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.

1. The “Purpose and goals” section of the draft Water Act is important but does not create rights.  A separate provision is needed in the Act to acknowledge and enshrine the right of Islanders to a clean and adequate supply of water.  We suggest, “The peoples of PEI have the right to affordable water, sufficient in quality and quantity for human and ecosystem sustainability. This includes the inherent water rights of the indigenous people of PEI.”

2. The section dealing with the ban on fracking appears to be good news, but the clauses which follow can circumvent the ban if the Minister along with the Cabinet believe it is in “the public interest”, to do so with no requirement for public consultation. Therefore, the offending s. 19 (2) and (3) should be deleted from the draft.

3. We strongly suggest an amendment to section 2(c) to highlight and ensure the success of the partnership between all stakeholders. We suggest it read:
(c) Water is a finite resource, the management of which requires transparency of all information related to water and meaningful public participation to ensure its long-term sustainability and availability.

4. The “polluter pays” principle, “precautionary principle” and “intergenerational equity” are vaguely alluded to in the Bill but it is important to actually use the words if the province is indeed committed to these principles as goals. Such incorporation allows the province to incorporate best practices related to these evolving concepts and avail itself of the jurisprudence that helps interpret (and we hope further) these laudable goals.

5. In section 18(2)(a), the content of the registry of information available to the public is vague, and should include “applications and approvals, orders and directives and other information regarding an application.” In addition, the registry should be accessible to all Islanders and be presented in a timely manner.

6. Sustainability and conservation are not seen in the Act as primary goals.  For instance, municipalities can exceed the withdrawal limits indefinitely (s.36(b)) without penalty. There is nothing in the Act that requires the municipalities to incorporate conservation measures, nor are they given a timeline to comply with limits. This should change. It is unacceptable to propose legislation that essentially allows municipalities to operate outside the law.

7. The moratorium on high capacity wells should be specifically included in the legislation.  It was a key component of many presenters’ requests, as was concern about nitrates, and was the impetus for the development of the Water Act.  After the public review a chart, provided by Government, listed the concerns of Islanders based on the strength of public input. It clearly showed overwhelming support for the moratorium.  Again, we should require sustainable practices that do no harm to the environment when there is any water extraction.  It’s not about “if” the ban can be lifted but “why” does it need to be? Who benefits? Would lifting the moratorium reflect the priority that Islanders place on the protection of our underground water resources? Until these and other relevant questions are definitively answered the moratorium should remain and be specifically articulated in the 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.

The Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water has been a part of this process since the initial push for a new Act. We believe that the Act must clearly state that the moratorium on high capacity wells will remain in place until we have much more scientific certainty and that any decision to change the status quo will first require an inclusive public process that addresses a wide variety of relevant issues.

Just looking at one narrow aspect of whether water is available to be given away to support industrial potato production, more golf courses, or urban areas that exceed their sustainable water limits ignores many other concerns that also need to be addressed. These include the following:

Do Islanders really want an even more industrialized system of potato production, with fewer and fewer farmers and larger and larger farms? We’ve been heading in this direction for decades and it has resulted in a great deal of damage to the environment. Should we not instead be looking at ways to increase organic matter in the soil that will both store carbon and allow the land to hold more water, thereby reducing soil erosion and pesticide run-off?

It would be wiser to look at how to improve our soils, rebuild our hedgerows and windbreaks, and extend the rotation of row crops, instead of increasing pressure on our already overworked Island soil and water. Our rivers and estuaries are already overburdened – we need to address these issues, not take steps that might lead to more harm.

We also need to know much more about the ecology of our waterways and the wildlife that are dependent on these important areas. The fish kills do not only harm fish – they kill shellfish, insects, birds and essential micro-organisms as well. Will greatly increased water extraction result in more risk to Island wildlife and ecosystems?

These answers will not be easy to come by. We have done little monitoring of the impacts of existing high capacity wells, and so have missed a golden opportunity to learn from our actions. Impacts might not show up right away, especially since we still have so much to learn.

As well as lack of contextual and comparative analysis, there is concern that long term considerations and analysis are also missing. Climate change may well bring about changes in hydrological cycles. There is also concern over the sustainability of exporting of large amounts of water embedded in potatoes. These are long-term considerations where the precautionary principle needs to be recognized, as we are making decisions for the next seven generations as our Mi’kmaq and other Indigenous leaders would advise us all.

