwater, our only source of drinking water and because PEI groundwater is under serious threat from industrial potato production and its contaminants – nitrates and pesticides.
  • The development of ‘irrigation holding ponds’ during the past four years reflects an attempt to circumvent the moratorium on high-capacity wells that has been allowed by government. 
  • There has never been an environmental assessment of ‘irrigation holding ponds’ or of their social impact on communities.
  • The high-capacity well research proposed by UPEI is a revision of a proposal for study initiated and funded by Cavendish Farms dating back 4 years with an explicit goal to increase potato productivity. And while the Cavendish Farm name is no longer on the proposal, and the PEI government is funding the work, we are concerned about the undue influence of industry on the research – that is the Federation of Agriculture, PEI Potato Board and Cavendish Farms.  We are concerned that the results will be contaminated by industry involvement, and not help to protect PEI water.

Therefore, we ask you as the Minister responsible to:

  1. Respect the intent and spirit of the Water Act.
  2. Ban the construction of ‘irrigation holding ponds’ immediately.
  3. Do not allow the grandfathering of irrigation holding ponds. Require all holding ponds to be compliant with the original draft regulations within 2 year as the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability recommends.
  4. Do not allow the exemption to the moratorium on HC wells that would permit the construction of the 5 new HC wells required by the UPEI research.
  5. Introduce a plan that will begin the transition from an industrial model of farming with its high reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides to a more sustainable one, and one that recognizes the climate crisis facing Islanders and the planet.

Signed by:

Ellen’s Creek Watershed Group

Friends of Covehead-Brackley Bay

CUPE-PEI

Atlantic Canada Chapter of Sierra Club Canada 

Pesticide-Free PEI

Latin American Mission Program

Cooper Institute

Environmental Coalition of PEI

Save our Seas and Shores PEI

Council of Canadians – PEI Chapter

Blue Dot PEI

Hunter-Clyde Watershed Group

Cornwall and Area Watershed Group

Don’t Frack PEI

Trout River Environmental Committee

Citizens’ Alliance of Prince Edward Island

What issues should a freshwater agency for Canada address? Have your say.

The Government of Canada is creating a new Canada Water Agency to work together with the provinces, territories, Indigenous communities, local authorities, scientists and communities to find the best ways to keep our water safe, clean and well-managed.

Upcoming events open for public participation regarding the creation of a new Canada Water Agency:

National Freshwater Policy Forum 

Jan 27 and 28th, 2021
The National Freshwater Policy Forum will provide an opportunity to hear from leading practitioners and knowledge holders involved in managing and protecting freshwater on what they see as the greatest opportunities to improve freshwater management through the creation of a Canada Water Agency. The two-day virtual event will involve discussions of key freshwater issues and opportunities identified in the Discussion Paper “Toward the Creation of a Canada Water Agency.”  

Regional Freshwater Forums

A series of six Regional Freshwater Forums will be held across the country to engage stakeholders and the interested public on region-specific freshwater issues and provide an opportunity for participants to discuss their thoughts on opportunities to improve freshwater management through the creation of a Canada Water Agency. Each forum will be a half-day virtual event. Join a panel of regional experts, practitioners and knowledge holders in a discussion of regional freshwater issues and participate in breakout sessions for more in-depth dialogue on the discussion questions and opportunities outlined in the Discussion Paper “Toward the Creation of a Canada Water Agency.”

1) Regional Freshwater Forum – Atlantic Feb 2nd;

2) Regional Freshwater Forum – Quebec Feb 4th;

3) Regional Freshwater Forum – Ontario Feb 9th

4) Regional Freshwater Forum – North Feb 11th;

5) Regional Freshwater Forum – British Columbia Feb 16th;

6) Regional Freshwater Forum – Prairies Feb 18th

Register here:https://www.placespeak.com/en/topic/6321-protecting-canadas-fresh-water/#/events

High-capacity Wells are not an Urban versus Rural Issue

Gary Schneider, Ann Wheatley and Don Mazer, for ECOPEI – December 16, 2020

It is disturbing to hear the genuine public concern over high capacity wells being deliberately misinterpreted as “urban versus rural” and as an attack against farmers.  The Environmental Coalition of Prince Edward Island has been working for years to usher in a new era of water protection and conservation, and never once have we opposed farmers.  Farmers are important to the economic and social health of the province.

What we have consistently opposed is the form of industrial agriculture that continues to result in fish kills and anoxic events, reduced water levels in streams, and depleted levels of organic matter in soils.

Many excellent farmers in the province realize that a healthy environment is critical to their future existence.  To paint this issue as farmers versus non-farmers does them a disservice.  Members of the National Farmers Union have long advocated for better management practices.  Doug Campbell, PEI’s NFU District Director, was recently quoted as saying: “Why do we have no organic matter in our soil?  The reason for that is because of the way the land is being farmed.  Why is that?  Because of pressure from industrialized farming.”

We’ve also had conversations with other farmers who are very concerned about the direction of potato farming and the influence of the Irving family, which is where the push for high-capacity wells is coming from.  Clearly, not all farmers want or could afford high-capacity wells.  But their voices are seldom heard.

