P.E.I. Environment Minister Janice Sherry told the legislature's standing committee on agriculture Thursday there is still research that needs to be done on deep-water irrigation wells.

The Island's potato industry is looking for a 2001 moratorium to be lifted, and the committee is holding hearings on the request.

Janice Sherry

The committee room was full for Environment Minister Janice Sherry's testimony. (CBC)

The hearing room was full of spectators for Sherry's testimony. The  minister tried to calm any fears.

"The moratorium will not be removed unless and until we're absolutely certain that more irrigation wells will not affect the quality or quantity of our drinking water resources," she said.

"Environment is not on one side of the fence and agriculture on the other. I think that it's a discussion that needs to happen, a well rounded discussion needs to happen."

There is still research to be done on how new wells might affect the quantity of groundwater available, its quality, and the affect on various aquatic environments, said Sherry.

The Environment Department doesn't know how many new wells the industry is looking to dig, or how much water it would want to use, but provincial environment director Jim Young pointed out digging a new well is not something that would be undertaken lightly.

"They're talking in the neighbourhood of $300,000 for an irrigation operation," he said.

"It's not a quick decision for any industry member."

Progressive Conservatives on the committee expressed concern with the involvement of Chris LeClair, former chief of staff to Premier Robert Ghiz, who has been lobbying MLAs on the issue. Sherry said that had nothing to do with her department.

"Cavendish Farms, I guess, actually, hired them as a lobbyist for educating people in regards to high capacity wells," she said.

"It's a private business arrangement."

The Progressive Conservatives describe the issue as one of the most controversial they've come up against, and said they want to know what the science says about the wells and groundwater supplies.

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