We must make thoughtful, long-term decisions about water. That is what Islanders overwhelmingly asked for when making submissions to the extensive consultations around the Water Act.

A true moratorium on high capacity wells should be included in the Water Act for two reasons: first, to ensure that the clearly expressed wish of the majority of Islanders is respected and second, to mandate that any change to the status quo will only be undertaken after open and transparent debate among our lawmakers with meaningful participation by interested Islanders. And in the question of the protection of our water and its use, this means everyone.

 

 

Don Mazer Comments on the Draft Water Act

“The clearest evidence of the failure of this Act to protect Untitledin Winter River is in the creation of Municipal Water Supply Area. And most troubling of all is Section 35(b), that gives the minister the authority to permit municipalities to exceed the limits on water extraction permitted by the Act, with neither reasons, nor time limits –perhaps this will be in the regulations. In my earlier brief I talked about the impacts of big interests, like municipalities and corporations which the government would be reluctant to regulate. This is clear example of this influence.
This is a disturbing and perplexing provision. It seems to reflect how government will try to balance the human demand for water with the need for water for healthy ecosystems and fish life. It indicates a willingness to not protect some waterways if the City requires the water. Perhaps, ‘you just can’t protect them all.’ Continue reading “Don Mazer Comments on the Draft Water Act”

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

Coalition Protests Approval of Four High Capacity Wells

 

July 19, 2016

Minister Robert Mitchell,

Department of Communities, Land and the Environment

Box 2000, Charlottetown, PE C1A 7N8

Dear Minister Mitchell:

The Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water has serious concerns about the approval of the Aqua Bounty application to expand their operations in Rollo Bay, and the issuing of permits for the operation of four high capacity wells on June 17.

We regard approval of this application as a breach of faith, an action that is in direct contradiction to the goals and values of the thoughtful consultation process conducted by your department through the Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) in the development of the Water Act. The major impetus for developing a Water Act was the widely shared concern about the possibility of lifting the existing moratorium on high capacity wells for agriculture. This concern was at the heart of numerous high quality presentations made to the EAC. This is exactly the kind of issue that a Water Act is intended to deal with.

Common to many of these presentations, and evidenced in the EAC report, was the importance of transparent processes and meaningful community engagement on water issues. The approval of the Aqua Bounty application has failed to meet your own standards of transparency and engagement reflected in consultations about the Water Act.

The EAC report recommends that the province should:

  • Ensure transparency on status of our water and the decision-making process that affects that status
  • Consolidate and define the process for approval/rejection and regulation of high capacity wells
  • Tailor water usage to respective watersheds and develop a watershed budget and water allocation system in consultation with local advisory groups, communities and municipalities.

But with Aqua Bounty, we saw a ‘consultation process’ that was inadequate from the beginning.

  • Only a single notice for one public meeting was published on the back pages of the Guardian. Most concerned groups did not see that notice and therefore did not attend. Level 2 Public Consultations require “The meeting must be properly advertised by the proponent in the Guardian, as well as the local newspaper, for 6 consecutive days.”
  • The Coalition and other environmental organizations sent letters of concern to the provincial government. Beyond acknowledgement of the receipt of these letters, we did not receive any indication that our concerns were addressed.
  • Any public input that may have been received was not accessible: we did not see our letters of concern posted on your department’s website.
  • The Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water and other concerned groups did not receive notification or invitation to a public meeting to provide meaningful input from key environmental stakeholders.

While this failure of process is very disturbing to us, the most startling and contradictory development is the issuing of permits for high capacity wells that allows the pumping of almost two million gallons of water a day to meet the needs of Aqua Bounty. This quantity is about half of the water used by the municipality of Charlottetown to meet the needs of 30,000 residents, its businesses, industries and institutions. The problems resulting from this level of extraction on the Winter River watershed are widely known, a result of the current policies and regulations that are recognized as inadequate and outdated by your own department and by the EAC.

How can you then issue permits based upon policies and regulations requiring the kind of change a Water Act would bring?

