Don Mazer Comments on the Draft Water Act

“The clearest evidence of the failure of this Act to protect Untitledin Winter River is in the creation of Municipal Water Supply Area. And most troubling of all is Section 35(b), that gives the minister the authority to permit municipalities to exceed the limits on water extraction permitted by the Act, with neither reasons, nor time limits –perhaps this will be in the regulations. In my earlier brief I talked about the impacts of big interests, like municipalities and corporations which the government would be reluctant to regulate. This is clear example of this influence.
This is a disturbing and perplexing provision. It seems to reflect how government will try to balance the human demand for water with the need for water for healthy ecosystems and fish life. It indicates a willingness to not protect some waterways if the City requires the water. Perhaps, ‘you just can’t protect them all.’

So while the ‘scientific criteria’ for stream flow are being developed by the Canadian River Institute and Dr .Mike van den Heuvel, we can see how this provision illustrates the role moral/value judgments and priorities in how water should be allocated. This is not surprising…that’s what all of these decisions are related to. Yes, the best science based assessments are essential for water decisions, but science is always used in the context of particular interests.

This is what I believe happened with the Acts position to ban bottled water for export, a very good idea. This proposal was rejected not just because of questions about the impact of this plant on the ecosystems around Brookvale, but also because citizens in the Brookvale community, and other Islanders simply did not want it. We were concerned about the broader environmental impacts, about the possible commodification of water, about whether such a plant would expose us to the risk of larger corporate influence on what happens on PEI.

The reason for 35(b) was explained to us tonight by the Director for the Environment. It is clear that the government doesn’t want to pass an act that makes Charlottetown an instant outlaw because the City will then be taking unlawful amounts of water. Better to write the Act so that their outlaw behavior is within the law.

To me, this is just as perplexing as one of my favorite bumper stickers: “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. “ For years, the government has permitted Charlottetown to degrade the Winter River ecosystem by withdrawing water far beyond sustainable amounts required to maintain ecosystem health. Lawful, but unsustainable extraction. And so, the City has never been asked to reduce their water use. On occasion Charlottetown has exceeded its permitted amount at the Brackley and Union wellfields. At that point, they actually were outlaws. But that has not led to any government actions, and was even regarded as helping with a needed ‘rebalancing’ of water extraction in the watershed.

There should be no absolutely no place in law that gives any user the legal right to harm the ecosystem. This provision is the clearest indicator of the continued failure to protect the Winter River and other watersheds from the unsustainable extraction by municipalities.”

Read Don’s entire presentation here.

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