In 2013, the PEI Potato Board & Cavendish Farms asked the PEI government to lift a longstanding moratorium on high capacity wells in the province.  Indirectly, this led to the development of a new Water Act.  During the public process to develop the Act, there were 57 presentations, along with written submissions from a diverse range of groups and individuals, and from industry. The vast majority of these presentations wanted the moratorium on high capacity wells to kept in place. This was also the recommendation in the Environmental Advisory Committee report on the meetings.

Unfortunately, the Water Act, passed in 2017 has yet to be proclaimed, and the revised regulations still have not been released for public comment.  During this time, there have been a number of new holding ponds developed that would not be permitted under the draft regulations.  We need to enact the Water Act, to maintain the high capacity wells moratorium, and prohibit holding ponds.  

But we also need to find a way out of the unsustainable cycle we’re in. Climate change will likely bring hotter and drier summers. The need for irrigating potatoes will be greatest when water is less and less available, and when the need for water to maintain ecosystem health is the greatest. At the same time that more water is needed for agriculture, we should be taking less.  More high capacity wells will only enable this increasingly unsustainable cycle. We need to find ways of doing agriculture differently.

Considering water as a common good and a public trust requires all of us to conserve and protect it.  Water should not be seen as a resource, simply to be extracted and exploited, but as an essential part of living ecosystems that support all life.  It is imperative that respect for protecting fresh water be at the forefront of decision making when it comes to water extraction. PEI is one of only a small number of places entirely dependent upon groundwater. This makes PEI unique and also vulnerable to any disturbance in the ecosystem.

And clearly, all water use is not equal. Humans need clean drinking water and that should be our first priority. Ecosystem health should always be a priority since it must be preserved in part to provide the life-giving essence mentioned above. Domestic use and emergency use for fire-fighting are next. Agriculture and Industry are generally far down the priority list for access to water.

Islanders are once again at a crossroads. We can be ever more committed to an industrial model of agriculture, with more water usage, larger fields, less and less soil organic matter, shrinking windbreaks, continuing fish kills and anoxic conditions, fewer farmers on larger acreages, and a small number of jobs created per acre.

Or we can look at truly becoming the Garden of the Gulf, with excellent drinking water, food security, and tremendous employment opportunities (as our organic growers and innovative small and large farmers have demonstrated throughout the pandemic). All Islanders would live in a healthy environment that continued to improve, and we would become a haven for tourists looking for a beautiful, safe and sustainable place to visit.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to say we are Canada’s Food Island without having dead fish in the water? And, especially in an era of escalating climate change, it is good for all of us to remember that no one, and nothing, lives without clean water.

Gary Schneider, Ann Wheatley and Don Mazer, for the Environmental Coalition of PEI

Coalition Presents to Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Sustainability

On October 1st, representatives of the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water made a presentation to the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability, in relation to the draft regulations for the Water Act, the cluster concerned with extraction of water, including high capacity wells for irrigation.

The Legislative Standing Committee information is here:

https://www.assembly.pe.ca/committees/current-committees/natural-resources-and-environmental-sustainability

Catherine O’Brien, chair, Andrew Lush, Don Mazer, Ann Wheatley and Gary Schneider commented on the Water Act, public process, the current issue of high capacity wells for agriculture, and how the draft set of regulations could be improved.

One of the purposes of this meeting and others in this fall is for the current committee members to understand where the draft regulations are, and be ready for any additional drafts.  They also write a report to the Legislature for the Fall Sitting, which should start in November after Remembrance Day. Audio and video recordings can be found on the following website:

https://www.assembly.pe.ca/

Here are the concluding remarks by Gary Schneider, which were followed by a lengthy discussion with members of the standing committee.

“The summary of the Water Act said that its goals and purposes were to ensure that “quality, quantity, allocation, conservation and protection of water is managed in the interest of common good which includes ecosystems.”  We are asking the Standing Committee to follow this direction and act in the best interest of everyone and everything that lives on this Island. Islanders are once again at a crossroads.  We can be ever more committed to an industrial model of agriculture, with more water usage, larger fields, less and less soil organic matter, fewer windbreaks, continuing fish kills and anoxic conditions, fewer farmers on larger acreages, and a small number of jobs created per acre. Or we can look at truly becoming the Garden of the Gulf, with excellent drinking water, food security, and tremendous employment opportunities (as our organic growers and innovative small farmers have demonstrated throughout the pandemic).  All Islanders would live in a healthy environment that continued to improve, and we would become a haven for tourists looking for a healthy, beautiful, and foody place to visit. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to say we are Canada’s Food Island without having dead fish in the water?  And, especially in an era of escalating climate change, it is good for all of us to remember that no one, and nothing, lives without clean water.”