It should not matter if these are new wells or existing wells to be reactivated. The fact that these wells are for aquaculture and not agriculture seems like a minor distinction. We can only conclude that this was an expedited bi-lateral negotiation between your department and Aqua Bounty, designed to bypass the public and the development of a Water Act. Why was the approval of this application regarded as so urgent that it could not await the development of the needed policies for water use on PEI that we thought we were collectively working toward?

We are concerned and disturbed by your decision. But we are also disappointed. Up to this point, you have set a high standard for openness to consultation, transparency and responsiveness to community concerns in your tenure as Environment Minister. The processes of consultation for the Water Act reflects this high standard.

We are left with these questions:

1) Isn’t the issue of the approval of high capacity wells one of the key elements that a Water Act should address?

2) If this application process is indicative of current water governance by the province, are we to assume that selected new applicants will have access to the same process and get approval before we see a new Water Act?

3) Will all existing permit holders (now including Aqua Bounty and others that may be approved prior to the new Water Act) have to be in compliance with the regulatory component of the water act, or will there be a grandfather clause that allows existing users to use water as they always have?

The Aqua bounty permit raises other important questions about grandfather clauses. These wells will greatly increase the value of this or any business granted those rights and reflect a huge handover of public resources for private profit and economic benefit.

4) Are these permits/rights granted in perpetuity?

5) Could those rights be transferred in the sale of the business?

6) Could they be retained or re-sold separately by private or corporate entities should the business fail?

7) Can unused capacity be sold to another user?

8) Can water be transferred to another development?

9) Are these rights now property that can be transferred to heirs of the owners?

There needs to be significant action and response to public concerns to restore faith in the legitimacy of this process. The Aqua Bounty assessment process is inconsistent with the consultation values you have encouraged around the Water Act and which resulted in the sincere engagement of so many members of the PEI environmental community.

We believe it is important for you to make a full and public statement indicating your justifications for this decision and addressing its inconsistencies with the consultation values you have supported. We would like there to be an appeal process that would make it possible for you to rescind the permits that you expedited.

We are hopeful that you can take actions that can restore our faith and affirm the legitimacy of the process of developing the Water Act. Our Coalition includes a broad range of environmental and social justice groups from across PEI. We have been active and committed contributors to the consultations up to this point. It is disheartening to see fundamental values so easily bypassed.

Sincerely,

Catherine O’Brien, Don Mazer, Gary Schneider

The Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water

 

