Letter re: Water Act for PEI

Legislation needs to ensure, protect water quality; improve health of watersheds

It has been a full six months since Environment Minister Janice Sherry announced that the P.E.I. government would commence the process of developing a water act. “P.E.I. needs a single piece of legislation that covers all its water management policies,” said Minister Sherry in June.

“The implementation of a water act will demonstrate government’s commitment to managing water resources in a sustainable manner for present and future generations.”

The announcement followed a recommendation made by the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry in April, and then reiterated in November just before MLAs retired for the year. The committee, chaired by MLA Paula Biggar, had listened to presentations by over two dozen groups and individuals who were responding to requests by potato industry representatives to lift a 12-year moratorium on high-capacity wells.

The recommendations contained in their report to the legislature — to develop a water act and to keep the moratorium in place at least until government has a better understanding of the impact of lifting the moratorium — was very much in keeping with the views of a vast majority of presenters. Since Minister Sherry’s initial announcement, there has been no further word on the subject from her office — nothing to indicate what kind of process will be undertaken, who will be involved and when it will start.

Since the June announcement, there have been the usual seasonal anoxic events in Island estuaries, and a major fish kill in the Ellen’s Creek watershed (the final report of the investigation into which has yet to be released). As late as last week we were reminded of the vulnerability of our watersheds, as heavy rainfalls caused flooding, wide-scale destruction of infrastructure across the province, significant run-off from fields and roads and siltation in most of our waterways.

All Islanders have an interest in a policy designed to protect water; it is a resource that we hold in common, and we have a collective responsibility to ensure that clean water is available, in adequate supply, for ourselves and for future generations.

If our goal is a water policy that respects the needs and the wishes of Islanders, then the process as well as the Act itself will need to be designed to reflect some basic values, including: equal opportunities for meaningful participation, respect for the knowledge of the community, inclusion of diverse perspectives, clear communication and transparency, and empowerment of individuals and communities.

And what about that process? How might it be designed to reflect those values?

In the first place, the committee that steers the process would be “arm’s length” from government and representative of as many interested parties as possible. Besides people with technical expertise or knowledge, members of various communities would be included — farmers, fishers, First Nations, municipalities, community members, environmental & watershed groups — to ensure credibility of the process and promote inclusion, full participation, transparency and accountability.

Everyone who participates in the process should have an honest opportunity to influence the decision-making. It would help to have a clear idea, from the beginning, of how the information and views that everyone contributes to the process will be used.

A background document or discussion paper, provided in advance of public consultations, would help people to prepare to participate in the process, especially if it is accompanied by some key questions to frame the discussion. The document would include pertinent information and data, including the total amount of water that is now being pumped from existing high capacity wells, and the amount of water that is used annually by Islanders.

Consultations would take place in a broad range of Island communities and be as accessible as possible in order to facilitate full participation. There would be flexibility in the process, allowing for additional consultations when or where necessary.

When groups or individuals take the time to participate, they must be able to see how their participation has or has not influenced the outcome. It will be important that all submissions are made public.

In fact, it is important that all documents and information regarding the process and consultations are made widely available.

The provincial library system, Access P.E.I. and social media could be used to communicate information, including: a summary of the process; the initial discussion paper and questions; written submissions; technical documents; reports from the community consultations; an overall summary report of the consultations.

At every stage of the development of the Act, consideration should be given to how it will be implemented, enforced and monitored, what kinds of regulations will be necessary, and how it will be communicated to the public. Because, in the end, we really do want a piece of legislation that is effective; an Act that protects and improves water quality, provides adequate supplies of clean water into the future, and protects and improves the health of our watersheds.

By Ann Wheatley (guest opinion)

Ann Wheatley is a member of The Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water

March 7th, 2014

The Standing Committee On Agriculture and Environment meeting yesterday regarding high capacity wells meeting was full, which as you know makes an impression.

Today I’ll focus on the presentation by one of the five groups: the National Farmers Union, with the admirable Edith Ling presenting the brief.    Reg Phalen and Steven MacKinnon were with her to ably answer questions.

They hit all the points of concern regarding lifting the moratorium and focused on the farmer in all this, reminding the members that not all farmers want the moratorium lifted, but neither should farmers, especially potato farmers, be vilified.  They are concerned about nitrates and groundwater, as even if, as the argument could be made, that more water one year would mean that year’s fertilizer better utilized, there is still plenty of nitrate and contaminants that will be dissolved in the water and taken down to the water table with it.

