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

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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

The High Capacity Wells Debate on CBC

CBC has this on their website:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/groundwater-politics-the-high-capacity-wells-debate-1.2674811

and somebody sent this link:

Not sure of the makers – (look at the whole YouTube channel for “PEI Clips”)

Next meeting of the Coalition is Thursday, July 3rd, 5PM, St. Paul’s Hall loft.

The Citizens’ Alliance is scheduled to present to the Standing Committee next Wednesday, June 25th. We are last on the agenda, I think, and the Committee is only hearing about the well issue.

And, the Liberals announcement of a water act today: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/water-act-to-be-introduced-by-p-e-i-government-1.2679458

Critique of BC’s Water Act

Here’s a really great breakdown of BC’s new water sustainability act from the BC Environmental Law (association… sister association to ECELAW, East Coast Environmental Law)

http://wcel.org/resources/environmental-law-alert/strengths-and-weaknesses-new-water-sustainability-act?utm_source=LEB

From WCEL:

After reviewing the Act, we’re actually fairly impressed.  There is a lot to like about this Act – even though many of the critical details will need to be worked out in the regulations.  That being said, there are also concerns and disappointments: especially related to addressing the environmental impacts of current water users and a relaxing of rules regarding making water available for hydraulic fracturing.

March 11th, 2014

And a bit about the Lands Protection Act review:
Mr. Carver contemplated the issue of where the agriculture industry is today and would increasing the land holding size actually help matters.  He also was charged with looking at the “red tape” involved in accounting for the amount of land a farmer (or corporation) owns.  The regulations regarding renaming some land as environmentally sensitive (so overall holdings could be increased) were scrutinized.  (Once the regulations were modified in 2009, and in 2010, farmers wanting to get some of their lands exempted this way have to play a game of pickleball back and forth between IRAC and the Department of Agriculture to hear if the exemption would be granted.)

from the Prince Edward Island LPA Exemption Regulations (page 22-23):
35. (1) For the purposes of this section, “environmentally significant class of land holding” means any land holding other than a “natural area class of land holding” that
(a) the Department of Agriculture has certified as being (i) agricultural land that is identified in the PEI Sloped Land Inventory that is verified as having been converted from row crops by the owner through tree planting, (ii) land that is being utilized as an erosion control structure approved by the Department of Agriculture,
(iii) land on which there is a hedgerow that meets the Department of Agriculture’s criteria and standards for hedgerows, or (iv) land that is verified to be a permanent grassed headland that does not include any land that is required to be used as a buffer under the Environmental Protection Act Watercourse and Wetland Protection Regulations; or
(b)the Department of Environment, Energy and Forestry has certified as being
(i) land that is identified in the PEI Wetlands Atlas as designated wetlands, (ii) land that is identified in the PEI Corporate Land Use Inventory as forested land, or
(iii) land that is required to be used as a buffer under the Environmental Protection Act Watercourse and Wetland Protection Regulations or land that is required to expand a required buffer onto marginal agricultural land.
(2) All land holdings that are certified to be in the “environmentally significant class of land holding” are eligible for exemption from the section 2 aggregate land holding limits contained in the Act up to a maximum of 40% of current aggregate land holdings, to a maximum of 400 acres for a person and 1200 acres for a corporation, of which no more than 80% (320 acres for a person and 960 acres for a corporation) shall be forested land. (EC645/09)

And without further ado, the first recommendation from the Commission tidies this up:
1.    That the provincial government do the following: repeal Section 35 of the Regulations in its entirety; modify Section 2 of the Lands Protection Act to make it clear that the 1,000 and 3,000 acre aggregate land holding limits apply to arable land only; and accept as proof of compliance the farmer’s signed declaration of the acreage of arable land owned and leased.

February 14th, 2014

Regarding the government’s acknowledgement of concerns about high capacity wells:

The Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry met yesterday for the first of several meetings to hear about this issue.  Their first guests were the Environment Minister and two of her staff, the division of Environment chief Jim Young, and the person in charge of Watershed and Subdivision Planning, Bruce Raymond, who it appears presented some of the powerpoint presentation he gave to the Federation of Agriculture a couple of weeks ago (and is found here:  Water Extraction Policy and Background  http://www.gov.pe.ca/environment/water-extraction  )

From Compass, last night, 4:15 into the program:
http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Canada/PEI/ID/2436939369/
Minister Sherry says the agriculture industry needs to explain why they want the water.  (This seems obvious to most of us.)
She says her department would not lift the moratorium if they thought it would be detrimental to the quantity and quality of water, or if it would have negative impacts on aquatic habitats.  “Certainly we don’t have all the science in the area.”

A tip of the hat to Committee Chairperson Paula Biggar being interested in this issue and making time for it and the groups that want to address it.  The Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water, made up of representatives of many Island Groups, will be presenting at the next meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday, February 27th, 1:30PM, if you want to attend that day.

Minister Sherry has been responding to most e-mails sent to her by Islanders and groups with concerns on the subject with this exact response (bolding mine):
(To the writer:)
Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding water extraction and high capacity wells.

Islanders’ opinions on this issue are important and I appreciate your taking the time to contact me. PEI’s water resources are very valuable and I believe that we must protect them, ensuring that the environment is sustainable.

Government has not made a decision regarding high capacity wells for agricultural irrigation and any decision made will be science-based, ensuring the protection of our drinking and surface water resources and aquatic habitat.

Again, thank you for your letter of concern which, along with others, will be considered prior to government making any decision on this issue.
(Minster Sherry)

I am not quite sure I understand exactly what the bolded line means as far as what government is thinking at this point.
———-

National Farmers Union News Release

NEWS RELEASE

January 23, 2014

The National Farmers Union in this Province is strongly urging all Islanders to become involved in the discussion centering around the request by the Potato Board to lift the moratorium on drilling more high capacity wells in P. E. I.    Islanders are encouraged to contact their MLA on this matter.

Since groundwater is a precious resource, vital to all Islanders, the National Farmers Union is requesting the Provincial Government to hold public meetings on the subject of drilling more high capacity wells.  In this way, all Island citizens can be involved in the debate similar to the way they took part in the public meetings on land issues within the last year.

The Potato Board states that irrigation is needed in order for the Island potato industry to compete with growers in Idaho and other American states.  It is virtually impossible to compete yield-wise with these growers where the topsoil is so much deeper than P. E. I. and where the growing season is much longer.

The NFU suggests there are other ways to improve the moisture-holding capacity of Island soils such as improving the organic matter of the soil, using better crop rotations, etc. Enhancing our livestock industry in order to have manure to fertilizer the soil would go a long way to improving soil conditions.  All of this can be done without compromising the quality and quantity of our groundwater.  It would be more prudent to work toward developing a marketing system whereby farmers receive their cost of production instead of risking our groundwater supply.  

This moratorium has been in place for many years, and there is no good reason to lift it now.

– 30 –

Contact:   Steven MacKinnon, telephone 675-3426