Ex-chief of staff working on irrigation moratorium
Potato farmers seeking to drill new deep water irrigation wells
Chris LeClair, chief of staff to P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz from 2007 to 2011, is working with the P.E.I. Potato Board in its effort to have a moratorium on deep water irrigation wells lifted.
LeClair is helping set up meetings between MLAs, growers and the board. A moratorium was put on new deep water irrigation wells in 2001, but some dry summers have led to new pressure to have that moratorium lifted.
Potato board chair Gary Linkletter is keen to present the case of potato farmers.
"Just to supply the MLAs with the facts," said Linkletter.
"There's been studies done showing how much groundwater is there, how much irrigation we use."
Part of the plan with the moratorium was to study the impact of the wells that are in place, but a decade later the wells remain controversial.
Retired UPEI biologist Daryl Guignion is opposed to drilling more.
"My concern, in a nutshell, is I don't believe we have enough water to spend on potato production when our streams are running very, very low in the summer time," said Guignion.
LeClair is now a partner with Policy Intel, a government relations services firm based in Charlottetown. Cavendish Farms, a major buyer and processor of potatoes, is a Policy Intel client. Former Liberal MLA Cynthia King is working for LeClair to arrange the meetings.
The Progressive Conservatives want both LeClair and King to appear before the legislature's agriculture committee. PC MLA Colin Lavie said dealing with the irrigation question in a public forum is best.
Linkletter said the potato board welcomes the opportunity.
"There's a lot of water in the ground that's available for use," he said.
"The amount of water that irrigation would take would not jeopardize that aquifer down below."
Guignion said he's not concerned the premier's former chief of staff is now involved, but is concerned the government isn't doing enough to conserve soil and water.
The potato board says farmers need to irrigate to keep competitive, and if they are going to have new wells for the coming growing season the moratorium will need to be lifted soon.