Groundwater Not as Renewable as Thought, Study Finds

By Andrew Nikiforuk, m.thetyee.ca

Groundwater, the globe’s most dependable water insurance system, is not as renewable as researchers once thought and its availability varies greatly around the world.
A new study published in the science journal Nature GeoScience found that just six per cent of the groundwater in the upper two kilometres of the Earth’s crust is actually renewed over a human lifetime.
As a consequence, the vast majority of groundwater now being consumed at a rapid rate by agriculture, human communities and the oil and gas industry took hundreds, thousands or even millions of years to collect in the earth. (Some groundwater in Canada is more than a billion years old.)
”It begs the question of what is renewable in terms of groundwater,” said hydrologist Tom Gleeson at the University of Victoria and one of the paper’s authors. ”When we talk about groundwater, it can be 100, 1,000 or 10,000 years old and it was all at some time precipitation. But it all comes down to timescale.”
Scientists classify groundwater, the water that supplies aquifers and wells, as ”young” or ”modern” if it has seeped and pooled in the earth for only 25 to 100 years. It is generally more readily available and of better quality than old or ancient groundwater and is more vulnerable to contamination.
The study, which used extensive computer modelling, mapped the extent of young groundwater around the world by tracking tritium, a radioactive tracer, in thousands of groundwater samples from around the world.
Tritium is a byproduct of atmospheric nuclear testing during the 1950s and 1960s. The element fell to the ground in rainwater and is now a standard measurement for mapping young groundwater.
According to Gleeson and his collaborators, all the world’s young groundwater, if pumped and poured over the planet, would make a three-metre-deep pool, roughly the height of a basketball net.
In contrast, the remaining 94 per cent of the world’s groundwater, which is largely brackish, if pumped from depths of two kilometres would create a 180-metre flood on Earth, about the height of the Calgary Tower.
The report concluded that ”groundwater replenished over a human lifetime of 25 to 100 years is a finite, limited resource with a spatially heterogeneous distribution dependent on geographic, geologic and hydrologic conditions.”
”The results are a call to better manage and protect the resource,” said Gleeson. ”They show where groundwater is renewable and where it is most vulnerable to contamination and climate change.” Not surprisingly, young or modern groundwater is the most susceptible to both.
Canadian monitoring lacks: expert
Groundwater supports a critical part of the Canadian economy.
Approximately 80 per cent of the rural population and 43 per cent of the nation’s agricultural productivity depend on groundwater. Groundwater also provides industry, including the water-intensive oil and gas sector, with 14 per cent of its water needs.
Yet federal researchers admit that they know relatively little about groundwater availability, quality and behaviour in Canada.
A 2011 report by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, a federal agency closed by the Harper government, noted that information ”on groundwater supplies is largely absent and is needed because of its link to many of Canada’s surface water sources.”
To date, Natural Resources Canada has mapped 19 of the nation’s so-called ”key” 30 aquifers. It doesn’t expect to complete its mapping until 2025.
Meanwhile, mining projects such as hydraulic fracturing in northern British Columbia and bitumen mining in northern Albertan could contaminate extensive groundwater supplies with stray gas, salt water, bitumen or other hydrocarbons.
John Cherry, the nation’s leading expert on groundwater contamination, has repeatedly warned that provincial governments have failed to set up rigorous groundwater monitoring programs in regions being fracked by the oil and gas industry in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
”From my hydrogeological perspective, I view shale gas development as a big experiment for which we have minimal scientific basis for predicting the outcome or the impacts of stray gas on groundwater quality,” he said.
Recent studies have shown that the fracking industry can violate aquifers, cause minor earthquakes and aggravate the leakage of stray methane from aging oil and gas wells by rattling existing oil and gas infrastructure.
A recent Stanford study, for example, found that the fracking of oil and gas less than a mile from aquifers or the Earth’s surface now takes place across North America with few restrictions, posing increased risk for drinking water supplies.
”We Canadians are leaders in many areas of groundwater science, but we are at the bottom of the ranking of countries that use modern science in or for groundwater mapping and protection,” Cherry said.
World aquifers stressed: NASA
Earlier this year, NASA scientists reported that the human economy was rapidly mining nearly one-third of the world’s largest aquifers even though researchers know little about how much water remains in them.
The NASA study found that 13 of the planet’s 37 largest aquifers studied between 2003 and 2013 were being depleted while receiving little to no young water. These aquifers support two billion human beings with drinking water.
The scientists identified the world’s most stressed groundwater supply as the Arabian Aquifer System. It provides drinking water for places like Saudi Arabia and more than 60 million people.
Other dangerously stressed aquifers included the Indus Basin aquifer of northwestern India and Pakistan and the Murzuk-Djado Basin in northern Africa.
California’s Central Valley, which has been mined heavily by industrial agriculture and is suffering rapid depletion, was labeled ”highly stressed” as well.
Researchers now say the aquifer that supports much of North America’s food production ”lacks sufficient natural recharge to balance current use rates,” which has been exacerbated by an increased dependence on groundwater during the California drought. (California is the first state to pass sustainable groundwater management legislation, but it doesn’t go into effect until 2040.)
”The degree to which a society understands and protects its groundwater is a measure of the society’s commitment to taking care of the ‘public commons,’ or in other words, the commitment to environmental sustainability,” explained Cherry.
”This is because the problems that show up in groundwater take much longer than an electoral cycle or two. Therefore, if our present society behaves responsibly on this, the primary benefits are for our children and mostly our grandchildren. The Europeans sort of understand this, but we cowboys on this continent find the concept beyond our imagination.”

Strong Recommendations from Winter River/Tracadie Bay Watershed Group

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The Winter River/Tracadie Bay Watershed Association made a powerful presentation to the Environmental Advisory Council on November 4th.

One of their recommendations was to investigate methods to return some water to the Winter River to reduce the amount of “one way flow” of water to Charlottetown, at least during dry periods, to help recharge the aquifer. Read more here.

