Protecting PEI Lands and Water – It’s Urgent

Webinar – Monday, June 21 at 7 pm

Corporate control of land, decline in soil health, loss of forest cover, pollution of Island waterways and nitrates and other chemicals in groundwater. The issues affecting land and water are serious and needing attention, yet the Prince Edward Island government seems not to be treating them with any sense of urgency.

Everyone is invited to join a webinar for a discussion of the issues with presentations by Catherine O’Brien (Coalition for Protection of PEI Water) and Doug Campbell (Coalition for Protection of PEI Lands). Monday, June 21 at 7 pm. To register (required): https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_tLBcV8mXRCqu1ZkAR4WRUw

Hosted by the Coalitions for Protection of PEI Lands, and PEI Water.

PEI’s Water Act, What’s Missing?

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

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.

Continue reading “Coalition Response to Revised Water Withdrawal Regulations, Part II”

Coalition Response to Revised Water Withdrawal Regulations

April 16, 2021

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

Thank you for inviting us to, once again, comment on the PEI Water Act’s draft water withdrawal regulations. This has been a long process, made more complicated by changes in government and in Ministers responsible for the Act, as well as differing interpretations of the role of your committee.

Our commitment to the process is based on our belief that water is not simply a resource to be extracted, it is not a commodity to be bought or sold or traded. Water is a common good, a shared responsibility and its preservation is essential for the ecosystems that we and all other living beings depend on.

The Coalition for Protection of PEI Water is comprised of both urban and rural individuals including farmers, as well as environmental and community organizations whose “interests” include social justice, democratic process, climate justice, and environmental protection.

In 2019, we spent a significant amount of time reviewing the first draft of the withdrawal regulations, line by line. We met on several occasions with the then Minister, Deputy Minister, and the Department staff who were responsible (and still are responsible) for writing the regulations. We are resubmitting these (attached) comments for your information. In addition, we would like to make the following points, in response to the revised draft regulations and current public discussions.

Continue reading “Coalition Response to Revised Water Withdrawal Regulations”

Consultation on the revised draft of the Water Withdrawal Regulations

Deadline Saturday, April 17th, 2021

https://www.assembly.pe.ca/consultation-on-the-revised-draft-of-the-water-withdrawal-regulations

The Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability considers issues concerning agriculture, fisheries, land, water, forests, wildlife, energy, natural resources, environment, climate change, and issues related to natural resources and the environment.

The Water Act was passed in 2017 and will be in force on June 16, 2021. Regulations to accompany the Act are being developed and the Committee would like to hear your input on the revised consultation draft of the Water Withdrawal Regulations.

If you or your organization would like to share your views, send us your comments by April 17, 2021, to:

  • email: assembly@assembly.pe.ca
  • fax: 902-368-5175
  • hand delivery: Office of the Clerk, 197 Richmond Street (Church Street entrance)
  • fill in this feedback form (please type “Water Withdrawal Regulations” in the subject)

Submissions will be published on this page.

Proposed Water Withdrawal Regulations

from:
https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/environment-energy-and-climate-action/proposed-water-withdrawal-regulations

The Water Withdrawal Regulations will be established under the Water Act to regulate the withdrawal of water from groundwater and watercourses.  Both the original and revised drafts of the regulations are found on this page.  

The plain language summary for the revised draft of the regulations addresses only the changes between the two drafts.  For a full understanding of the regulations, please read the plain language summaries for both drafts.  In addition, the supporting documents include a policy description of how government will determine what agricultural research warrants approval.  The revised draft of these regulations are planned to be approved for implementation on June 16, 2021.

The revised draft of the proposed regulations and plain language documents are available (from a LIST on the government’s webpage, LINK HERE)

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.
Continue reading “Respect the Spirit and Intent of the Water Act”

Open Letter to Minister Myers – Respect the Spirit and Intent of the Water Act

Honourable Stephen Myers, Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Action

Dear Mr. Myers:

We, the member organizations of the PEI Coalition for the Protection of Water, are writing this open letter to you to express our grave concern and huge disappointment regarding your recent announcement that all irrigation holding ponds and any others that may be built before June 16th of this year will be grandfathered, exempt from regulations associated with PEI’s Water Act.

We are also concerned that the PEI Government will now pay for and allow for high-capacity well research, which requires the construction of 5 new high-capacity wells for agricultural irrigation, despite the moratorium contained in the Water Act.

