February 22nd, 2014

Despite the imperative headline given to it (it was different in the peicanada.com website as “Deep water wells risk turning ocean into salt water desert”), it is an interesting letter to contemplate:

Man should not drill into aquifer
Published on February 20, 2014 in The Guardian

Editor:
On the basis of groundwater, the sandstone of P.E.I. is considered to be composed of two zones: an upper zone, highly fractured having significant near-vertical fracturing and a lower zone, below about 35 metres, much less fractured and having few near-vertical fractures. Below the first aquitard layer the lower zone is known as the confined aquifer. An aquitard is a material like claystone and siltstone that has low permeability but transmits water at low flow rates.
The water flow in the confined aquifer is referred to as the ʻdeeper circulationʼ and is on a regional scale and not restricted to watersheds. Once the confined aquifer enters under the ocean it is called the confined submarine groundwater discharge (CSGD) aquifer. This deeper circulation through the CSGD affects directly the productivity of the ocean and has been and is being impacted in P.E.I. by human activities of the surface.
The proper jurisdiction of the confined aquifer should be the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The CSGD aquifer is driven by the deeper circulation of the confined aquifer on land, gravity in the end. Man should not be drilling into the confined aquifer on land and withdrawing its water. Municipal wells are not excluded. The deep water wells that have been drilled are removing water from the deep circulation and are reducing the productivity of the fisheries. We are killing the ocean. Existing deep water wells should be sealed off at where they puncture the confined aquifer. The confined aquifer should be sealed off and truly deep geological exploration wells should have casings to 300 meters at least.
We should thank the persons who had the wisdom to place a moratorium on deep water drilling in 2003. We must restore the deeper circulation; otherwise, we run the risk of turning the ocean into a saltwater desert.
Tony Lloyd,
Mount Stewart

February 15th, 2014

Yesterday’s Guardian story on the Standing Committee meeting with Minister Sherry:
http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/News/Local/2014-02-14/article-3615107/No-decision-has-been-made-on-deep-well-irrigation%3A-Sherry/1  (full text at end)
It contains an unfortunate error in that the oft-quoted “154 Olympic swimming pools of water is the recharge rate” is listed for a square inch, not kilometre. If it were inch, then perhaps we could support dozens and dozens and dozens of wells, or be waterlogged like poor Great Britain.

I believe, quoting Mr. Raymond another time, it is:

“An Olympic size pool holds 2,500 cubic meters.  The average annual recharge to groundwater on PEI for a square kilometeris ~385,000 cubic meters each year.
385,000 / 2,500 = 154 pools”.

Note that the figure quoted is an average for the entire Island.  I am not sure how extensively they measured across the island to be so absolutely confident of that average.  But taking that number, one can divide the amount by the area to get the total depth that represents and it is 38 cm (or a little over a foot) of “recharge” over any particular point of land over the course of a year. (I think)

———-

CBC has a poll on their website:
“Should the moratorium on deep-water irrigation wells be lifted?”   You can participate here (it is in the middle of the article):

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/deep-water-well-impact-still-needs-study-1.2536935
———-

A letter from yesterday:
http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/Opinion/Letter-to-editor/2014-02-14/article-3615933/Thirsty-producers-always-want-more/1
Thirsty producers always want more
Published on February 14, 2014 in The Guardian
Editor:
Potato producers wish to drain the water on P.E.I. They are thirsty with greed with no respect for the residents who expect to live off the ground water we already have.
They are selfish. Their own desire for wealth must come first. They are not satisfied with the rain the good Lord sends. That proves their attitude.
No doubt they are in the minority on P.E.I. I am sure most growers using common sense are satisfied. No one can change the weather patterns. Our water is too important to fool with.
Brendon Flood,
South Melville

———-
and the lead article from yesterday, with a few things in bold by me:

No decision has been made on deep-well irrigation: Sherry
by Teresa Wright
published on February 14th, 2014

Environment Minister Janice Sherry, centre, spoke to a committee of MLAs on the issue of deep-well irrigation Thursday. Joining her were the provincial director of environment Jim Young, left, and Bruce Raymond, right, manager of watershed planning for the province.
Environment Minister Janice Sherry says government has made no decisions on deep-well irrigation and the moratorium will not be lifted unless itʼs proven it will not diminish the quantity or quality of P.E.I.ʼs groundwater.

Sherry was in the hot seat Tuesday at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry.
She said the question of whether to lift the current moratorium on deep-water wells for irrigation has become a leading issue and that she has received a lot of impassioned feedback from Islanders.
She said she welcomes a “lively debate.”

“As a government, we are listening to what Islanders have to say on this issue. We are listening to what the agricultural industry is telling us,” she said.  “You will hear that we have more than enough water to meet our needs. However, that supply must be carefully monitored and managed, That is the issue when it comes to issuing permits for high-capacity wells.”

The issue has become a topic of heated debate, especially after industry giant Cavendish Farms and the P.E.I. Potato Board mounted a full-scale lobby effort several weeks ago. They are pushing for access to deep-water wells to supply potato fields with water for supplemental irrigation.

But environmental groups are raising serious concern over the impacts large-scale agricultural irrigation could have on P.E.I.ʼs groundwater levels. They also worry about potential nitrate contamination.

