Potato field

The potato industry wants to expand irrigation on Prince Edward Island.

Island potato growers want irrigation expanded to more fields during the hot months, an idea that is already alarming one biologist.

The Prince Edward Island Potato Board and Cavendish Farms are lobbying the provincial government to lift a 2001 moratorium on deepwater wells and pulling water from streams.

"The (agriculture) industry, they need a consistent supply, we need consistent food on this planet too," Agriculture Minister George Webster said. 

"So it’s to find that balance, and that right decision that we need to go forward with."

A spokesman with the potato board said they had expected the government to lift the moratorium earlier this fall.

There are between 12 and 15 deep water wells, and equal number of sites on streams, that were grandfathered in. Water can be pumped out of them to irrigate fields.

But any move to add to that number worries Daryl Guignon, a biologist who's been surveying Island streams and rivers for 40 years. Guignon is worried about what he has been hearing from members of the farm community.

"They are talking about 30,000 acres of potatoes under irrigation in the future, which with our type of water and recharge could be absolutely devastating to our aquatic ecosystems," he said.

Webster said he's waiting for recommendations from the Environmental Advisory Council and the Watershed Alliance.

"We have to make our decisions based on the best science that we have," Webster said. "Can we do this, and protect the resource, and protect every residence that’s out there in P.E.I. and have wells and draw water from groundwater?"

Guignon said he's also concerned about the lack of public discussion and debate on lifting the moratorium.

He said deep water irrigation will cause “irreparable” harm to fish populations.