We believe these decisions are not in the public’s interest nor for the common good, and certainly do not protect our groundwater from exploitation and contamination. They represent a violation of the spirit of the Water Act that many Islanders have worked so hard to develop. Here is why:

  • Cavendish Farms, the PEI Federation of Agriculture and the PEI Potato board have been actively lobbying over the past few years to have the moratorium on high-capacity wells lifted.
  • Islanders have said “no” to high-capacity wells for agricultural irrigation. They have said “no” because of the need to protect our groundwater, our only source of drinking water and because PEI groundwater is under serious threat from industrial potato production and its contaminants – nitrates and pesticides.
  • The development of ‘irrigation holding ponds’ during the past four years reflects an attempt to circumvent the moratorium on high-capacity wells that has been allowed by government. 
  • There has never been an environmental assessment of ‘irrigation holding ponds’ or of their social impact on communities.
  • The high-capacity well research proposed by UPEI is a revision of a proposal for study initiated and funded by Cavendish Farms dating back 4 years with an explicit goal to increase potato productivity. And while the Cavendish Farm name is no longer on the proposal, and the PEI government is funding the work, we are concerned about the undue influence of industry on the research – that is the Federation of Agriculture, PEI Potato Board and Cavendish Farms.  We are concerned that the results will be contaminated by industry involvement, and not help to protect PEI water.

Therefore, we ask you as the Minister responsible to:

  1. Respect the intent and spirit of the Water Act.
  2. Ban the construction of ‘irrigation holding ponds’ immediately.
  3. Do not allow the grandfathering of irrigation holding ponds. Require all holding ponds to be compliant with the original draft regulations within 2 year as the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability recommends.
  4. Do not allow the exemption to the moratorium on HC wells that would permit the construction of the 5 new HC wells required by the UPEI research.
  5. Introduce a plan that will begin the transition from an industrial model of farming with its high reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides to a more sustainable one, and one that recognizes the climate crisis facing Islanders and the planet.

Signed by:

Ellen’s Creek Watershed Group

Friends of Covehead-Brackley Bay

CUPE-PEI

Atlantic Canada Chapter of Sierra Club Canada 

Pesticide-Free PEI

Latin American Mission Program

Cooper Institute

Environmental Coalition of PEI

Save our Seas and Shores PEI

Council of Canadians – PEI Chapter

Blue Dot PEI

Hunter-Clyde Watershed Group

Cornwall and Area Watershed Group

Don’t Frack PEI

Trout River Environmental Committee

Citizens’ Alliance of Prince Edward Island

What issues should a freshwater agency for Canada address? Have your say.

The Government of Canada is creating a new Canada Water Agency to work together with the provinces, territories, Indigenous communities, local authorities, scientists and communities to find the best ways to keep our water safe, clean and well-managed.

Upcoming events open for public participation regarding the creation of a new Canada Water Agency:

National Freshwater Policy Forum 

Jan 27 and 28th, 2021
The National Freshwater Policy Forum will provide an opportunity to hear from leading practitioners and knowledge holders involved in managing and protecting freshwater on what they see as the greatest opportunities to improve freshwater management through the creation of a Canada Water Agency. The two-day virtual event will involve discussions of key freshwater issues and opportunities identified in the Discussion Paper “Toward the Creation of a Canada Water Agency.”  

Regional Freshwater Forums

A series of six Regional Freshwater Forums will be held across the country to engage stakeholders and the interested public on region-specific freshwater issues and provide an opportunity for participants to discuss their thoughts on opportunities to improve freshwater management through the creation of a Canada Water Agency. Each forum will be a half-day virtual event. Join a panel of regional experts, practitioners and knowledge holders in a discussion of regional freshwater issues and participate in breakout sessions for more in-depth dialogue on the discussion questions and opportunities outlined in the Discussion Paper “Toward the Creation of a Canada Water Agency.”

1) Regional Freshwater Forum – Atlantic Feb 2nd;

2) Regional Freshwater Forum – Quebec Feb 4th;

3) Regional Freshwater Forum – Ontario Feb 9th

4) Regional Freshwater Forum – North Feb 11th;

5) Regional Freshwater Forum – British Columbia Feb 16th;

6) Regional Freshwater Forum – Prairies Feb 18th

Register here:https://www.placespeak.com/en/topic/6321-protecting-canadas-fresh-water/#/events

High-capacity Wells are not an Urban versus Rural Issue

Gary Schneider, Ann Wheatley and Don Mazer, for ECOPEI – December 16, 2020

It is disturbing to hear the genuine public concern over high capacity wells being deliberately misinterpreted as “urban versus rural” and as an attack against farmers.  The Environmental Coalition of Prince Edward Island has been working for years to usher in a new era of water protection and conservation, and never once have we opposed farmers.  Farmers are important to the economic and social health of the province.

What we have consistently opposed is the form of industrial agriculture that continues to result in fish kills and anoxic events, reduced water levels in streams, and depleted levels of organic matter in soils.

Many excellent farmers in the province realize that a healthy environment is critical to their future existence.  To paint this issue as farmers versus non-farmers does them a disservice.  Members of the National Farmers Union have long advocated for better management practices.  Doug Campbell, PEI’s NFU District Director, was recently quoted as saying: “Why do we have no organic matter in our soil?  The reason for that is because of the way the land is being farmed.  Why is that?  Because of pressure from industrialized farming.”

We’ve also had conversations with other farmers who are very concerned about the direction of potato farming and the influence of the Irving family, which is where the push for high-capacity wells is coming from.  Clearly, not all farmers want or could afford high-capacity wells.  But their voices are seldom heard.