The committee meeting Thursday saw a packed crowd of concerned Islanders in attendance — a rare occurrence for the normally empty public gallery of the committee chamber.  A technical briefing was presented about how P.E.I.ʼs groundwater is managed and scientific data about recharge rates, compiled by the Environment Department.  Bruce Raymond, manager of watershed and subdivision planning for the province, said provincial data shows the rate at which P.E.I.ʼs groundwater is replenished every year is quite high.
This recharge rate is equal to 154 Olympic-sized swimming pools for every square inch of the Island, he told the committee.
Raymond also said only seven per cent of water available for extraction within environmental regulations is being used.

But when the time for questions came, Opposition MLAs were mainly interested in the politics of the issue.
Opposition Leader Steven Myers asked Sherry who first suggested the moratorium be lifted.
She said the request came from the potato board. “Whatʼs been told to me by many, many people, too many to think itʼs not true, is that

government went to the potato board and said, ʻHey you should ask for this because weʼll probably give it to youʼ,” Myers said.
“Absolutely not,” Sherry replied.
Agriculture Critic Colin LaVie questioned Sherry on the involvement of the premierʼs former chief of staff, Chris LeClair, and former Liberal MLA Cynthia King. The two were hired to help the potato board lobby in favour of deep-water wells.
He asked whether the Environment Department paid them.
Sherry firmly denied this, saying Cavendish Farms hired LeClair and King to educate people** about high-capacity wells.
“I donʼt have a role to play in that, thatʼs totally a private business hiring someone to provide a service for them. Thatʼs got nothing to do with government,” Sherry said.
“When you talk about educate, is this process already done?” LaVie asked.
Sherry stressed that nothing has gone before cabinet on this issue and that all opinions and data are continuing to be assessed.
“We need informed discussions. We need facts. We need science. We need to build a consensus around this issue and I can assure the members of this committee that the views of all Islanders will be taken into account before a decision is made.”
twright@theguardian.pe.ca Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

**I guess the MLAs getting private meetings are the ones who are getting educated?
———-

February 13th, 2014

Today is the first Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry regarding the high capacity well issue.
1:30PM,  Coles Building (Pope Room).  Coles is the red brick building to the east of Province House; the doorway is off Richmond Street, the steps going up to the main floor.  There are seats for the public in the room where are right behind the committee members and presenters seated at tables.

From the notice: 
The committee will receive a briefing on the subject of deep well irrigation from Hon. Janice Sherry, Minister of Environment, Labour and Justice and Attorney General; Jim Young, Director of Environment; and Bruce Raymond, Manager of Watershed and Subdivision Planning. 

It is a little weird that the Minister and her people are coming to explain the issue to another set of MLAs, and it will be the Committee that will likely send a recommendation to lift or not lift the moratorium to that same Minister and Cabinet.

It should be interesting, and being there will show public interest in this issue, if it’s convenient to get there.  The meeting is likely to go until 3 or 3:30, but the public can come and go as they please.

———-
Margie Loo’s letter was squeezed into an edition of the paper two weeks ago, and bears repeating here (bolding is mine):
http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/Opinion/Letter-to-editor/2014-01-30/article-3596350/More-pressure-on-environment/1

More pressure on environment
Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on January 30, 2014
By Margie Loo (a reader’s view)

(An open letter to my MLA and the minister of environment)
I have been watching the discussion about lifting of the moratorium on deep-water irrigation wells with concern. I have listened as Gary Linkletter, chairman of the Potato Board, assures us there is ample water for everyone. I have also heard Daryl Guignion, a former biologist at UPEI, express great concern about taking more water from our aquifers.

Mr. Linkletter assures us the province has done an evaluation of our groundwater and that we only use an average of two per cent of the annual recharge.  I wonder what conditions that two per cent is based on.  Was it a year when the streams were drying up, and the City of Charlottetown was asking residents to limit water use?  Obviously the years when irrigation is needed are the same years that the aquifers are unusually low.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are other things that make P.E.I.ʼs environment unique. We have very sandy soil.
We all know what happens when it rains on exposed soils; our waterways turn red.  What we donʼt see is the agricultural chemicals and fertilizers leaching down into the groundwater.  We assume our deep-water aquifers have not yet been affected too much by nitrates but as this pristine deep water gets pumped out the more contaminated shallow groundwater will move down to refill them.

The spectre of nitrate contamination spreading rapidly throughout our water supply should be a great concern for all of us.
We donʼt know to what degree the shallow aquifers and the deep aquifers are connected to each other. If they were connected then we would expect that groundwater would be drawn down to recharge the deep aquifers during irrigation impacting household wells in the area. These domestic wells are in the shallow aquifers and with a dropping water table during dry summers many more homeowners will be forced to drill deeper wells. This is not a new problem as anyone digging wells can tell you. Who will be responsible for the cost of these new wells?

P.E.I. consists of fractured sandstone bedrock which creates unique challenges. This is significant because our underground aquifers do not flow in predictable ways. No one knows how drilling more deep wells will affect water moving though the bedrock.
There has not been a comprehensive study done of the hydrogeology of Prince Edward Island. Researchers from the Universities of Calgary and Guelph have only recently begun the first such study on P.E.I.

As a farmer myself I understand the challenge potato farmers face, however I also know there are other ways of solving this problem. For example it is well known that soil that has ample organic matter can withstand long stretches of dry weather.  Adding irrigation systems to land in potato production is going to increase the pressure to plant cash crops more often leading to greater depletion of organic matter, not to mention the eventual salinization of soil.  What is being proposed is really large-scale hydroponic production whereby the health of soils no longer matters at all.

