Coalition Response to Revised Water Withdrawal Regulations, Part II

Comments on the Revised Draft Regulations for the PEI Water Act

From: The Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water

To: The PEI Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability

Date: April 15, 2021

We appreciate your invitation for submissions concerning the revised regulations of the Water Act, and the work of the multiparty Standing Committee and your efforts to bring forth meaningful recommendations about the Act after careful deliberation.

But we must confess that we approach this process with both wariness and weariness, being mindful of the quote often attributed to Einstein: “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  We believe we made a careful and comprehensive presentation to you last fall covering a range of concerns about the regulations and the Water Act, as did other groups and individuals. We felt your committee heard us well, and took our perspective, and those of others into consideration and brought forth a set of meaningful recommendations after careful deliberation.

And so we were disturbed to see your work dismissed by a Minister of Environment so new that the ink had barely dried on his mandate papers. Minister Myers, and so the King government made it very clear that all decision making rested with him alone, and that the role of your committee was only advisory.  And so, he ignored the advice in your recommendations, save one: he did agree to proclaim the Water Act. To use and extend his metaphor: Minister Myers would drive the car, and Premier King would set the route. The rest of us could just go along for the ride.

And by casually dismissing the value of consultation with his own multiparty government committee, Minister Myers also made it abundantly clear that he rejected any meaningful consultation with Islanders who have been deeply involved and concerned about water issues for many years and had worked collaboratively with previous ministers in developing this legislation.

We need to remind ourselves, and the committee, that the process for the development of the Water Act reflected an exemplary process of public consultation, where there was meaningful collaboration between government and citizens: where government was responsive to requests for transparent processes and was flexible in creating many opportunities for public input. As citizens, we began to sense a growing trust in government and feel that our voices could be heard and valued. Minister Mitchell even acknowledged the important role of the Coalition in developing the Water Act in the Legislature.

And after 8 years of work, and 7 different Ministers of the Environment (we met with each one), it has come to this. We are all summarily dismissed by a new minister with a leadership style that can accurately be described as bullying.

Trust in government’s ability to protect our water, to resist corporate influence and to listen to citizens has eroded particularly in the 3 ½ years since the Water Act was passed. Fishkills, anoxic conditions, and high nitrate levels continue in our waters.  Last summer, the government violated its own regulations in permitting 5 farmers to extract water from the Dunk River, when water levels were dangerously low.

There have been long, inexplicable periods of inaction and silence as we awaited the development, and then the revision of regulations for the Act.  Part of this delay resulted from requirements instituted by previous Minister Brad Trivers to provide the multiparty Standing Committee with a more active role in the review of regulations and changes, and to provide ample time for your work.

The long time delay between the passage and proclamation of the Act has also provided an extended opportunity for the development of holding ponds, in contravention of the spirit of the water act and the moratorium on high capacity- wells.  It seems ironic that a government that itself had less than a year ago proposed and agreed to a motion to declare a moratorium on holding ponds, a proposal supported by present Minister Myers and past Minister Jameson, is now leaving all doors open to their development.  And it is disturbing that all existing holding ponds will be grandfathered. And while they will be required to be compliant with some requirements of the regulations by 2026, there will be no limits on the amount of water that they can extract, in perpetuity. In fact, they will be treated the same as the existing high-capacity wells built before the moratorium was declared. 

And while the government has approved the study on the impacts of high-capacity wells before considering lifting the moratorium they have shown little to no interest in examining the effects of holding ponds.

In effect the failure to regulate holding ponds legitimizes the government breaking its own regulations for moratoriums on high-capacity wells. The wells for holding ponds can extract unlimited amounts of water for five years.  The Water Act (Sec 35(b)) also allows municipalities to break the rules and exceed regulated amounts.

The limiting condition would seem to be identifying “unacceptable, adverse effects.” But as we’ve seen on the Dunk River, such effects can be dismissed due to “extenuating circumstances”. The long history of unsustainable water extraction from the Winter River by the City of Charlottetown clearly indicates how reluctant the Department and its water experts are to identify such adverse effects in the face of powerful interests.

We have reached a new low point in public trust.

And so, we are understandably wary and weary about making recommendations in the face of such indifference and unresponsiveness on the part of government.

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