Withdrawal Regulations in the PEI Water Act – Some Concerns

Members of the Coalition recently presented these concerns to the Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Water, Brad Trivers:

1-The supposition that we have lots of water came through loud and clear in the “Frequently Asked Questions”, posted on the Water Act website. There are important concerns related to this. We have heard from the Department that climate change is actually going to increase our recharge. Yet in UNB Hydrogeology Professor Kerry MacQuarrie’s presentation during the Water Act hearings in 2017, he said that scientific studies called for anything between a 12% decrease in precipitation to a 7% increase.  That is a large variation and one that makes us think that we really don’t have a good enough handle on it.

 This message of plentiful and abundant groundwater seems contradictory to the spirit of the act, and the need to ground it in a value of conservation (which needs more emphasis). Why exercise such care if our water is so abundant?

If we are trying to re-engage the public and restore a robust process of consultation, we have serious concerns about some of the “FAQs”. Certainly, providing people with factual information about the Act, and regulations is valuable. Q1-19 do this well. But some of the Q &As seem to try to tell people what to think about issues that have concerned them (e.g. 20, 23, 28). They read more like department policy than ‘factual answers’. These questions are legitimate concerns that people have brought to the process of the Water Act.

2-When talking about irrigation and the water regulations, we seem to hae ignored soil organic matter. It does no one any good to treat these as unrelated issues.  This brings us back to one of the glaring omissions in the Water Act, reference to agricultural practices which have significant impacts on water quality and quantity.

3-The same is true of the issue of nitrates and other contaminants. Even if it turns out that we have lots of water, questions remain. Is it good quality water? And will more irrigation lead to increases in nitrates or pesticides, and anoxic conditions?

4-We should ensure that all the regulations meet both the spirit and the letter of the legislation. We have already seen too many examples of people circumventing legislation (the Lands Protection Act, for example.)  Since we know people are already circumventing the spirit of the Water Act with their holding ponds, what is to stop people from pumping 340 cubic metres per day (just under the 345 cubic metre threshold) and irrigating their potatoes, thus once again circumventing the moratorium on high-capacity wells?

5-We would like to stress the importance of the Registry and the need to include it in regulations. What information will be posted and how quickly would it go online?  The Registry will be both useless and unused if it is not regularly updated and easily accessible.

6-What is the plan for monitoring the output of wells? Will we know how much water is being used from all wells above the “household” ones?  Who is looking after that information and will it be available on the registry?

7-The issue of conservation, especially regarding large users including municipalities, golf courses and aquaculture operations, seems to get short shrift in both the Act and the regulations. It should be a guiding value. While metering is helpful, it is hard to believe that people will take all the necessary steps to conserve water, especially if they are told that there are no issues with the abundance of water (see #1).

8-The regulations have no provisions for ongoing citizen engagement. We would hope that there would be provisions within the regulations for a Water Governance Board. This would be an excellent way of ensuring that we have an open, transparent and ongoing process that builds off the previous public involvement in developing the Act. The Coalition made a presentation in 2016 about this issue – find it here.

9-We don’t see the precautionary principle and intergenerational equity – two key issues that were repeatedly raised at the public meetings – reflected in the regulations.

10-In regulations related to water withdrawal that intend to prevent adverse effects from unsustainable extraction, it is a glaring omission to find no reference to the City of Charlottetown. The ongoing practices of our major municipality, and their impact on the Winter River Watershed are recognized by virtually everyone as a vivid example of the collective failure to protect water and the watershed.

While Charlottetown is (likely) the largest single user of water in the province, there are no references to limits to their water withdrawal. In fact, Section 35 (b) in the Act has the provision that should Charlottetown be designated by the Minister as a ‘designated municipal area, he may recommend “an amount that may exceed limits on water withdrawals or water withdrawal approvals that would otherwise apply.

Such a provision seems to allow the municipality to withdraw as much water as they want in perpetuity. Like all other water users, Charlottetown needs to comply with the terms of their permits. A Water Act and its regulations should not allow municipalities to live outside the law.

See our “clause-by clause” commentary on the withdrawal regulations HERE.

