What an interesting 24 hours it has been!
The presentation from the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water was well (ha) received at the Standing Committee yesterday, and it was great to see so many concerned Islanders in the guest section.
From Friday’s Guardian (article below):
Compass from last night had a bit on the standing committee and on the forum Wednesday night, about 3:30 into the program:
The Standing Committee decided to extend its meeting hours to 1-5PM for Thursdays March 6th, 13th and 27th, to fit in the number of concerned groups. If people are able and interested, they could consider attending other presentations. Next Thursday the four groups presenting are the National Farmers Union, the Watershed Alliance, the Central Queens Wildlife Federation/West River Watershed Association, and Innovative Farms Groups, the last of which presented for lifting the moratorium at the Watershed Alliance workshop in November.
Alan Hicken, who was the chair of the Environment Minister’s Environmental Advisory Council, writes about keeping the moratorium in yesterday’s paper (also in full below):
[As an aside, I wrote to Mr. Hicken and the Environmental Environment Council (EAC) in spring of 2012 about Plan B’s environmental concerns, including the shale pit that suddenly appeared; and weeks later I got a letter from the new chair Robert Davies saying the EAC didn’t do any investigative work and they were looking forward to the EIA report on Plan B.]
And you may have noticed another “Lesson” from the P.E.I. Potato Board on the subject of high capacity wells in yesterday’sGuardian on page A-5. It reads so sweetly. (we’ll try to get a scanned image if you haven’t seen it)
Activists raise raise concern over deep-well irrigation to P.E.I. MLAs
by Teresa Wright
Guardian on-line on February 27, print edition Feb 28th, 2014
A coalition made up of 16 groups and over 200 individuals from across P.E.I. urged MLAs Thursday to keep the current moratorium on deep-well irrigation in place.
The newly formed Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water made an impassioned presentation Thursday to a provincial standing committee currently holding hearings on the issue of deep-water wells.
Coalition spokeswoman Catherine OʼBrien told the MLAs on the committee more extensive
public consultation and review must take place Protection of P.E.I. Water make a case against before any move is made to allow more of
lifing the moratorium on deep-well irrigation to these wells to be drilled.
“It is imperative that respect for protecting fresh water be at the forefront of these discussions,” OʼBrien said.
“P.E.I. is one of only a small number of placed entirely dependent upon groundwater, prompting the need for careful, diligent deliberations.”
Over 50 supporters and members of the coalition packed into the normally empty public gallery of the committee chamber to show their support.
The issue has sparked a heated public debate over water use in Prince Edward Island, and whether the province has enough groundwater to support industrial irrigation of potato crops.
The P.E.I. Potato Board and Cavendish Farms argue some Island farmers need access to more water in order to keep pace with competitors in the mid-western United States.
They also point to data compiled by the provincial Department of Environment showing P.E.I. has a high annual recharge rate and that increasing the use of groundwater for irrigation of crops would use only a fraction of available groundwater resources.
But the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water says this data is incomplete and should be peer-reviewed by scientists, experts and the public to ensure all relevant information has been included.
This was one of five recommendations presented to the standing committee Thursday.
The coalition also wants a comprehensive water policy developed for Prince Edward Island, suggesting perhaps a commission could be struck for this purpose.
It further wants government to determine and publish the full environmental, agricultural and environmental costs of lifting the deep-well ban.
“This is a time when we should be exercising particular care about the use and protection of our water,” OʼBrien said.
“We canʼt afford the risk of being wrong.”
Miʼkmaq Keptin John Joe Sark also shared his concerns over the effects the wells could have on P.E.I.ʼs water resources.
He said he would be the first to launch a court action should P.E.I.ʼs water be contaminated as a result of the wells.
“I strongly recommend that the moratorium on high-capacity, deep wells for potato field irrigation not be lifted until we are damn sure that these deep-water wells will not harm the quality of fresh water in this province,” Sark said.
The committee has a busy schedule of meetings planned on the issue as more and more individuals and groups continue to request the chance to lend their voice to the growing debate.
Next week, the National Farmers Union, the PEI Watershed Alliance, the Central Queens Branch of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation and Innovative Farms Group will have their chance at the committee table.
Protecting P.E.I.’s groundwater is not debatable
Commentary by Alan Hicken
published February 27, 2014 in The Guardian
For almost six years, I volunteered on the P.E.I. Environmental Advisory Council (EAC). I always appreciated the many presentations made to the EAC by staff and experts from the Environment Department and other federal and provincial public servants.
My final two years on the EAC were as chair. My objectives were to be fair, objective and engage the EAC council to participate objectively in debate on the many issues that concerned the environment on P.E.I.
Finally, we respectfully advised the P.E.I. ministers of environment in accordance of the terms of reference for the EAC. When I began volunteering the EAC had just released the report “Upstream Downstream” and unfortunately many of the reportʼs recommendations still have not been dealt with.
I believe our greatest work was our foundation document on a Conservation Strategy for P.E.I. Retired judge Ralph Thompsonʼs report, Commission on Land and Local Governance, gave the EAC the direction in his second recommendation to create a Conservation Strategy for P.E.I.
Our objective was to develop a discussion paper towards such a strategy. This document was finished just as the Plan B protests began and public meetings on a P.E.I. conservation strategy were stalled. We had begun a broad, open conservation strategy to protect P.E.I.ʼs natural capital, including our groundwater. This must include all the stakeholders which rely on P.E.I.ʼs ground water. Every Islander, scientists, industry representatives and all levels of government need to be at the table. An adequate supply of quality water is our life.
The issue of fracking, deep wells and the seriousness of protecting our ground water need to be addressed. Recent public comments on deep wells have caused me, and many others, great concern.
“Protecting our ground water is not debatable” was Environment Minister Janice Sherryʼs first comments to me as chair of the EAC. How times have changed after watching the recent CBC interview where Minister Sherry said the “P.E.I. Potato Board will educate Islanders about deep wells.”
I am sorry but that is not acceptable for any environment minister to say. If she or any government were concerned then they would make public the data they have on all public wells to show the conservation and quality of the water. Bring the scientists, agronomists and the data forward, let their peers and all Islanders judge what quality of water we want to drink.
I have not spoken to any farmer yet who wants to pay for an expensive irrigation system they donʼt need, donʼt want and certainly none want to damage our ground water.
I havenʼt heard that producers will get any extra dollars for a hundred weight of potatoes produced with an irrigation system. I also donʼt expect Island taxpayers will want to pay for a subsidy scheme to pay for this equipment to sit in a field for all but one in 10 years.
During my six years on the EAC, we had the opportunity to bring in scientists and experts to explain many issues about the P.E.I. environment, including ground water.
One particularly graphical presentation was made by a provincial hydrologist, Mr. Yefang.
His research showed the levels of nitrates found in test wells deeper into P.E.I. wells over a 20-year period. This data was taken from an area of high irrigation and agricultural production. Surely this data was made available throughout the government. What else are they not telling us? Why wonʼt they release this presentation and other data? The public needs to see all of the science.
I encourage all scientists and agronomists to step up to the plate and make your data known. Protecting our environment is about our health, life and prosperity where we live today.
Alan Hicken of South Pinette is the former chairman of the P.E.I. Environmental Advisory Council.