Yes, potato production moves a lot of money though the Island economy. This isnʼt the whole picture. The cost to other sectors of the Island community must also be considered.

Farther, remember that deep-water irrigation wells do not ensure success for potato growers or take the uncertainty out of potato production. Potato production depends market demand, and this is something that P.E.I. producers canʼt control.
We do know however that allowing more deep wells certainly will put more pressure on P.E.I.ʼs environment.

Margie Loo of Elderflower Organic Farm, Belfast RR 3, is a pioneer in organic farming practices on P.E.I.

You can chat with her any Saturday at her booth at the Farmers’ Market in Charlottetown.

February 12th, 2014

Martha Howatt and Peter Bower, who to me represent all the hard-working volunteers on watershed associations, made time to write this clear message:

http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/Opinion/Letter-to-editor/2014-02-11/article-3611597/Questions-remain-on-deep-water-wells/1

Questions remain on deep-water wells
Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on February 11, 2014

Editor:
Gary Schneider, Dale Small, Daryl Guignion, Roger Gordon, Dr. Ian MacQuarrie, Shannon Mader, Margie Loo and Todd Dupuis have each written accurate, informed, and focused opinions that have appeared recently in The Guardian on the subject of deep-water wells.
These names are among those of the professionals whose expertise we seek when our watershed organizations apply for provincial funding and other grants. These are the names the government wants to see on our applications. They can make the difference between approval and rejection. These are the kinds of professionals who are in the streams and rivers observing water run off and erosion, anoxic events and associated fish kills from excessive nitrates, and estuaries dying from the spread of sea lettuce.
We cannot add any information they havenʼt provided from their many years of involvement in these issues near and dear to all of us, but we can add what they have to say is borne out by our years of work on our watersheds.

Nevertheless, we do have questions, including how will the noise, smell and sight of massive diesel pumps sitting in fields affect tourism? Will taxpayers again be subsidizing some farmers for drilling and purchasing the necessary equipment because it is doubtful that they will offset these costs by increased potato production? Is there any way to estimate the quantity of water that will be drawn from these wells?
The deep-well promoters and lobbyists maintain the farmers involved are concerned about the Islandʼs water resources. It is an understatement to point out we are all concerned, including the NFU which suggests that there may be alternatives.

We can only hope the lifting of the moratorium is not a done deal. The government must have meaningful and thorough public consultations. Letʼs take the time necessary to hold public meetings so Islanders are given the chance to absorb and understand the scientific evidence, to hear all sides, and to participate in a dialogue.

Our futures are at stake.

Martha Howatt, co-chair,
Peter Bower, chair,
South Shore Watershed Association
———

South Shore Watershed Association is a cooperative effort of four watersheds, west of the West River — Augustine Cove, DeSable, Tryon and Westmoreland. http://www.sswa.ca/

In addition to all they do in meeting rooms and on the rivers’ edges, they have a great website, with little jewels like this two-page leaflet about “What is a watershed?”:
http://www.sswa.ca/education/what-is-a-watershed/

and this link to a charming and informative 48-page out-of-print booklet on PEI’s water (it feels a bit old since it has hand-drawings, not clipart):
http://www.sswa.ca/education/water-on-prince-edward-island/

February 9th, 2014

So much stuff!  Here are two good letters from week before last, and the link to the presentation by the Department of Environment, Labour and Justice on the water extraction policy.

From biologist Dr. Roger Gordon:
http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/Opinion/Letter-to-editor/2014-01-30/article-3596348/Minister-should-not-give-in-to-potato-lobby/1

Minister should not give in to potato lobby
Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on January 30, 2014
By Roger Gordon (Letter of the Day)

Our Minister of the Environment has shown poor leadership, not to mention patronizing attitude, by inviting the industry-inspired potato lobby group to educate Islanders on the merits of deep-water wells for irrigation purposes.
Now, Gary Linkletter has started this education remit with a treatise (Guardian, 25 Jan. – Guest Opinion) that attempts to explain the case for allowing corporate farming to access this precious water source by citing in the name of science conclusions from a government report. Is this the same report that the minister said would not be made available to the public, because it “was sent to me?”
So, it is hidden science. It is also science that obfuscates rather than clarifies. Mr. Linkletter makes no distinction between the shallower aquifers currently in public use and the deep-water source that would be accessed. We are given no information on the methodology used to form the conclusions. Respected environmental scientist Daryl Guignion believes there is insufficient scientific knowledge about the size and replenishment rate of the deep-water source to warrant lifting the moratorium. I agree.
Mr. Linkletter makes no mention of the quality of the deep water that he and his group would like to access. And for good reason.
The mindset of the agro sector toward industrial-scale production of potatoes, a low-value farm gate crop, has resulted in pesticide contamination of our rivers as well as high nitrate levels in surface and ground waters. The 2008 provincial Commission on Nitrates in Groundwater reported that as of 2007, an astounding 17 per cent of private wells surveyed were above or close to the safety limit for nitrates.
Aside from the fact most of the water will be wasted through evaporation, irrigation of heavily contaminated fields will speed up the leaching of agro-chemicals through the soil into our drinking water supply. And we are the only province in Canada totally dependent on groundwater. What is needed is not more potatoes, more pesticides, more fertilizers, but fewer potatoes, a more diversified agro-economy, with less reliance on toxicants. Water is a resource that belongs to the people of the province, not a sector of it. The minister should just say no to this irresponsible request.