Their recommendations to the committee include that the government:

  • “steadfastly maintain” the moratorium on new high capacity wells
  •  recognize and value ALL farming,
  •  promote mixed farming to transition from to protect and improve Island soil and water
  • develop a true water protection policy, including preparing for climate change
  • create a commission on water to involve all Islanders

The last echoes how effectively Horace Carver visited and listened to Islanders (and about whose work I am skipping discussing today).

MLA Buck Watts mentioned he thought these meetings were a form of public consultation, and I hope by the answers he understands yes, but there needs to be more to really say the Legislators consulted with the public.

(MLA Kathleen was quite focused on how many members are in the NFU.  When not given a specific number, she persisted and even asked other presenters if they knew.)
Compass, lead story

Some events coming up (not complete in the least):


Tuesday, March 11, 7PM
Pesticide Free PEI Meeting, Sobey’s in Stratford

Thursday, March 13th, 1-5PM
High Capacity Wells presentation, Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry, Coles Building
Presenters (I think) include Todd Dupois of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Council of Canadians, The Cooper Institute, and the NDP-PEI.

Also, on Thursday:

PEI ADAPT Council AGM/Conference
“Celebrating the International Year of the Family Farm”
AGM 9AM, Conference: 10:30AM
Farm Centre, 420 University Avenue Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
10:30 Conference Welcome: Elmer MacDonald, Chair, PEI ADAPT Council
Presentations from Family Farmers
Matt Dykerman, Rose and Dave Viaene, Don and Christine MacDonald, Alexander Beattie
Questions and Audience Discussion

ADAPT Project Leader Presentations
Farm Centre – Future of the Farm Centre & 2014 Legacy Garden Project
International Sustainable Communities – Roster of Skills
Organic Beet Production and Mkt Opportunities

Potato Marketing by Usage & Wireworm Control , PEI Potato Board
Questions and Audience Discussion

Report on PEI Agriculture Trade Mission to Taiwan – Issues and Opportunities
Phil Ferraro, Executive Director PEI ADAPT, PEI Agr. Trade Team Member

Project Trade Show and Nutrition Break
• GEC – DON Wheat and Future Mkt Opportunities
• Sea Spray Coop – Pickling/Fermentation,
• Fed of Agr/CMEG – Temporary Foreign Workers,
• Hort Assn. – Ethnic Veg Mkts., Club Root Resistance in Broccoli Varieties,
• Hometown Pork – Pork Value Chain,
• Soil Foodweb – Compost Tea as Fungicide, Storecast, Biochar Field Trails,
• Soil and Crop Improvement Assn. – Sea Lettuce Compost,
• Island Forest Foods – Diversified Permaculture Orchard,
• PEI Dairy Farmers – Bovine Leucosis and Johnnies Disease,
• PEI Brewing Company – Malt Barley Value Chain,
• PEI Cranberry Growers – Powder Cranberry Marketing,
• Omega Holdings – Safe Quality Food Planning,
• Certified Organic Producers Coop – Organic Products Field Trials,
• PEI Sheep Breeders – Genetic Enhancement,

Lunch with Keynote Speaker (12:30 – 1:30 pm.)
Reg Porter, ‘Historical Perspectives of Island Family Farming’

Project Trade Show 1:30 – 2PM

CONFERENCE REGISTRATION IS FREE and open to anyone with an interest in the future of agriculture and agri-food production on Prince Edward Island. Pre-registration is necessary as space is limited. To register call: 368-2005 or email:phil@peiadapt.com

Friday, March 14th

A short conference entitled “My Island, My Heart” will take place March
14, 1:00-3:00 pm, at UPEI’s Chaplaincy Centre. The conference, led by UPEI
arts student Faith Robinson, focuses on three themes—island fragility,
island sustainability, and island community.

Special guest speakers include: Deirdre Kessler, writer and UPEI professor;
Laurie Brinklow, accomplished poet and UPEI professor; and Millefiore
Clarkes, filmmaker to name a few. A short docu-film Island Green, about
organic farming on PEI, will also be featured as part of the conference.

Today, it is more important than ever to realize the limitations and
magnificence of our environment, so keenly felt by Islanders worldwide. It is
crucial that we not forget the roots from which we ourselves grow, to
envision a better future.

For more information on the conference, contact Faith Robinson at
frobinson@upei.ca. Admission is free, and snacks and beverages will be
provided. All are welcome to attend.

(Also note that) Saturday, March 22ndIsland Green screening, 7:30PM, Bonshaw

March 5th, 2014

A Standing Committee meeting tomorrow, starting at 1PM, at the Coles Building next to Province House, with presentations (I think) from the National Farmers’ Union, The PEI Watershed Alliance, Central Queen’s Wildlife Federation/West River, The Innovative Farms Group, and the Green Party PEI.  If you can drop by for a little bit, that will support (most of) these groups and show the politicians that people are interested in this issue.