Deadline for Commenting on the Water Act Regulations is Extended

The PEI government is accepting comments on the regulations for the new Water Act – those dealing with water withdrawal. You can find the regulations, and a plain language summary, and submit your comments online here: https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/environment-water-and-climate-change/water-act

 

Who Gets a Seat at the Table?

Spectators at the presentation to the standing committee
Don and members of the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water getting ready to present to the Standing Committee about the need to maintain a moratorium on high capacity wells – 2014

Recently in the legislature, Opposition MLA Steven Myers challenged Minster Richard Brown on the undue influence of Cavendish Farms on government policy, particularly the Water Act. After several frustrating attempts to clarify what private meetings the government had held during the time when regulations for the Water Act are being developed, he concluded: “Irvings get to have a special seat at the Liberal table when it comes to making policy . . . especially when it comes to dealing with our water . . .”

The minister emphatically denied any special relationship. “We are working with anybody that wants to work with government that has the interest of the environment first. We will continue to meet with each and every person in order to make our environment great.”

But this is simply not the case. Everyone does not have ready access to a place at Minister Brown’s table. I am a member of three organizations that have ‘the interest of the environment first.’ Each has had considerable difficulty arranging a meeting with Minister Brown.

The Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water formed in 2013 in response to the Cavendish Farms proposal for lifting the moratorium on high capacity wells for agriculture. Its membership includes 20 environmental, watershed and social justice groups and more than 200 individuals. The coalition has been actively involved in the ongoing process of development of the Water Act. The previous minister, Robert Mitchell noted in the legislature the important contribution the Coalition had made to the Water Act.

The Coalition made several requests for meetings with Minister Brown since he was appointed in January. Eventually a meeting was arranged and then cancelled by the minister. He said he would reschedule. We contacted him again at the end of May. We’re still awaiting his call.

The Environmental Coalition of P.E.I. has a long history of working on behalf of the environment. For 30 years, ECOPEI has been a leader in environmental education, done pioneering work in the restoration of the Acadian Forest through the MacPhail Woods Ecological Forestry Project, and done extensive tree planting across the Island, and organizing electoral forums on environmental issues.

ECOPEI has made several requests for meetings with the minister since January to discuss our concerns about a range of important environmental issues. He called back in June, talked about setting up a meeting. We’re still waiting for his call.

The Citizens’ Alliance (CA) formed out of the response of a large group of concerned Islanders to the Plan B project. And while the battle to stop Plan B was unsuccessful, CA formed to continue the spirit and energy of this group. Its mission is to be a vigilant observer and advocate for the environment and to promote democratic process. CA was instrumental in the initial organization of the Water Coalition, in bringing the Blue Dot/Environmental rights campaign to P.E.I., and in opposing the plan to bottle P.E.I. water for export.

CA’s request for a meeting with Minister Brown also went unanswered.

By contrast, there’s Cavendish Farms. Government is interested in developing collaborative relationships with them. They are welcomed at the government table, supported with public money, lauded by the minister for their environmental stewardship. Environmental costs, like the steady decline in the organic content of Island soils in a province with a dominant potato industry, were not even mentioned at a recent Cavendish Farms presentation to the standing committee. [GS2]

Why such a different response? Do the citizens of Prince Edward Island really feel that industry deserves meetings and access while the public does not? Do Islanders believe that the health of the environment that sustains all of us should always take a back seat to the promotion of unlimited economic growth? Do citizens believe that those interests with money and power are entitled to more of a say about what happens on P.E.I. than the rest of us?

The issue of access to water and the health of our waterways is of great importance to all Islanders and not just to those who own processing companies. It’s time for Minister Brown and the government to listen carefully to all of us who truly do have ‘the interest of the environment first.’

– Don Mazer is a member of the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water, ECOPEI and the Citizens’ Alliance. He lives in Suffolk on the Winter River.

Coalition Suggests Improvements to Water Act

Opinion Piece published in the Charlottetown Guardian, December 7, 2017

By Catherine O’Brien and Marie Ann Bowden

The Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water recently met to discuss the newest draft of the Water Act.  After an inclusive and thorough participatory process, we are disappointed that no public consultation was allowed for this final draft.