And you can read all of the presentations here: Presentation to the Prince Edward Island Legislative Committee on Natural Resources and Sustainability by the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water

Calling for a Moratorium on Holding Ponds

On Wednesday June 17, members of the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water held a media conference near Kinkora, in view of a newly constructed 17 million gallon holding pond. Catherine O’Brien and Don Mazer, speaking on behalf of the Coalition, were joined by Doug Campbell (National Farmers’ Union) and Boyd Allen (Coalition for the Protection of PEI Lands.

The Coalition has called for a moratorium on construction of new holding ponds, at least until the water withdrawal regulations and the Water Act are put into effect. Holding ponds and underground water delivery systems are fed by multiple low capacity wells and are seen as a way of working around the current moratorium on high capacity wells for irrigation. The Coalition sees this as a clear violation of the spirit and intent of the new Water Act.

See the video of the presentations here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Egq7wh7HsDJUcdByRQMcTV85x79Jf5bu/view?usp=sharing

And find the written presentations here: Coalition Media Conference June 2020 Presentations

Thanks to Isaac Williams for the panoramic shot of the holding pond, above, and for videotaping the media conference!

Withdrawal Regulations in the PEI Water Act – Some Concerns

Members of the Coalition recently presented these concerns to the Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Water, Brad Trivers:

1-The supposition that we have lots of water came through loud and clear in the “Frequently Asked Questions”, posted on the Water Act website. There are important concerns related to this. We have heard from the Department that climate change is actually going to increase our recharge. Yet in UNB Hydrogeology Professor Kerry MacQuarrie’s presentation during the Water Act hearings in 2017, he said that scientific studies called for anything between a 12% decrease in precipitation to a 7% increase.  That is a large variation and one that makes us think that we really don’t have a good enough handle on it.

 This message of plentiful and abundant groundwater seems contradictory to the spirit of the act, and the need to ground it in a value of conservation (which needs more emphasis). Why exercise such care if our water is so abundant?

If we are trying to re-engage the public and restore a robust process of consultation, we have serious concerns about some of the “FAQs”. Certainly, providing people with factual information about the Act, and regulations is valuable. Q1-19 do this well. But some of the Q &As seem to try to tell people what to think about issues that have concerned them (e.g. 20, 23, 28). They read more like department policy than ‘factual answers’. These questions are legitimate concerns that people have brought to the process of the Water Act.

2-When talking about irrigation and the water regulations, we seem to hae ignored soil organic matter. It does no one any good to treat these as unrelated issues.  This brings us back to one of the glaring omissions in the Water Act, reference to agricultural practices which have significant impacts on water quality and quantity.

3-The same is true of the issue of nitrates and other contaminants. Even if it turns out that we have lots of water, questions remain. Is it good quality water? And will more irrigation lead to increases in nitrates or pesticides, and anoxic conditions?

4-We should ensure that all the regulations meet both the spirit and the letter of the legislation. We have already seen too many examples of people circumventing legislation (the Lands Protection Act, for example.)  Since we know people are already circumventing the spirit of the Water Act with their holding ponds, what is to stop people from pumping 340 cubic metres per day (just under the 345 cubic metre threshold) and irrigating their potatoes, thus once again circumventing the moratorium on high-capacity wells?

5-We would like to stress the importance of the Registry and the need to include it in regulations. What information will be posted and how quickly would it go online?  The Registry will be both useless and unused if it is not regularly updated and easily accessible.

6-What is the plan for monitoring the output of wells? Will we know how much water is being used from all wells above the “household” ones?  Who is looking after that information and will it be available on the registry?

7-The issue of conservation, especially regarding large users including municipalities, golf courses and aquaculture operations, seems to get short shrift in both the Act and the regulations. It should be a guiding value. While metering is helpful, it is hard to believe that people will take all the necessary steps to conserve water, especially if they are told that there are no issues with the abundance of water (see #1).

8-The regulations have no provisions for ongoing citizen engagement. We would hope that there would be provisions within the regulations for a Water Governance Board. This would be an excellent way of ensuring that we have an open, transparent and ongoing process that builds off the previous public involvement in developing the Act. The Coalition made a presentation in 2016 about this issue – find it here.

9-We don’t see the precautionary principle and intergenerational equity – two key issues that were repeatedly raised at the public meetings – reflected in the regulations.

10-In regulations related to water withdrawal that intend to prevent adverse effects from unsustainable extraction, it is a glaring omission to find no reference to the City of Charlottetown. The ongoing practices of our major municipality, and their impact on the Winter River Watershed are recognized by virtually everyone as a vivid example of the collective failure to protect water and the watershed.

While Charlottetown is (likely) the largest single user of water in the province, there are no references to limits to their water withdrawal. In fact, Section 35 (b) in the Act has the provision that should Charlottetown be designated by the Minister as a ‘designated municipal area, he may recommend “an amount that may exceed limits on water withdrawals or water withdrawal approvals that would otherwise apply.

Such a provision seems to allow the municipality to withdraw as much water as they want in perpetuity. Like all other water users, Charlottetown needs to comply with the terms of their permits. A Water Act and its regulations should not allow municipalities to live outside the law.

See our “clause-by clause” commentary on the withdrawal regulations HERE.