Roger Gordon, Stratford, is a retired biologist and former Dean of Science at UPEI

———-

And from Wendy Budgeon:
http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/Opinion/Letter-to-editor/2014-01-29/article-3595307/Debate-not-needed-on-deep-wells-issue/1

Debate not needed on deep wells issue
Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on January 29, 2014

Editor:
I am absolutely dismayed at the debate over deep-water wells. What is there to debate? Our province depends on groundwater for life. Our children and grandchildren will be in bigger need of it than we are now.
How can our government even consider bargaining away our future for a handful of spuds? I have listened to the rhetoric on both sides and believe strongly in no more deep-water wells.
The potato industry would have us believe the science supports them. The only study I am aware of is almost a decade old. We cannot mortgage our future on 10-year-old science. Ten years ago the City of Charlottetown would have told you there was no water problem. We now know differently. Todayʼs science would have a different outcome as well I bet.
Please make your opinions known. Please donʼt believe 10-year-old science. Please save our childrenʼs and grandchildrenʼs water.
If potato farmers need more water then maybe they should be looking at desalination plants. But they wonʼt. Itʼs too expensive and the government couldnʼt help so much. So maybe there needs to be a dialog about truly treasuring the land and water not just about increasing yields and money.
P.E.I. could be a world leader in farm practices . . . instead we are just followers of dollars. 

Wendy Budgeon,
Charlottetown

———-

And if you want to view the presentation from the Environment Department person given to the Federation of Agriculture last week, go here:

http://www.gov.pe.ca/environment/water-extraction

for a choice of the presentation on water extraction, the presentation with background slides, and the policy from the department.

February 6th, 2014

Today’s Guardian covers the involvement of lobbyists in the high capacity well issue.
Yesterday was a meeting of the Legislative Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry.  They were just supposed to plan the schedule for requests for presentations from groups concerned about high capacity wells.  It sounds like the PC Opposition (which is different then one of them first said) *did* meet with the lobbyists, but not Mr. Chris LeClair (Premier Ghiz’s former chief of staff).  The bolding is mine:
http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/News/Local/2014-02-05/article-3604792/Call-for-lobbyists-to-testify-leads-to-fiery-debate/1

Call for lobbyists to testify leads to fiery debate
by Teresa Wright
printed in The Guardian on February 6th, 2014
A fiery meeting of MLAs on the contentious issue of deep-water irrigation wells ended Wednesday with a majority vote against calling two politically connected lobbyists to testify.
Opposition MLA Colin LaVie wanted the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry to call the premierʼs former chief of staff, Chris LeClair, and former Liberal MLA Cynthia King to appear.
The two have been hired by the Potato Board and Cavendish Farms to co-ordinate meetings with as many provincial MLAs as possible to lobby in favour of lifting the current moratorium on irrigation wells.
LaVieʼs request led to a heated exchange between government and Opposition MLAs Wednesday, especially when it came to light LeClair did not attend meetings with the Tory caucus or with Independent MLA Olive Crane, but did atend meetings with Liberal MLAs.
“They didnʼt see fit to attend our (meeting). Why?” said Opposition MLA James Aylward.
“I think this committee, Islanders in general, deserve to know what these lobbyists are doing, what their agenda is.”
Liberal backbencher Kathleen Casey argued calling the P.E.I. Potato Board to the committee would suffice, since the board was one of the parties that engaged LeClair.
Liberal MLA Pat Murphy accused the Tories of playing politics on the issue of deep-water wells, which he said is a “very important issue to the province.”
But Opposition Leader Steven Myers frequently interrupted them.
“He was the premierʼs right-hand-man, heʼs lobbying on behalf of the potato industry, letʼs have him here,” he said.
“Does having Chris LeClair involved with this give whoever it is thatʼs lobbying for deep water wells… a direct line to the decision maker of this province. Thatʼs the question.
“It just screams political interference. I donʼt know why you wouldnʼt want to know if someone is trying to directly influence the premier.”
The only Liberal MLA who supported the idea of calling the two to testify was Buck Watts, who said he felt it was the only way they could clarify their roles and not continue to polarize the committee.
“After hearing the way this meeting is starting out, I think we should bring Cynthia King and Chris LeClair in to clear their name and find out exactly what they were doing, why they were doing it… who were they hired by, who were they paid by, whatʼs their reason for doing it,” Watts said.
“Weʼre going to be into a bloody mess all through if we donʼt get this straightened out off the bat, get this cleaned up, get this off the plate.”
But in the end, the request was denied in a vote of 4-3, with Watts voting with LaVie and Aylward. Casey, Murphy, Bush Dumville and Hal Perry defeated the motion.
After the meeting, LaVie said he believes the Liberals on the committee were the ones playing politics.
“Itʼs another sign theyʼve got something to hide,” he said.
“Theyʼre making a political issue out of it, and they said in the meeting they didnʼt want to make it political – then put them at the table. Let us hear it.”
The committee did, however agree to LaVieʼs request to call Environment Minister Janice Sherry to appear. The committee will further be delving into the hot-button issue of deep well irrigation for the next two months, with weekly meetings planned until the end of March.
After that, public consultations will be held to ensure all Islanders have the chance to voice their opinions.