In 2013, the PEI Potato Board & Cavendish Farms asked the PEI government to lift a longstanding moratorium on high capacity wells in the province.  Indirectly, this led to the development of a new Water Act.  During the public process to develop the Act, there were 57 presentations, along with written submissions from a diverse range of groups and individuals, and from industry. The vast majority of these presentations wanted the moratorium on high capacity wells to kept in place. This was also the recommendation in the Environmental Advisory Committee report on the meetings.

Unfortunately, the Water Act, passed in 2017 has yet to be proclaimed, and the revised regulations still have not been released for public comment.  During this time, there have been a number of new holding ponds developed that would not be permitted under the draft regulations.  We need to enact the Water Act, to maintain the high capacity wells moratorium, and prohibit holding ponds.  

But we also need to find a way out of the unsustainable cycle we’re in. Climate change will likely bring hotter and drier summers. The need for irrigating potatoes will be greatest when water is less and less available, and when the need for water to maintain ecosystem health is the greatest. At the same time that more water is needed for agriculture, we should be taking less.  More high capacity wells will only enable this increasingly unsustainable cycle. We need to find ways of doing agriculture differently.

Considering water as a common good and a public trust requires all of us to conserve and protect it.  Water should not be seen as a resource, simply to be extracted and exploited, but as an essential part of living ecosystems that support all life.  It is imperative that respect for protecting fresh water be at the forefront of decision making when it comes to water extraction. PEI is one of only a small number of places entirely dependent upon groundwater. This makes PEI unique and also vulnerable to any disturbance in the ecosystem.

And clearly, all water use is not equal. Humans need clean drinking water and that should be our first priority. Ecosystem health should always be a priority since it must be preserved in part to provide the life-giving essence mentioned above. Domestic use and emergency use for fire-fighting are next. Agriculture and Industry are generally far down the priority list for access to water.

Islanders are once again at a crossroads. We can be ever more committed to an industrial model of agriculture, with more water usage, larger fields, less and less soil organic matter, shrinking windbreaks, continuing fish kills and anoxic conditions, fewer farmers on larger acreages, and a small number of jobs created per acre.

Or we can look at truly becoming the Garden of the Gulf, with excellent drinking water, food security, and tremendous employment opportunities (as our organic growers and innovative small and large farmers have demonstrated throughout the pandemic). All Islanders would live in a healthy environment that continued to improve, and we would become a haven for tourists looking for a beautiful, safe and sustainable place to visit.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to say we are Canada’s Food Island without having dead fish in the water? And, especially in an era of escalating climate change, it is good for all of us to remember that no one, and nothing, lives without clean water.

Gary Schneider, Ann Wheatley and Don Mazer, for the Environmental Coalition of PEI

Coalition Presents to Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Sustainability

On October 1st, representatives of the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water made a presentation to the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability, in relation to the draft regulations for the Water Act, the cluster concerned with extraction of water, including high capacity wells for irrigation.

The Legislative Standing Committee information is here:

https://www.assembly.pe.ca/committees/current-committees/natural-resources-and-environmental-sustainability

Catherine O’Brien, chair, Andrew Lush, Don Mazer, Ann Wheatley and Gary Schneider commented on the Water Act, public process, the current issue of high capacity wells for agriculture, and how the draft set of regulations could be improved.

One of the purposes of this meeting and others in this fall is for the current committee members to understand where the draft regulations are, and be ready for any additional drafts.  They also write a report to the Legislature for the Fall Sitting, which should start in November after Remembrance Day. Audio and video recordings can be found on the following website:

https://www.assembly.pe.ca/

Here are the concluding remarks by Gary Schneider, which were followed by a lengthy discussion with members of the standing committee.

“The summary of the Water Act said that its goals and purposes were to ensure that “quality, quantity, allocation, conservation and protection of water is managed in the interest of common good which includes ecosystems.”  We are asking the Standing Committee to follow this direction and act in the best interest of everyone and everything that lives on this Island. Islanders are once again at a crossroads.  We can be ever more committed to an industrial model of agriculture, with more water usage, larger fields, less and less soil organic matter, fewer windbreaks, continuing fish kills and anoxic conditions, fewer farmers on larger acreages, and a small number of jobs created per acre. Or we can look at truly becoming the Garden of the Gulf, with excellent drinking water, food security, and tremendous employment opportunities (as our organic growers and innovative small farmers have demonstrated throughout the pandemic).  All Islanders would live in a healthy environment that continued to improve, and we would become a haven for tourists looking for a healthy, beautiful, and foody place to visit. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to say we are Canada’s Food Island without having dead fish in the water?  And, especially in an era of escalating climate change, it is good for all of us to remember that no one, and nothing, lives without clean water.”

And you can read all of the presentations here: Presentation to the Prince Edward Island Legislative Committee on Natural Resources and Sustainability by the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water