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”

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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.

Coalition Asks for Moratorium on Bottled Water Exports

shutterstock_103020260Following a meeting with Environment Minister Robert Mitchell, members of the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water ask, in anticipation of the next phase of development of a Water Act,  for interim measures to protect water including a moratorium on bottling water for export:

Dear Minister Mitchell

Thank you for meeting with us last week. We were able to cover some of our concerns and we look forward to further discussions with you as we move towards a comprehensive water act. We wanted to follow up on the meeting with some key concerns and questions that we have.

We must impress upon you that we do believe that it would be a prudent and responsible decision to put a hold on future water extraction permits for anything other than the most essential purposes while we await the Water Act. We realize that this is a difficult challenge. While businesses have a certain expectation of expediency, we believe it is your role to impress upon them that any decisions around water use must primarily be grounded in having a system in place that first of all respects our environment and protects our water for future generations. The very process of developing a Water Act reflects the collective awareness that our current policies and regulations been inadequate in accomplishing these key goals. We believe that it is not acceptable to continue to make decisions about water use based upon problematic policies.

One of the important recognitions for us from that meeting is that it seems like no one (including the Coalition) has thought about how decisions about water use and permits will be made in the interim period while the Water Act is being developed. So it is not surprising that current policies, however inadequate, become the ‘fall back’ position.

While we do support a ‘moratorium’ on new permits and uses, we think that it is essential that there be an interim set of priorities for water use developed while we await the Water Act. If decisions must be made in the interim, they need to be grounded in these principles and provide the opportunity to meet ‘essential’ needs. From the consultations, there seems to be widespread agreement that our priorities must always be given first to maintaining healthy ecosystems, providing for basic human needs, and for fire and emergency services. All other permits and new uses can be seen as lower priority and should await the Water Act, and the opportunity to have the discussions and consultations we need about how we believe our water should be used.

Such guidelines would have supported postponing the decision on the AquaBounty applications for permits as a nonessential use, and for the proposed bottled water plant in Brookvale that plans to use PEI water for export.

There are other reasons why a moratorium would be advisable. While we appreciate that you have advised businesses that permits granted now might not be applicable under a new Act, the unsettled issues about grandfather clauses raises serious concerns about whether the province would be liable or responsible for costs should a permit need to be rescinded. We include some other relevant questions and comments about the permitting process.

 Is a PEI permit transferable to another property or business owner?  Can it be included in a personal estate as property to be inherited? Is it collateral for a bank loan? Can excess capacity be sold or traded (or combined into a new enterprise?)  Can neighbors who lose a well or can property owners in a watershed that is drained stop the permitted owner from impacting them? Can PEI rights be sold or transferred to a private interest in another province or to an international interest?

Not only should we be looking at responsible management of water within the province, but also at considering the sovereignty and future food and water security of the Island. We have mutual reasons to prevent PEI water from being a privately owned global commodity.

John Quimby, who lived in California, mentioned the effect of grandfathered water rights there given in 1914 that affected private property owners, the public and government during an historic drought emergency in 2014.

Closer to home, we have seen the public response to the Nestle model of extraction for profit during a drought emergency in Ontario.

Finally, the discussion of the proposed water bottling plant in Brookvale reflected major gaps in policy that needs to be immediately addressed. It was surprising to learn that your department had no jurisdiction to decide about this proposal if the applicants stayed within the existing water extraction guidelines. As we all agree, the way we use our water is an important moral and ethical issue and one that is hotly contested. It is much more than a business decision that can be made by individuals. It was clear that the existing policies would make it possible for any other entrepreneurs to pursue a similar plan. We would be taking a major step toward the commodification of water, without even discussing it.

We urge you to address this policy gap by declaring a moratorium on going forward on any developments of bottled water for export, and will then hope it will be addressed in the Act.

Catherine O’Brien, Don Mazer, Chris Ortenburger, Leo Broderick, John Quimby, For the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water

Water Act Consultation Report is Released

“From the public consultations, it was clear that any legislative, regulatory or policy framework should be drafted in such a way as to support efforts to:
• conserve, protect, and restore the health of aquatic and riparian ecosystems;
• safeguard and enhance drinking water;
• regulate water use in a manner that respects ecosystem as well as human needs;
• ensure water security through use efficiency and conservation practices;
• encourage and enforce land use management practices that protect water quality, the
integrity and health of watersheds, associated watercourses, and the groundwater
resource;
• allow for the continuous adaptation of water management rules, as science advances,
or natural conditions change; and
• standardize, streamline and make transparent government decision making.
The new Act need not be prescriptive on every management issue. It should, however, have the flexibility to provide municipalities, communities, advisory groups, and government with
the tools to address water management issues according to the conditions at specific localities, now and in the future. We all depend on the ability to access basic water services and water
resources. The proposed Water Act must be able to deliver on that.”

Read the whole report here:

http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/CLE_EAC_WARep.pdf

Water Act White Paper

Environment Minister Robert Mitchell tabled the much awaited white paper on the proposed water act.
It is time to get informed and get involved.  A group from the Coaltion for the Protection of PEI Water is working on a letter for the papers to assist Islanders in learning about the process and encourage government to work with Islanders to develop a comprehensive, sustainable act.

Here is a brief description of the timeline:
  • Fall 2015: public consultations on the white paper and what should be in the Water Act carried out in several communities.  A panel made up of some members of the Environmental Advisory Council will be at every meeting, and the meetings will be moderated by the highly respected Jean-Paul Arsenault, who used to work for government and helped with a lot of those previous Reports and Roundtables (which are linked in the white paper).
  • Winter/Spring:  Department of Communities, Land and Environment works on draft Legislation
  • Spring 2016: second series of public consultations on draft water act
  • Fall 2016 (November): Water Act legislation tabled in the P.E.I. Legislature.

This is a very short timeline, and may be too ambitious. BC spent 6 years on their act and are still working on the legislation.
Public engagement and input need to be truly incorporated into the document.

The Department of Communities, Land and Environment website on a water act:
http://www.gov.pe.ca/wateract/

The link to the actual white paper:
http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/wateract.pdf