By Gary Schneider, Environmental Coalition of PEI and member of the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water
The province’s new Irrigation Strategy is a document that all water users – not just those who use irrigation in whatever form that takes – should take a long, hard look at. The development of the Water Act started out as an exemplary template for meaningful public participation. Unfortunately, over time, the process has become less and less transparent and responsive.
One way to get things back on track is to return to sound participatory processes. Any strategy is only as good as its implementation. The water governance body, an independent, arms-length, representative body to ensure proper implementation, is an idea that has been repeatedly brought forward by the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water and other stakeholders. The Irrigation Strategy pledges that “In addition to the administration of permits being delivered by a central body, irrigation will also be overseen by a central advisory board. This board will be tasked with ensuring the continuation of strategy finds the balance between environmental protection and commercial usage. This board will consist of users, conservation groups, senior government officials and other key stakeholders.”
How do we make this body truly representative? The provincial Round Table on Resource Land Use and Stewardship had representatives from a variety of sectors – agricultural, tourism, conservation, forestry, aquaculture, municipalities, recreational fisheries, etc. This body worked together and came up with some great recommendations that have become part of our way of life. Unfortunately, many others were not fully adopted, or not adopted at all, leading to continued environmental degradation.
Another multistakeholder group recently advised the Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada on the Impact Assessment Act. This body had 18 seats – six representing heavy industry, six from various Indigenous organizations, and six from environmental and conservation groups. While discussions were often challenging, the diversity of viewpoints and interests ensured a better act.
If we really want an inclusive, responsive and effective water governance board, we can do it. The following sectors should be represented: municipalities; large-scale potato growers; smaller-scale potato growers; other farmers growing different crops; dairy and beef producers; organic growers; Indigenous groups; watershed organizations; the aquaculture industry; recreational fishers; researchers in the areas of water, climate change, and improving soil health; youth; conservation organizations; and tourist operators.
I’m certain that I have missed some voices, but the idea would be to have all sectors present at the table participating in an open and transparent process. This vital board, and the accompanying local watershed advisory groups, must also have real authority to ensure that permit holders’ commitments to water conservation, water quality (including reduced nitrate loading and pesticide use), soil improvement, and environmental protection are met, and to trigger enforcement if they are not.
Only then will all sectors feel as though they have been represented around the table. Only then will our water resource receive the attention and protection that it so desperately needs, in order to be available for the public, our industries, and wildlife today and long into the future.