Though we do see some very positive additions, we feel it is important to point out some significant gaps within the draft Water Act that are of great concern. We hope that some changes and amendments can be made before this Bill becomes law. Continue reading “Coalition Suggests Improvements to Water Act”

A Troubling Issue of High Capacity Wells

Opinion Piece by Gary Schneider and Don Mazer

November 30, 2017

The unveiling of the Water Act did little to resolve the central issue which sparked the creation of the Act – the moratorium on high capacity wells. Over 90% of those who participated in the extensive Water Act consultations were in favour of maintaining the moratorium. Unfortunately, the Act does not reflect this strong consensus.

To be clear, the draft Water Act does NOT include a moratorium on high capacity wells. Surprisingly, “high capacity wells” is only mentioned in a slide presentation on the Act, not in the Act itself. Under the heading “High capacity wells for Ag irrigation”, it says that “Water extractions will be addressed in regulations once the research on stream flow has been completed.”

The problem is that a very complex issue appears to have been simplified to a question of volume. In the face of climate change and competing needs, will we ever have enough scientific certainty to accurately predict how much water might be available for different uses? Even if we do develop trustworthy models, there is so much more to the question of how to safeguard PEI’s precious water resources for future generations than mere volume. Continue reading “A Troubling Issue of High Capacity Wells”

Water Act Debated in Legislature

The Water Act was tabled for second reading in the P.E.I. Legislature on November 29. As debate continues, and in the absence of further public consultation, it is important for MLAs to hear from us. The Coalition has identified several ways in which the act could be improved:

  1. Enshrine that water is a right.
  2. Make the fracking ban a real ban
  3. Use the right names for the terms: precautionary principle, intergenerational equity
  4. Do not allow municipalities to to exceed limits on water withdrawals
  5. Put the moratorium on high capacity wells in the Act
  6. Recognize Indigenous title and jurisdiction to watersheds in the Water Act. 

Continue reading “Water Act Debated in Legislature”

Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water Calls for Improved Environmental Assessment Process

Charlottetown – The decision of the Minister of Communities, Land and Environment to allow genetically modified salmon to be grown in Prince Edward Island was the result of a faulty environmental assessment process, says a local environmental group.

On Tuesday, July 11, representatives of the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water met with Minister Mitchell to discuss the Coalition’s concerns about the approval of the proposal by AquaBounty Canada, Inc. to expand their plant in Rollo Bay West. The original approval, which was for an egg production facility, was expanded to a facility at which genetically modified salmon would be grown to market size, and then killed before being exported. 

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The group is unhappy about the approval for a variety of reasons, including the public consultation process, which they say was inadequate and poorly advertised. “Even after Environment officials decided to extend the deadline for submissions, there wasn’t really enough time for people to become informed enough or to prepare to respond to the application for such a big project,” says Catherine O’Brien, Chairperson of the Coalition.  Continue reading “Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water Calls for Improved Environmental Assessment Process”

Coalition Presents its Concerns about the Draft Water Act

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The Coalition is made up of over 20 member groups and hundreds of individual members. Members include ECO PEI, The Cooper Institute, NFU Region 1 District 1, Sierra Club of PEI, Citizens’ Alliance, The Council of Canadians, Don’t Frack PEI, Save our Seas and Shores, and several watershed groups. You’ve heard from some of our member organizations in the last couple meetings. We concur with those presentations you heard, and would like to add a few more points.

The initial consultation process was inclusive and transparent. More time was added for feedback when asked, and many of our recommendations were put forward to you from the EAC. We see some of those recommendations in the draft act.

We would like to ask you once again to continue this positive process and include more meaningful public participation in the creation and completion of the water act.

Concerned Islanders must have a real opportunity to be heard and to feel that they have had a chance to influence the ultimate decisions. I’d like to refer to this chart that demonstrates the best practices for meaningful public participation.

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Continue reading “Coalition Presents its Concerns about the Draft Water Act”

Coalition Presents to Standing Committee

imagesOn October 26th, the Coalition for Protection of PEI Water made a presentation to the Standing Committee on Communities, Land and Environment, following a presentation by the proponents of a proposal for a bottled water plant near Brookvale, PEI.  The Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water was represented by Don Mazer, Andrew Lush, Leo Broderick and Chris Ortenburger. As you can imagine, the Coalition has a host of reasons why P.E.I. should not be exporting groundwater. Read the whole presentation here.