Respect the Spirit and Intent of the Water Act

Guest Opinion, Charlottetown Guardian, March 12, 2021

Members of the Coalition for Protection of P.E.I. Water were certainly glad to learn that the Water Act will be proclaimed in June. This is long overdue. It will have been seven years since the process began and three-and-a-half years since the act was passed in the legislature. Six ministers of the Environment have presided over the slow progress of this act.

And while there are many good features of the Water Act, and there have been times when a truly consultative, collaborative and respectful relationship between government and people deeply concerned about water seemed possible, the content of Minister Myers’ announcement on Feb. 19 makes two things perfectly clear:

  1. Government cannot be trusted to protect P.E.I. water.
  2. The voice of industry is far more important to government than the voice of the people.

The membership of the Coalition to Protect P.E.I. Water includes Island organizations concerned with environmental and social justice, watershed groups, farmers and individual Islanders. We have spent thousands of hours over many years advocating for the Water Act and participating in its development. We have met with each minister of the environment. We contributed many of the 52 excellent presentations to the Water Act consultations. The coalition has been thanked in the legislature for its meaningful contribution to the act. We did not profit from our work; we have had no private stake or interest. Joining together with a collective purpose, we worked to protect a public trust, and a common good, the health of water and ecosystems on behalf of all Islanders.

The announcement about the proclamation of the act clearly reflects how much government has responded to the powerful voices of industry, and how little they have heard or cared about the voices of many concerned Islanders.

While the Water Act will keep the moratorium on high capacity (HC) wells, it will allow for the construction of five new wells that are approved for “scientific study”. You have continued to leave the door wide open for the development of holding ponds for agricultural irrigation. The wells for these ponds require no permit for water extraction. Premier King told us he thought holding ponds were worse than HC wells: previous Minister Brad Trivers recognized holding ponds as an attempt to get around the moratorium on HC wells: a proposal for a moratorium on holding ponds was passed by the legislature and then Minister Natalie Jameson and current Minister Steven Myers voted to support that moratorium. But then the moratorium was not implemented, stalled for “legal reasons”.

The long delay in creating regulations and proclaiming the Water Act was a golden opportunity for some to dig holding ponds, and this happened and continues to happen across the province. There will be no need for those wells to be compliant with the Water Act regulations within five years (the current standing committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability recommended compliance within two years), because those regulations have changed.

The grandfathering of holding ponds is an outrageous violation of the spirit of the Water Act, an act that so many Islanders have worked so hard to create. It challenges the very ideas that water is a common good and a public trust. It is a clear indication that government is more responsive to the power of industry than to the voices of its citizens.

Ann Wheatley and Don Mazer, on behalf of the Coalition for Protection of P.E.I. Water.

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