Department of Communities, Lands and the Environment Responds to Coalition Concerns

Letter from Deputy Minister, on behalf of Minister Robert Mitchell, sent on September 29, 2016:

We value the opportunity to continue the dialogue on matters of mutual interest as we work toward a new Water Act. While we share the desire to ensure our natural resources, including water, are protected and that good decisions are made, it is also important to ensure that the existing legislation is respected while we develop the new Act.

Your proposal to impose a moratorium is a difficult one, as you point out. There is a moratorium on high capacity well permits for agricultural irrigation, however no such restriction is in place for other high capacity wells such as institutional, residential or commercial. In addition under current legislation  there is no requirement for a permit to drill a well that is not high capacity, which makes your request challenging.

Under section 12 of the EPA the extraction of water to remove from the province is expressly prohibited except for the extraction of water for drinking purposes:

BULK WATER REMOVAL 12.1

 (1) No person shall drill for, extract, take or use groundwater for the purpose of transfer or removal from the province.

 (2) No person shall extract, remove or withdraw water from any water basin, watercourse or other surface water body in the province for the purpose of transfer or removal from the province.

 (3) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to water

(a) that is to be used for drinking water purposes and is packaged in Prince Edward Island in containers having a capacity of not more than 25 litres; or

This provision specifically exempts the bottling of drinking water and appears to have been adopted in 2001 c.34 where section 12.1 was added. I am enclosing the excerpts from Hansard for your information, as you can see at page 2010 there was recognition of bottled water businesses on PEI at that time. I believe this provision was brought in by all provinces to deal with the possibility of the diversion of bulk water to the US.

As we develop new legislation on water it is expected that priorities for the allocation of water will be included in the framework. It seems clear that protecting water resources for future generations of humans as well as other species is a common goal of all Islanders, including the government.

Please be assured that the departmental staff members are diligently examining all applications for permits that come into the department to ensure our water is not threatened and that decisions are made in accordance with the current Act and regulations. We are working with other divisions to ensure a multi layered lens is brought to complex or highly contentious files, and will continue our work in this area.

Government takes its role as regulator very seriously and is committed to developing a strong new Act that reflects the values and priorities of Islanders. As always there is a balancing of rights that must be accomplished and this can only be done well with a thorough process. We are only part way through this process and until now the issue of bottled water has not been raised during the consultation process.

In order to avoid arbitrariness in government action, we must proceed thoughtfully and thoroughly. Water is a significant component in many Island industries, and only with deliberation can we move forward on this issue in a fair and transparent manner.

I believe your concerns are two fold:

·        current projects being undertaken by businesses that could potentially risk the quantity or quality or water; and

·         the policy question of the sale and export of bottled water.

Your first issue is being managed closely by departmental staff to ensure responsible oversight is conducted to the extent our authority permits. We are confident that we can work with people to ensure monitoring is conducted to manage any future risk, and that if risk elevates then the Minister would be within his authority to act.

The policy question relating to the export of water is squarely within the realm of the new water act. Upcoming consultations may bring out the issues and concerns related to the commercial use of water and what limits are necessary in new legislation.  While there is a difference between bottled water and bottled juice or other beverages, to some the difference is subtle. We are simply not equipped at this time with sufficient information to act on your request, but we will be working to identify the implications of the commercial use of water and the export of water.

Please be assured that we will be mindful of the concern and have heightened our attention to the issues relating to section 12.1 of the EPA.

Deputy Minister of Communities, Land and the Environment, Michele Dorsey

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