Wit, clarity, a warning to us all:  In yesterday’s Guardian:

Unique approach to selling wells
Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on March 04, 2014

I would like to congratulate the P.E.I. Potato Board on their information ad, Thursday, Feb 27. I did not realize that by allowing deep-well drilling it would be a solution to the nitrate problem on P.E.I.
Too bad they did not come forward sooner with this approach. Their perspective that this is a lot of storm about a very small issue, that it will not take much water, and letʼs just trust them and the government to do the right thing is a little hard to take.
As many letters to the editor have pointed out both the industryʼs and governmentʼs track records on this have not been good. We have been though all this before with Plan B and I see the same outcome. In fact I will wager money that the government will approve this plan. Then we can wait for the ads about how great fracking will be for the island.
Carol Capper,

A quick Lands Protection Act note:

from page 11 of Mr. Carver’s report (spacing mine):

While the purpose of the Act is clear and easy to understand, the legislative framework, consisting of the Act and the Regulations, is very complex and difficult to understand, even for those who deal with it on a regular basis. Few individuals and corporations make application, or even complete mandatory reports, without help from accountants and lawyers.

The legislative framework consists of a total of 88 pages:
the Act itself is 13 pages long
(http://www.gov.pe.ca/law/statutes/pdf/l– 05.pdf);
the Forms Regulations, 47 pages
(http://www.gov.pe.ca/law/regulations/pdf/L &05-2.pdf);
the Exemption Regulations, 22 pages
(http://www.gov.pe.ca/law/regulations/ pdf/L&05-1.pdf);
and the Land Identification Regulations, 6 pages
(http://www.gov.pe.ca/ law/regulations/pdf/L&05-3.pdf).

February 28th, 2014

Spectators at the presentation to the standing committee
Spectators at the presentation to the standing committee

What an interesting 24 hours it has been!

The presentation from the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water was well (ha) received at the Standing Committee yesterday, and it was great to see so many concerned Islanders in the guest section.

From Friday’s Guardian (article below):

Compass from last night had a bit on the standing committee and on the forum Wednesday night, about 3:30 into the program:

Submission from the Coalition for the Protection of PEI's WaterAttached is the submission to the Committee.

The Standing Committee decided to extend its meeting hours to 1-5PM for Thursdays March 6th, 13th and 27th, to fit in the number of concerned groups.  If people are able and interested, they could consider attending other presentations.  Next Thursday the four groups presenting are the National Farmers Union, the Watershed Alliance, the Central Queens Wildlife Federation/West River Watershed Association, and Innovative Farms Groups, the last of which presented for lifting the moratorium at the Watershed Alliance workshop in November.

Alan Hicken, who was the chair of the Environment Minister’s Environmental Advisory Council, writes about keeping the moratorium in yesterday’s paper (also in full below):

[As an aside, I wrote to Mr. Hicken and the Environmental Environment Council (EAC) in spring of 2012 about Plan B’s environmental concerns, including the shale pit that suddenly appeared; and weeks later I got a letter from the new chair Robert Davies saying the EAC didn’t do any investigative work and they were looking forward to the EIA report on Plan B.]

And you may have noticed another “Lesson” from the P.E.I. Potato Board on the subject of high capacity wells in yesterday’sGuardian on page A-5.  It reads so sweetly. (we’ll try to get a scanned image if you haven’t seen it)


