The Water Act Deserves a Full and Open Discussion

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For decades, the issue of water has been a topic of concern for most Islanders.  The long list of problems includes ongoing fishkills, excessive nitrates and multiple pesticides in drinking water, anoxic conditions in bays and estuaries, sections of the Winter River running dry, excessive sedimentation and inadequate buffer zones, the degradation of wildlife habitat and the use of cosmetic pesticides.

In the fall of 2013, there was great pressure on the provincial government to remove a moratorium on the construction of high-capacity wells for agriculture.  While the Irvings, the Federation of Agriculture and others made a case for high capacity-wells for potato irrigation, conservation groups and other Island organizations said it would add yet another serious threat to our already fragile aquatic ecosystems.

The Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry held a series of meetings in 2014.  The public response was overwhelmingly against lifting the existing moratorium.  In April of 2014, the Committee recommended that the province develop a Water Act and to maintain the moratorium.

More than a full year later, the province released a White Paper and announced the scheduling for the consultations that would lead to the creation of a Water Act by the fall of 2016.   It should be noted that in BC, the province that most recently created a Water Act, it took six years.

You can visit http://www.gov.pe.ca/wateract/ to view the White Paper.

Clearly, the Water Act will not just deal with high-capacity wells.  As the Standing Committee chair Paula Biggar stated, “Having an extensive water act is one of the first steps that needs to be done before you can answer that other question of, ‘Should we lift the moratorium’.”

Since 1962, there have been over 50 documented fish kills in the province – more than one per year.  How do we stop them?  How are we going to prevent more nitrates from getting into surface and drinking water?  What will we do if it turns out that pesticide runoff from the Island’s industrial agriculture are harming lobsters in the Strait?  What about salt-water intrusion in wells?  And when Wade MacLauchlan was campaigning for the premiership, he pledged that the Water Act would deal with the issue of fracking, as well as pesticides.

The key water issues revolve around quality and quantity, but discussions leading to the development of the Act should be premised on water as a basic human right and an acknowledgement of the intrinsic values of aquatic ecosystems – including its role as critical wildlife habitat.  Water is not just a “resource”, and should not be seen as a commodity.  It is the basis of all life on the planet.

The Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water is committed to the creation of a comprehensive Water Act.  We look forward to every opportunity to engage in a fair and open process and encourage all Islanders to participate.  We have raised serious concerns regarding the short time period, the number of public meetings, and the fact that some of the proposed meetings will be held in private.  The Coalition has refused an offer for a private meeting, since privacy runs counter to an open and transparent process.  We will, of course, be presenting at public meetings and through the use of social and private media.

While the Coalition is proposing more public meetings, here are the ones that are now scheduled (all at 7pm, locations to be determined):

Charlottetown: October 6 and 8

Summerside: October 13

Souris: October 20

Montague: November 3

Wellington: November 17

Kensington: November 24

Elmsdale: November 26

You can email comments to wateract@gov.pe.ca or mail them to A Water Act for PEI, Department of Communities, Land and Environment, Box 2000, Charlottetown, PEI   C1A 7N8.  Comments can also be phoned in (902-368-5028) or faxed (902-368-5830).

This is your opportunity to participate in a critical juncture in Island history.  The resulting Water Act will guide policy for many years to come.

Gary Schneider co-chairs the Environmental Coalition of Prince Edward Island, one of the member groups of the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water.  He also served on the provincial Round Table on Resource Land Use and Stewardship. 

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