———-

And finally, in a sea of well-crafted, heartfelt letters about this high capacity well issue, this evocative one:

http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/Opinion/Letter-to-editor/2014-02-05/article-3603960/Using-more-water-won%26rsquo%3Bt-help-matters/1

Using more water wonʼt help matters
Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on February 05, 2014

Editor:
More water, more potatoes, more environmental degradation.
Since the science says P.E.I.ʼs deep- water supply can grow more potatoes, whatʼs the guarantee it will be done more safely to enhance the environment?
And why hasnʼt science disproven the theory that what weʼre growing and how weʼre growing it may be connected to P.E.I.ʼs high cancer rate?
Weʼve been told for years that growing more potatoes, like catching more lobsters, results in lower prices in the marketplace where we are a mere drop in the bucket, compared to Idaho and Western Canada where soils are rich and deep.
Using more water wonʼt change farming methods. Choosing to use more water to mitigate poor farming practices wonʼt work to enhance worn out soil, and improve the environment everyone shares.
Letʼs ask some basic questions here of our government or any other party that wants to form one:
– How will pumping more water to grow 30,000 more acres of potatoes stop environmental degradation?
– How will 30,000 acres more make P.E.I. a better place to be in 2103 when weʼre all gone and weʼve left the mess to families following us?
– What ever happened to the Liberal philosophy of Canadaʼs youngest premier in 1966 who said “the faster we go, the more behinder weʼll get”? Alex Campbell was 32 and just last month Premier Robert Ghiz turned 40. I think our premier needs to talk with Alex soon about a vision that hasnʼt become a reality to make P.E.I. stronger, and a better place to live.
We must become more than just a province where former Islanders come home to retire and then die, in a dying environment.
In this small Island heaven, weʼve got to get our furrows “straighter” before we “drift” any further.
Lorne Yeo,
Argyle Shore

February 4th, 2014

More about the high capacity wells from yesterday and Monday:

from Compass Monday night, about 6:30 into the broadcast
http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Canada/PEI/ID/2434672392/
The executive director of the Federation of Agriculture said a resolution passed at their AGM, saying to lift the ban on these wells only if the scientific data shows that there would not affect water quantity or quality.
They want to see all the studies laid out, and meet with people who have done the work.

The Province says all the science is on the website.
———-

In yesterday’s Guardian, this news story on the front page (copied at the end with my bolding):
http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/News/Local/2014-02-04/article-3602055/Deep-water-wells-in-provinces-hands/1

and here is one of the many outstanding commentary pieces (bolding mine), on the editorial page, by biologists Daryl Guignion and Ian MacQuarrie:

Industry reports of deep-water wells still “opinion, not science.”
http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/Opinion/Letter-to-editor/2014-02-04/article-3602164/Industry-reports-on-deep-water-wells-still-%26lsquo%3Bopinion%2C-not-science%26rsquo%3B/1

The Islandʼs potato industry has prepared a position paper designed to support its request for more access to our groundwater for irrigation. We believe the industryʼs claims need a closer look.
The industry says its competitors — growers in regions such as Washington and Idaho — produce more potatoes per acre than we can here. They say that yields in the western U.S. are increasing annually, and that irrigation is the key to increasing local yields and making P.E.I. competitive with these regions.
The fact is places like Washington and Idaho have many competitive advantages such as longer growing seasons and much deeper topsoil than we have on P.E.I. Irrigation will not change this. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and others have shown that soil quality, especially organic matter, is the key factor in productivity. Because of the land management choices made by P.E.I.ʼs potato industry, our soil quality has gotten worse Island-wide and this decline continues.
The industry says science shows that lifting the moratorium and allowing more irrigation would only use a tiny fraction of the groundwater recharge and would not overburden natural groundwater resources.
The fact is there is as yet no verified science on this. Industry is quoting unpublished and unreviewed reports from a government department and one hired consultant. This is opinion, not science.
Further, it is the opinion of a small group within government. Other government staff — those with expertise in fish, wildlife and wetlands, for example — have not been consulted. Until these reports are released to the public and peer-reviewed by independent experts, they should not be regarded as science.
The industry says additional irrigation would not affect residential or commercial use of groundwater.
The fact is potato production is already affecting Islandersʼ water and additional irrigation could make this worse. In heavily farmed areas of the province — places such as Albany, Borden-Carleton, Lower Freetown, Middleton and Mount Royal, for example — many private wells have nitrate levels higher than Health Canadaʼs guideline.
This nitrate is from chemical fertilizer used by agriculture, and the contamination is getting worse across P.E.I. Additionally, pumping irrigation water from deep underground can pull contaminated water from nearer the surface into the deeper levels. In the short term, homeowners can dig (and pay for) deeper wells. As contamination moves into deeper levels, even that may no longer work.
The industry says irrigation will produce healthier potatoes that require less fertilizer and pesticides. It says that potato growers understand the need to be conscientious stewards of the land and are committed to environmental sustainability.
The fact is past behaviour predicts future behaviour. Consider the potato industryʼs track record of “conscientious stewardship” and “environmental sustainability:”
– Soil erosion rates are more than 10 times higher than those deemed acceptable for agricultural land. More than 60,000 truckloads are lost from P.E.I. farmland into our streams and rivers every year and the situation is not improving.
– Nitrate — chemical fertilizer from farmland — contaminates the majority of private wells on P.E.I., with many above the accepted Canadian drinking water guidelines. This contamination worsens each year.
– Excessive sea lettuce — caused by nitrates — chokes many bays and estuaries, with direct economic impacts on P.E.I.ʼs shellfish and other industries. The stinking conditions that this situation creates are happening earlier and in more areas each year.
– More than 50 fish kills have been reported across P.E.I., including two in the past year. Despite annual Government and industry statements that fish kills are unacceptable, they continue.
– Opposition to action that would address these problems. P.E.I.ʼs potato industry has consistently refused to accept responsibility for these issues.
It is clear that this denial of responsibility continues: their position paper clearly states that industry seeks increased access to water with no new regulatory restrictions beyond the Agricultural Crop Rotation Act. It has been publically reported that many potato producers do not even comply with this Act at present.
We call on government to implement the following before making a decision on industryʼs request:
– Open up governmentʼs opinion on water availability to peer review. This would include the water extraction policy and the models used to develop it.
– Develop a Water Policy for Prince Edward Island that clearly outlines how clean and high-quality water will be provided for current and future generations. Development of this policy requires public consultation.
– Determine and make public the true economic impact of the potato industry on P.E.I. This includes its economic contributions, as well as the clean-up costs currently borne by the public, as well as subsidies and rebates paid to it by taxpayers.
– Establish an Action Group to develop a new Agricultural Strategy which focuses on true economic, social and environmental sustainability.
Daryl Guignion and Ian MacQuarrie are award-winning biologists with many decades of experience in soil, water and ecology.