 

Hot Potato

Hot Potato

The Prince Edward Island potato industry is lobbying for deep well permits, but not without great resistance.

Posted on March 31, 2014
Written by Rachel Phan

On the East Coast of Canada, a contentious debate rages on over the Prince Edward Island Potato Board’s request to have a moratorium lifted on deep-well water extraction for irrigation. The board, along with industry giant Cavendish Farms, began a full-scale lobby effort in January 2014 to push for deep-well permits, saying science indicates the Island has a high water-recharge rate. This has been met with significant backlash from environmentalists, citizen’s groups, and political parties that say extracting tonnes of water out of the Island’s deep water aquifer is risky business, especially since Prince Edward Island relies exclusively on groundwater.

“High-volume extraction could mean individual wells could dry up. There aren’t a lot of central water systems here in P.E.I.,” said Todd Dupuis, executive director of regional programs for the Atlantic Salmon Federation. “Often the country folk have their own wells, and if they’re in close proximity to a monster well that’s taking a lot of water out of the ground, it can actually really lower the water table to the point where your well no longer produces water.”

The moratorium, which was initially intended to be in place for a year, has been in place since 2001. In the more than 10 years since the moratorium was put in place, the Prince Edward Island department of environment has studied the Island’s water recharge rate. It released a provincial water extraction policy earlier this year around the same time the potato board began its lobby efforts, sparking claims the province is working in the interest of potato growers. The policy noted the province has “abundant groundwater recharge” of approximately two billion cubic metres a year, contradicting recent reports of a dwindling water supply in the province. (For more on this, see bit.ly/peiwater.)

“The department of environment found that […] less than seven per cent of the P.E. I. groundwater is used by all users,” said Gary Linkletter, chairman of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board. “Of that seven per cent, […] industrial uses about 30 per cent and residential about 60 per cent. Currently, irrigation is hardly even a player in P.E.I. groundwater use.

“If there was a real concern about water use, these other users are the ones where a moratorium would actually make a difference. […] We feel it is only proper and fair that agriculture not be subject to the current, very selective moratorium.”

Prince Edward Island potato growers have said that, without deep-water wells, productivity will decline and lead to the reduction of the province’s $1-billion potato industry. Some growers have expressed concerns over staying competitive, especially since American farmers can sometimes harvest twice the amount of potatoes from one acre.

“We’re not even close to that in Canada because we don’t have the longer growing season or access to irrigation,” Kevin MacIsaac, chair of the United Potato Growers of Canada, told The Guardian.

Dupuis expressed suspicion over the new department of environment policy, especially since he said it came “out of the blue.”

“The new water-withdrawal policy makes a case for irrigation for the potato industry and it was a bit of a surprise to us that the policy came out,” he said. “It was pretty much just one provincial department that put the policy together, and it certainly has fingerprints all over it from the potato industry.”

Along with questions over the ability of the province’s deep-water aquifer to handle high-volume extraction, others have raised concerns over the potential increased contamination of drinking water. Government data already suggests that nearly all of the province’s drinking water is contaminated with nitrates.

“[Growers] add more fertilizer than they need, and that stuff is very water soluble and full of nitrate and phosphate,” Dupuis said. “There’s always stuff left over: it leeches down into the soil, and the soil in P.E.I. is sandstone, so it is very porous. The water up high is latent with fertilizer and percolates down.”

Linkletter said the contamination of aquifers by fertilizers is actually exacerbated by dry conditions. “Proper moisture conditions for the crop to grow would reduce what fertilizer is left in the soil. […] It would be more likely to reduce problems rather than increase them.”

He added that the deep-well extraction for irrigation would only occur for a very limited portion of the year, and that such wells would be monitored to ensure “responsible supplemental irrigation.”

Since the potato industry has made its request to the province to remove the moratorium, there has been an impassioned response from concerned islanders who are attending usually empty committee meetings in droves. A February 26 meeting was attended by 200 Prince Edward Islanders, including biologist Darryl Guignon, who said, “None of us have been asked anything about this. Nor the department of fisheries and oceans, nor the public! It’s our water for heaven’s sakes, and we can’t even have an input in a water policy?”

