More about the high capacity wells from yesterday and Monday:
from Compass Monday night, about 6:30 into the broadcast
The executive director of the Federation of Agriculture said a resolution passed at their AGM, saying to lift the ban on these wells only if the scientific data shows that there would not affect water quantity or quality.
They want to see all the studies laid out, and meet with people who have done the work.
The Province says all the science is on the website.
In yesterday’s Guardian, this news story on the front page (copied at the end with my bolding):
and here is one of the many outstanding commentary pieces (bolding mine), on the editorial page, by biologists Daryl Guignion and Ian MacQuarrie:
Industry reports of deep-water wells still “opinion, not science.”
The Islandʼs potato industry has prepared a position paper designed to support its request for more access to our groundwater for irrigation. We believe the industryʼs claims need a closer look.
The industry says its competitors — growers in regions such as Washington and Idaho — produce more potatoes per acre than we can here. They say that yields in the western U.S. are increasing annually, and that irrigation is the key to increasing local yields and making P.E.I. competitive with these regions.
The fact is places like Washington and Idaho have many competitive advantages such as longer growing seasons and much deeper topsoil than we have on P.E.I. Irrigation will not change this. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and others have shown that soil quality, especially organic matter, is the key factor in productivity. Because of the land management choices made by P.E.I.ʼs potato industry, our soil quality has gotten worse Island-wide and this decline continues.
The industry says science shows that lifting the moratorium and allowing more irrigation would only use a tiny fraction of the groundwater recharge and would not overburden natural groundwater resources.
The fact is there is as yet no verified science on this. Industry is quoting unpublished and unreviewed reports from a government department and one hired consultant. This is opinion, not science.
Further, it is the opinion of a small group within government. Other government staff — those with expertise in fish, wildlife and wetlands, for example — have not been consulted. Until these reports are released to the public and peer-reviewed by independent experts, they should not be regarded as science.
The industry says additional irrigation would not affect residential or commercial use of groundwater.
The fact is potato production is already affecting Islandersʼ water and additional irrigation could make this worse. In heavily farmed areas of the province — places such as Albany, Borden-Carleton, Lower Freetown, Middleton and Mount Royal, for example — many private wells have nitrate levels higher than Health Canadaʼs guideline.
This nitrate is from chemical fertilizer used by agriculture, and the contamination is getting worse across P.E.I. Additionally, pumping irrigation water from deep underground can pull contaminated water from nearer the surface into the deeper levels. In the short term, homeowners can dig (and pay for) deeper wells. As contamination moves into deeper levels, even that may no longer work.
The industry says irrigation will produce healthier potatoes that require less fertilizer and pesticides. It says that potato growers understand the need to be conscientious stewards of the land and are committed to environmental sustainability.
The fact is past behaviour predicts future behaviour. Consider the potato industryʼs track record of “conscientious stewardship” and “environmental sustainability:”
– Soil erosion rates are more than 10 times higher than those deemed acceptable for agricultural land. More than 60,000 truckloads are lost from P.E.I. farmland into our streams and rivers every year and the situation is not improving.
– Nitrate — chemical fertilizer from farmland — contaminates the majority of private wells on P.E.I., with many above the accepted Canadian drinking water guidelines. This contamination worsens each year.
– Excessive sea lettuce — caused by nitrates — chokes many bays and estuaries, with direct economic impacts on P.E.I.ʼs shellfish and other industries. The stinking conditions that this situation creates are happening earlier and in more areas each year.
– More than 50 fish kills have been reported across P.E.I., including two in the past year. Despite annual Government and industry statements that fish kills are unacceptable, they continue.
– Opposition to action that would address these problems. P.E.I.ʼs potato industry has consistently refused to accept responsibility for these issues.
It is clear that this denial of responsibility continues: their position paper clearly states that industry seeks increased access to water with no new regulatory restrictions beyond the Agricultural Crop Rotation Act. It has been publically reported that many potato producers do not even comply with this Act at present.
We call on government to implement the following before making a decision on industryʼs request:
– Open up governmentʼs opinion on water availability to peer review. This would include the water extraction policy and the models used to develop it.
– Develop a Water Policy for Prince Edward Island that clearly outlines how clean and high-quality water will be provided for current and future generations. Development of this policy requires public consultation.
– Determine and make public the true economic impact of the potato industry on P.E.I. This includes its economic contributions, as well as the clean-up costs currently borne by the public, as well as subsidies and rebates paid to it by taxpayers.
– Establish an Action Group to develop a new Agricultural Strategy which focuses on true economic, social and environmental sustainability.
Daryl Guignion and Ian MacQuarrie are award-winning biologists with many decades of experience in soil, water and ecology.
Deep-water wells in province’s hands
by Steve Sharratt
published on Tuesday, February 4th in The Guardian
A recommendation to lift the current moratorium on deep-water wells is headed to government following unanimous support by the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture.
The resolution by the largest agricultural organization in the province was approved in a closed-door session Friday afternoon and will seek the removal of a 10-year-old moratorium on deep-water wells for agricultural irrigation.
However, the resolution is two-fold, and insists the moratorium removal is based on quality science and a significant water management program to monitor the resource.
“The members gave support to the lifting of the moratorium for supplemental irrigation purposes provided the Department of Environment
has the science to back such a step,ʼʼ said P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture executive director John Jamieson. “Our members recognize water is a public resource and we are all concerned about groundwater.”
Controversy has spiked over the issue of providing permits to farmers who are seeking supplemental irrigation wells to make up for a lack of summer rainfall.
Jamieson said irrigation isnʼt exclusive to potato farms and is sought by those in other horticultural activities from blueberries to flowers.
“Letʼs keep in mind that these irrigation wells arenʼt going to be turned on from May until harvest,ʼʼ he said. “The irrigation is only needed for the few dry spots during the growing season.”
Last year, a lack of rainfall in the central areas of the province impacted everything from carrots to potatoes and farmers say opportunities to irrigate during those dry spells would have prevented crop loss.
The federation annual meeting held Friday heard from provincial watershed manager Bruce Raymond, who said there was ample water supply on P.E.I. and adequate recharge rates as well. However, despite strong water levels, Raymond said all regions of the province could experience different impacts depending on the amount of water extracted.
“The federation resolution also insists that a solid water-extraction policy is implemented and controls where wells are dug and how much is taken …it would have to be resourced managed,ʼʼ said Jamieson.
The resolution, along with others, was approved during a closed-door session of the meeting. In the past, federation resolutions have always been debated in an open session during the annual meeting.