Deep-water wells in province’s hands
by Steve Sharratt
published on Tuesday, February 4th in The Guardian
A recommendation to lift the current moratorium on deep-water wells is headed to government following unanimous support by the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture.
The resolution by the largest agricultural organization in the province was approved in a closed-door session Friday afternoon and will seek the removal of a 10-year-old moratorium on deep-water wells for agricultural irrigation.
However, the resolution is two-fold, and insists the moratorium removal is based on quality science and a significant water management program to monitor the resource.
“The members gave support to the lifting of the moratorium for supplemental irrigation purposes provided the Department of Environment
has the science to back such a step,ʼʼ said P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture executive director John Jamieson. “Our members recognize water is a public resource and we are all concerned about groundwater.”
Controversy has spiked over the issue of providing permits to farmers who are seeking supplemental irrigation wells to make up for a lack of summer rainfall.
Jamieson said irrigation isnʼt exclusive to potato farms and is sought by those in other horticultural activities from blueberries to flowers.
“Letʼs keep in mind that these irrigation wells arenʼt going to be turned on from May until harvest,ʼʼ he said. “The irrigation is only needed for the few dry spots during the growing season.”
Last year, a lack of rainfall in the central areas of the province impacted everything from carrots to potatoes and farmers say opportunities to irrigate during those dry spells would have prevented crop loss.
The federation annual meeting held Friday heard from provincial watershed manager Bruce Raymond, who said there was ample water supply on P.E.I. and adequate recharge rates as well. However, despite strong water levels, Raymond said all regions of the province could experience different impacts depending on the amount of water extracted.
“The federation resolution also insists that a solid water-extraction policy is implemented and controls where wells are dug and how much is taken …it would have to be resourced managed,ʼʼ said Jamieson.
The resolution, along with others, was approved during a closed-door session of the meeting. In the past, federation resolutions have always been debated in an open session during the annual meeting.

February 1st, 2014

The concerns about lifting a ban on high capacity wells keeps pouring into our public forums.  The papers are full of excellent letters practically each day.   It would seem incredibly un-smart if a government didn’t pay attention to the tenor of public opinion as exemplified in our dear GuardianJournal-Pioneer,and Graphics.  Unfortunately, as with Plan B, government appears either not paying attention to this legitimate mode of public communication**,  or purposing downplaying people’s opinions.
**in what seemed like a bit of a Sarah Palin moment, my MLA admitted last year that she often didn’t read the paper.

Your letters definitely get the *public* thinking.

The Guardian
letters@theguardian.pe.ca

The Eastern (and West Prince) Graphic
editor@peicanada.com
The Journal-Pioneer

On last night’s CBC Compass, reporter John Jeffery went to the Federation of Agriculture annual general meeting and summarized it pretty well, with his story about 6:20 into the broadcast.
http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Canada/PEI/ID/2434238635/
The membership heard from Bruce Raymond of the Department of the Environment who was on CBC Radio early Thursday, saying The Science says there is plenty of water if we stay within the policy.

The Department of the Environment (to their credit) Friday placed what is likely Mr. Raymond’s powerpoint presentation on this page.  The second choice has the “slides” with additional background information, and the third is the actual policy.  (Just a note that a policy is not the same as legislated “Water Act”, a related issue.)
http://www.gov.pe.ca/environment/water-extraction
If you have time to poke around in it this weekend.

The Federation did not make any sort of public statement on the issue of high capacity wells.

Agriculture Minister George Webster did say, “Don’t look at your own farm gate. Look at the Big Picture.”  A statement most would agree with.