Environment Minister Janice Sherry has said the provincial government will not make a decision on deep-well irrigation and the moratorium will not be lifted until there is further proof that such practices would not diminish the quantity or quality of Prince Edward Island’s groundwater.  WC

Rachel Phan is Water Canada’s managing editor. This article appears in Water Canada’s March/April 2014 issue.

March 18th, 2014

News and letters:

In yesterday’s Guardian,  from the Island Nature Trust board:
http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/Opinion/Letter-to-editor/2014-03-18/article-3653836/Province-needs-water-management-plan/1

Province needs water management plan
Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on March 18, 2014
A Reader’s View
Editor:
Domestic, industrial and agriculture water use is rising across Canada, putting many rivers and lakes under increasing strain. As an organization that works to protect natural areas across P.E.I., Island Nature Trust is concerned that any increase in the number of high-capacity groundwater wells will affect fish and wildlife in the province negatively. How much water can be withdrawn while still maintaining healthy natural aquatic ecosystems? It takes the expertise of hydrologists, engineers and biologists to understand and predict the changes in fish habitat in response to altered flow regimes/water systems.
Conservation practices such as longer crop rotations that include forages, better residue management and strip cropping increase the moisture holding capacity of the soil. The presence of organic matter enhances the soilʼs structure, thermal, and nutritional regimes; and decreases wind and water erosion. Healthy soils hold moisture better than those with low organic material. In other words, soils with high organic matter need less water for healthy plant growth.
Withdrawing water from existing ground water supplies at times of the year when those water levels are at their lowest and at a time when 100 per cent of the surface water flow is from groundwater (springs) will further reduce the volume of ground water flowing into springs, streams, rivers and estuaries. Reduced water flow coupled with high levels of nutrients currently found in the very potato-rich watersheds to be irrigated in central P.E.I., will lead to increased over-nutrification of water systems and then to an increase in anoxic events.
Wildlife in all parts of waterways will be affected by less water and by the associated issues such as eutrophication and anoxia. Extracting more groundwater from P.E.I. is about so much more than simply water volume issues. The permanent loss of high volumes of water in an already fragile aquifer at a very sensitive time of year will have negative impacts on aquatic animals and plants, including those harvested by humans.
Human health is important, and the high nitrate level found in groundwater in many wells in high potato production areas is a serious concern to the health of Islanders. However, wildlife and natural areas often take a back seat to human needs and health issues. In many jurisdictions fish and wildlife management agencies sit on the sidelines of important water management decisions.
On behalf of the health of our natural systems, including springs, streams, rivers, their riparian zones and estuaries we strongly encourage the P.E.I. Government to adopt a provincial water management plan to effectively integrate water quantity, quality and wildlife management and to maintain the existing moratorium on high-capacity deep water well construction.
Fiep de Bie,
President,
Island Nature Trust,
Board of Directors

The paper printed it in the lower right page under the heading “A Reader’s View” when of course Ms. de Bie is representing the views of the organization.
———-

At first glance, from New Brunswick, this headline sounded at-least-not-bad:

Impact of shale gas development on groundwater to be studied

New Brunswick Energy Institute investing $500K in two-year study, set to begin in April

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/impact-of-shale-gas-development-on-groundwater-to-be-studied-1.2577082

but then I received this comment from Bradley Walters in New Brunswick, who finds and sends out news about the fracking issue in New Brunswick with another article (blue is his, bold is mine):

Here are more details on the proposed NB study. It sounds like this intends to be little more than an assessment of baseline conditions of well water, with a focus on naturally-occurring methane contamination. In itself, that is not such a bad idea, but it is hard to see what good would come of this given they will presumably not be establishing baseline measurements for the various toxic chemicals actually used in fracking and/or liberated from deep underground as a result of fracking (e.g., heavy metals, radioactive elements, etc.). Also troubling is that this will likely be used to distract us from the many other risks and impacts associated with a shale gas industry (air pollution, habitat damage, surface water pollution, noise pollution, waste water pollution, etc.).  –Brad

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Testing Energy institute to spend $500,000 over two years to develop water quality baselines in four areas in southern New Brunswick that are earmarked for possible shale gas development

JOHN CHILIBECK TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL, March 18, 2014

FREDERICTON – The New Brunswick Energy Institute plans on spending more than $500,000 on research looking at well water quality in areas where industry wants to develop shale gas.