Activists raise raise concern over deep-well irrigation to P.E.I. MLAs
by Teresa Wright
Guardian on-line on February 27, print edition Feb 28th, 2014
A coalition made up of 16 groups and over 200 individuals from across P.E.I. urged MLAs Thursday to keep the current moratorium on deep-well irrigation in place.
The newly formed Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water made an impassioned presentation Thursday to a provincial standing committee currently holding hearings on the issue of deep-water wells.
Coalition spokeswoman Catherine OʼBrien told the MLAs on the committee more extensive
public consultation and review must take place Protection of P.E.I. Water make a case against before any move is made to allow more of
lifing the moratorium on deep-well irrigation to these wells to be drilled.
“It is imperative that respect for protecting fresh water be at the forefront of these discussions,” OʼBrien said.
“P.E.I. is one of only a small number of placed entirely dependent upon groundwater, prompting the need for careful, diligent deliberations.”
Over 50 supporters and members of the coalition packed into the normally empty public gallery of the committee chamber to show their support.
The issue has sparked a heated public debate over water use in Prince Edward Island, and whether the province has enough groundwater to support industrial irrigation of potato crops.
The P.E.I. Potato Board and Cavendish Farms argue some Island farmers need access to more water in order to keep pace with competitors in the mid-western United States.
They also point to data compiled by the provincial Department of Environment showing P.E.I. has a high annual recharge rate and that increasing the use of groundwater for irrigation of crops would use only a fraction of available groundwater resources.
But the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water says this data is incomplete and should be peer-reviewed by scientists, experts and the public to ensure all relevant information has been included.
This was one of five recommendations presented to the standing committee Thursday.
The coalition also wants a comprehensive water policy developed for Prince Edward Island, suggesting perhaps a commission could be struck for this purpose.
It further wants government to determine and publish the full environmental, agricultural and environmental costs of lifting the deep-well ban.
“This is a time when we should be exercising particular care about the use and protection of our water,” OʼBrien said.
“We canʼt afford the risk of being wrong.”
Miʼkmaq Keptin John Joe Sark also shared his concerns over the effects the wells could have on P.E.I.ʼs water resources.
He said he would be the first to launch a court action should P.E.I.ʼs water be contaminated as a result of the wells.
“I strongly recommend that the moratorium on high-capacity, deep wells for potato field irrigation not be lifted until we are damn sure that these deep-water wells will not harm the quality of fresh water in this province,” Sark said.
The committee has a busy schedule of meetings planned on the issue as more and more individuals and groups continue to request the chance to lend their voice to the growing debate.
Next week, the National Farmers Union, the PEI Watershed Alliance, the Central Queens Branch of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation and Innovative Farms Group will have their chance at the committee table.

Protecting P.E.I.’s groundwater is not debatable
Commentary by Alan Hicken
published February 27, 2014 in The Guardian

For almost six years, I volunteered on the P.E.I. Environmental Advisory Council (EAC). I always appreciated the many presentations made to the EAC by staff and experts from the Environment Department and other federal and provincial public servants.
My final two years on the EAC were as chair. My objectives were to be fair, objective and engage the EAC council to participate objectively in debate on the many issues that concerned the environment on P.E.I.
Finally, we respectfully advised the P.E.I. ministers of environment in accordance of the terms of reference for the EAC. When I began volunteering the EAC had just released the report “Upstream Downstream” and unfortunately many of the reportʼs recommendations still have not been dealt with.
I believe our greatest work was our foundation document on a Conservation Strategy for P.E.I. Retired judge Ralph Thompsonʼs report, Commission on Land and Local Governance, gave the EAC the direction in his second recommendation to create a Conservation Strategy for P.E.I.
Our objective was to develop a discussion paper towards such a strategy. This document was finished just as the Plan B protests began and public meetings on a P.E.I. conservation strategy were stalled. We had begun a broad, open conservation strategy to protect P.E.I.ʼs natural capital, including our groundwater. This must include all the stakeholders which rely on P.E.I.ʼs ground water. Every Islander, scientists, industry representatives and all levels of government need to be at the table. An adequate supply of quality water is our life.
The issue of fracking, deep wells and the seriousness of protecting our ground water need to be addressed. Recent public comments on deep wells have caused me, and many others, great concern.
“Protecting our ground water is not debatable” was Environment Minister Janice Sherryʼs first comments to me as chair of the EAC. How times have changed after watching the recent CBC interview where Minister Sherry said the “P.E.I. Potato Board will educate Islanders about deep wells.”
I am sorry but that is not acceptable for any environment minister to say. If she or any government were concerned then they would make public the data they have on all public wells to show the conservation and quality of the water. Bring the scientists, agronomists and the data forward, let their peers and all Islanders judge what quality of water we want to drink.
I have not spoken to any farmer yet who wants to pay for an expensive irrigation system they donʼt need, donʼt want and certainly none want to damage our ground water.
I havenʼt heard that producers will get any extra dollars for a hundred weight of potatoes produced with an irrigation system. I also donʼt expect Island taxpayers will want to pay for a subsidy scheme to pay for this equipment to sit in a field for all but one in 10 years.
During my six years on the EAC, we had the opportunity to bring in scientists and experts to explain many issues about the P.E.I. environment, including ground water.
One particularly graphical presentation was made by a provincial hydrologist, Mr. Yefang.
His research showed the levels of nitrates found in test wells deeper into P.E.I. wells over a 20-year period. This data was taken from an area of high irrigation and agricultural production. Surely this data was made available throughout the government. What else are they not telling us? Why wonʼt they release this presentation and other data? The public needs to see all of the science.
I encourage all scientists and agronomists to step up to the plate and make your data known. Protecting our environment is about our health, life and prosperity where we live today.
Alan Hicken of South Pinette is the former chairman of the P.E.I. Environmental Advisory Council.