From Rob MacLean, blueberry farmer, among other things, of Lewes:
http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/Opinion/Letter-to-editor/2014-01-29/article-3595303/No-reason-yet-to-trust-industry/1

No reason yet to trust industry
Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on January 29, 2014

Editor:
If governments and the potato industry havenʼt gotten soil conservation right, why should we believe theyʼre competent to manage our common water supply?
Science is very clear that minimizing erosion by maintaining soil organic matter of at least three percent is what we should do and that a crop rotation of at least three years is the way to do it. We canʼt plead ignorance. For decades, weʼve had commissions, round tables, teaching sessions and grants encouraging this goal.
In 2002, we even passed a law mandating crop rotations. The governmentʼs own website says one purpose of the Crop Rotation Act is “to maintain and improve ground and surface water quality . . .” So, how are we doing?
According to the Report of the Commission on the Lands Protection Act (p.28), from about 2001 to 2008 organic matter dropped Island-wide. At the start of the period, roughly two-thirds of the samples met the minimum level of three per cent. By 2008, only half were making the grade. Thatʼs not all. The same report (page 28 again) says fully one in four potato farms are not in compliance with the Crop Rotation Act. In other words, theyʼre breaking the law.
Historically, governments have been reluctant to prosecute offenders under the Crop Rotation Act. Maybe it seems like piling on to someone who already has plenty of troubles. Whatever the reason, going easy on offenders has the unintended consequence of discrediting the entire potato industry in the eyes of the public.
Learning the science of the water under our feet is just the beginning of the deep-well conversation. Our history with soil conservation proves that we have a lot to learn about putting environmental knowledge into practice. Until we do, thereʼs no reason to believe the potato industry can be trusted with our water.
Rob MacLean,
Lewes
———-

February 2nd, 2014

Some random notes, perhaps good for reading with a warm cup of something on a wet Sunday:

Fracking in Noca Scotia:
A Nova Scotia company says it is able to clean up fracking waste water.
Is this the water used to frack the well, then pumped out and in holding structures, or the water and chemicals that leaks through any breakdown in the concrete pipes?  (I think I know the answer.)
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/fracking-waste-can-be-cleaned-for-disposal-minister-1.2518765

As of right now, Nova Scotia is not allowing fracking, but the new government has called for a review, which is evaluated here:
http://nofrac.wordpress.com/
———–

Regarding PEI and high capacity wells:
Yesterday’s Guardian had a story about the presentation on groundwater by the Department of Environment’s Bruce Raymond at the Federation of Agriculture’s AGM Friday, and Agriculture Minister Webster’s comments (article printed further down this e-mail):
http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/News/Local/2014-02-01/rticle-3599115/Deep-water-well-issue-may-go-to-public-consultation/1

Someone wrote me:
“It would appear that Government has ripped the (Educate the Public on the Wells) File back from the Potato Board.

The press did not note any Potato Board presentations at the Federation of Agriculture meeting. 
Government is now doing the Full Sale mode (including a timely little “Environmental Update” tucked into this morning’s Guardian).
It seems as though they are using the road-tested “Announce and Defend” template, sans Announcement.
Sherry has been muzzled as well, with the Premier stepping up to take the helm.
The Good News is that both Ghiz and Webster are not optimistic about getting Permits on-stream this season.
They both are talking about some form of public consultation.
This to me indicates that some Time has been bought.”

———-

Deep water well issue may go to public consultation

by Steve Sharratt
Published in The Guardian on February 1, 2014

He’s not ruling it out but Agriculture Minister George Webster says the lifting of the deep water well moratorium and issuing new permits this year could be a stretch.

But that all might depend on the opinion of Islanders.

Webster confirmed at the annual meeting of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture Friday in Charlottetown that a process is forthcoming to engage the general public and gather opinion on the controversial issue.

A moratorium on deep water wells was established 10 years ago and some potato growers are pressing the government to lift the ban and allow some new permits to be acquired this year. There are already 35 deep water wells grandfathered into the regulations, and Webster said there have been no adverse effects recorded from those wells.

“We need much more consultation with the public so they are informed,’’ he told The Guardian in an interview. “We will likely be told here today that there is adequate water available, but we want the public to be able to air opinion and hear the science.”

Watershed management director Bruce Raymond of the Department of Environment was one of the highlights at the farm meeting when he identified that — while every region is different — P.E.I. is mostly blessed with plenty of water and at a regular recharge rate.

“It works out to the equivalent of 154 Olympic size swimming pools for every square kilometre,’’ he told a roomful of farmers at the Confederation Centre of the Arts. “That’s about 70 times more than we currently use across the province.”

Raymond wasn’t suggesting there was so much water that irrigation permits should be handed out carte blanche, but he confirmed that the entire province only uses seven per cent (for everything) of the 35 per cent of the current water supply readily available.

The $1 billion dollar potato industry is looking to irrigate about 30,000 additional acres and estimates it would only take an additional one per cent of water. Raymond said the “math” hadn’t been finalized, but estimated that was a low ball figure.

“We use about seven per cent of the available level (top of the aquifer) so there is still quite a bit of water,’’ he said.

Webster said Stratford is currently using almost 90 per cent of its current water supply and irrigation permits would not be entertained from that region, but he confirmed there were certain parts of the province where the water was more than plentiful.

The minister said he expects full consultations with the public coming soon and before any decision is made by government.

“This year might be a stretch but I’m not ruling it out or saying it’s going to happen. Some could be doable, but not from coast to coast to coast.”

Opposition Leader Steven Myers attended the presentations on deep water wells and climate change and insisted public consultation was necessary.

“I won’t oppose a decision based on good science,’’ he said. “But there’s no need to rush on making a good decision. I’m asking the government to put everything on the table so we can all decide.”