The institute, under fire for being funded by a pro-development Tory provincial government, said Monday the research would go toward establishing a proper baseline before any more wells are drilled.

It will take place in four areas of southern New Brunswick where exploration or development of the controversial industry is underway: Sussex-Petitcodiac, St. Antoine-Shediac, Harcourt-Richibucto and Boisetown-Upper Blackville.

Kerry MacQuarrie, a civil engineering professor at the University of New Brunswick, was selected as the project lead for the two-year study on about 500 private wells.He said it was important to find out the water quality before any further development takes place because sometimes people don’t realize there’s naturally occurring pollution with no human cause.

“This will be totally voluntary and it will be up to the homeowners that we contact whether they want to be involved”MacQuarrie said in an interview. “I would assume that people would be interested to know what the quality is for their drinking water, but there won’t be any obligation for anyone to take part.”

MacQuarrie is well aware of the controversy surrounding the industry and the institute itself. Between opinion polls and the province’s two major political parties, New Brunswick society appears to be split on the merits of shale gas development, which relies on hydraulic fracturing. The long-term consequences of fracking are still not completely understood,with critics,such as the Liberal opposition, saying a moratorium should be in place until more studies can be carried out, whereas the Tory government and other shale gas supporters argue that development, with certain safeguards, should go ahead to create more jobs and wealth.

   “This is a research study, and it’s not really linked to any particular interest group or industry group,” MacQuarrie said. “I have no links with the shale gas industry or anything like that. I’ve been doing ground water research in the province for over 20 years and I publish that in peer-reviewed scientific formats. People probably will take issue that it’s related to the shale gas issue, but I think it’s something worthwhile to do because it seems a lot of the concerns that have been raised are related to ground water quality and the potential impacts on that.”

Stephanie Merrill,freshwater program director with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, works for the environmental organization that has campaigned heavily to stop shale gas development. She welcomed the idea of further study Monday, though she qualified her support by saying she would have to first see a detailed work plan and explanation of the research methods.

She agreed that baseline studies were important, all the more reason, she said, for a moratorium on exploration and development.

“There should be a decision made right now to halt the further work of companies’ with exploration leases and licences while this kind of work is undertaken. That would go a long way in providing an increased level of trust with the public, so they can put aside the question of whether the work is supporting the industry versus having information for providing good solid information for whether the industry should go ahead”

MacQuarrie acknowledged the researchers would have a bit of trouble with their baseline data if the industry continues to develop over the next two years.

“I have no idea to predict what the industry might do in the next couple of years,but I’m guessing it would only be a handful of wells, perhaps, that might be drilled. But again, I have no inside information or any clue about that.”

The team, which will consist of MacQuarrie and as many as eight research students, will send mail-outs or hold meetings to pick about 500 private well owners in the select areas. To ensure their results are not contaminated, they want to establish their baseline using wells that are at least one to two kilometres away from any existing oil or gas wells or seismic tests that have already been conducted. Natural gas is currently extracted at the McCully fields near Sussex and dozens and dozens of different hydrocarbon wells have been drilled since the 19th century,most of them now abandoned.

The researchers want to look at newer private water wells built within the last 20 years when provincial regulations became stricter and data was collected on the wells. They also want sites that are nicely spaced apart with different geology so that they get a better variety and breadth of data. The study will run from April 2014 to April 2016, when a final technical report will be submitted.

The project will be the first large-scale examination of natural methane gas occurrences in private water wells in the province, with the objective to collect and report baseline domestic water quality data. The focus is on groundwater quality parameters that are most relevant to the potential impact on shallow groundwater from unconventional shale gas production.

Early results from the project will be provided in an interim progress report on the institute’s website. It is intended on being the beginning of a series of water studies that the institute will be funding relating to energy development.

MacQuarrie described the work as labour intensive and requiring a good deal of expertise to properly obtain and analyze samples.He said they’d probably work in concert with researchers at Université de Moncton, who have already begun work on collecting data on wells that might be contaminated by radioactive materials caused by deposits such as uranium.

The institute plans on spending $532,000 overall on the study.

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