The fact that the Water Act will finally come into effect this week should be a source of celebration in Prince Edward Island. The Act contains many positive features, and in many ways reflects the values expressed by the Islanders who have over the past seven years, taken time to participate in public consultations and comment on the Act and its accompanying regulations.
But Minister Myer’s announcement on June 10 has dampened enthusiasm for the long-awaited legislation. Once again, the Minister has indicated just how easily this government responds to the powerful voices of industry and how little they hear or care about the voices of concerned Islanders who have consistently said “no” to lifting the moratorium on high-capacity wells for agricultural irrigation. Public support for maintaining the moratorium is based on the need to protect this Island’s groundwater, for our health and the health of future generations. And because Prince Edward Island’s ecosystems, already under threat in so many ways, depend on preservation of groundwater.
As the Coalition wrote in an April opinion piece in the Guardian, “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 by permitting five farmers to extract water from the Dunk River, when water levels were dangerously low.”
We are particularly disappointed that the moratorium is going to be lifted on the basis that licensing of high-capacity wells will be done according to rules that are as yet, non-existent.
The idea that high-capacity wells will be permitted, provided they are constructed in accordance with an irrigation strategy may sound good, until one realizes that actually, there is no irrigation strategy.
Will all water users be at the table to determine an acceptable strategy? After all, we all have a stake in determining how water is allocated in this province for both consumptive and non-consumptive uses. And even if that strategy is to emerge and is compatible with the new Act and its regulations, the wells will not be subject to metering nor the strict limitations on water usage recommended by the PEI Legislature’s Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability, leaving us all to wonder about the pledge by this Government to the protection of Prince Edward Island waters and the gathering of scientific data to assess the effects of high-capacity wells.
The Act will also require farmers seeking well permits to submit a drought contingency plan, or a plan to reduce water use during extreme drought conditions, to the province. But there’s been no discussion of what should be included in such a plan.
This is a classic example of putting the cart before the horse and in this case the cart itself seems to be missing a competent driver.
Ann Wheatley and Marie-Ann Bowden for the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water
Published in the Charlottetown Guardian, June 17, 2021