 

January 31st, 2014

The PEI Federation of Agriculture is meeting today for its Annual General Meeting.

One of items is a presentation on groundwater and high capacity wells from someone from the Department of Environment, who has said the science supports the ability of Island groundwater to have “dozens and dozens and dozens” of high capacity wells (CBC Radio, yesterday morning after 6AM).  There is a resolution for government presumably about lifting the ban on these wells.

Here is a letter from the one of the watershed groups in Wednesday’s Guardian:
http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/Opinion/Letter-to-editor/2014-01-29/article-3595382/Why-should-we-support-request-where-resource-put-further-at-risk%3F/1

Why should we support request where resource put further at risk?
Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on January 29, 2014
Commentary by Mike Durant

The P.E.I. Potato Board and Cavendish Farms are asking that the moratorium on high-capacity groundwater extractions be lifted. Concerned citizens, scientists and the National Farmers Union have presented their own arguments against such action. We now learn that ex-politicians and ex-civil servants have been hired to lobby every MLA on the potato industryʼs behalf, moving the debate away from objective science and into the political realm.
The Central Queens Wildlife Federation feels that all Islanders should understand the facts of this important debate. We have sent this fact sheet to every MLA on future Islandersʼ behalf.
Did you know? The new Water Extraction Permitting Policy allows 100 metres of headwater streams to dry up entirely during the low-flow time of the year when groundwater makes up all or most of stream flow. As the flows are reduced, the pathway for water shrinks in from the banks of the river, further eliminating the downstream edge habitat that is so critical for young fishes and other aquatic life. Young fish forced into mid-stream are eaten by larger fish, reducing and potentially eliminating future generations of the population. Where will the fish come from to sustain these populations?
Did you know? There is a lag time for recovery of groundwater loss from extraction. It may be many weeks before the affected stream will return to normal levels. If this is very late in the summer, the water level may not recover until spring. Island rivers are already being impacted by low water levels and low rates of recharge in recent years, evident from Environment Canada monitoring. Will recharge rates return to the historical rates upon which the provincial extraction permitting policy appears to be based? How much will climate change affect recharge in future years?
Did you know? This issue is not just about the quantity of groundwater available to people and nature, it is also about the quality of that water. When wells pump water up to the surface for our use, it creates pressure underground that pulls water toward the well from the surrounding soil and rock.
On the Island, that means water from closer to the surface will be pulled down to the depth of deep-water wells. Water closer to the surface has higher concentrations of nitrate —nitrogen. It also contains other fertilizer components like phosphorus and water-soluble forms of pesticides. In the process of extracting water from greater depths, we will further contaminate our deepwater aquifer. What consequences will this have to the water discharging to our estuaries, and the frequency of anoxic events ?
Did you know? The guideline for acceptable levels of nitrate-nitrogen in drinking water is a concentration of 10 mg/L, for protection of aquatic life it is 2.9 mg/L. Nitrate concentrations indicating ʻpristineʼ water conditions on the Island are in the range of 0.5 -1.0 mg/L. Average nitrate values for the Wilmot, Dunk and Mill Rivers in 2008/2009 exceeded 7.1, 4.5 and 3.0 mg/L, high enough to produce anoxic events. When drinking water values climb, the only recourse for the well owner to reduce the nitrate concentration is to either install a reverse osmosis filtration system ($1,500) or dig a deeper well ($3,000). There are roughly 30,000 approved cottage lots on the Island. In some locations, they may be faced with two choices: dig a shallow well with high nitrate-nitrogen concentrations or dig a deeper well with saltwater intrusion. If someoneʼs well goes dry or is contaminated, will the potato industry be compensating them? How many Islanders can afford to front these costs themselves?  
Did you know? While the industry lobby is arguing that supplemental irrigation will improve potato yields and make Island growers and processors more competitive, the main advantages enjoyed by this industry in other regions are superior quality soils and longer growing seasons. Irrigation will not affect either of these factors. Soil quality monitoring by the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture and Forestry has shown that the benchmark three-year crop rotation does not prevent soil organic matter from decreasing year after year. A minimum of a four-year crop rotation with two years in forage is required to maintain organic matter in the soil. Why is organic matter important? Because it holds water! You canʼt retain water at the soil surface for plant uptake if youʼre growing your crop in sand. The potato industry has squandered their topsoil and soil organic matter for decades by operating in a manner that is not sustainable. Supplemental irrigation is not a cure for these harmful practices. If we continue in this fashion, the data shows that our soils will become inert and our groundwater unsuitable for animal or human consumption. How many more years will it really give the industry? Who will benefit in the long run from this initiative — potato producers or just the processors?
Yes, the potato industry on the Island has challenges and yes, they need to take a hard look at the long-term sustainability of their practices. But why should the public be asked to support an initiative where the longevity of the benefits to the industry are questionable and where a public resource is further put at risk?
The Island is in desperate need of strong policy on land and resource use. While the current government works on a land use policy, there is no indication that this will sufficiently protect our ground and surface waters from over-exploitation. We need a provincial water policy, similar to other provinces, which eliminates the potential for strong lobby groups with deep pockets to override what is in the best interest of Islanders.
Mike Durant is a board member of the Central Queens Wildlife Federation and West River Watershed Project.
———-
The irony is that the photo The Guardian presumably plucked from its files to illustrate the letter is from a few years back and shows the current executive director of the Federation of Agriculture flyfishing on the West River.