Reactions mixed to recommendation to expand high capacity well moratorium
'The moratorium can't be used as an excuse to do nothing'
Reactions are mixed to the legislative committee recommendation to expand the moratorium on high capacity wells beyond the agricultural sector.
The legislative standing committee on natural resources and environmental sustainability, which was examining the Water Act, presented its report earlier this month. The report calls on the province to immediately proclaim the Water Act and to expand the moratorium on high capacity wells to all new wells that are not for residential use "until research is available to make evidence-based decisions."
The moratorium on high-capacity wells on the Island currently only applies to the agriculture sector, and has been in place since 2002. It means new crop irrigation systems have not been allowed.
Robert Godfrey, executive director of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture said the recommendation was unexpected and after reading the committee report he says he and other farmers feel their interests were left out. The PEIFA met with the committee earlier this year.
"We put forward two, what we thought were, two reasonable, fair requests to that committee, which was to approve a UPEI-led research project and to create a committee made up of government and industry to actually develop an irrigation strategy," Godfrey said.
"We think that was reasonable and it's been ignored by this committee."
The UPEI research proposal was presented to the committee in September by Michael van den Heuvel, the Canada Research Chair in Watershed Ecological Integrity at UPEI. The study would involve installing new high-capacity irrigation wells on four P.E.I. farms and measuring the impact their use has on the local watersheds.
Godfrey was disappointed the UPEI research project was not addressed in the report recommendations and he plans to continue pushing government to commit to the project.
More research needed
Greg Donald, general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board said he was also surprised to see the recommendation to expand the moratorium. He said he'd like to see more research into how irrigation can be done on the Island.
"Our position has been for many years, that agriculture needs access to water for irrigation if it can be done responsibly," Donald said.
He said the sustainability of family farms on P.E.I. is at stake and he wants government to take action. He said expanding the moratorium only prolongs the problem, without finding a solution. Instead, he'd like to see government explore a regulatory system that will determine what is sustainable in each watershed.
"We also need access to water to produce food and what's happened is this has been kind of kicked down the road by successive governments and I think this is another example of that happening again."
The report does recommend government consider referring all future research proposals on the impacts of high capacity wells to the standing committee on natural resources and environmental sustainability, so they can be reviewed and recommendations can be put forward.
About more than water
For Doug Campbell, district director with the National Farmers Union, expanding the moratorium still misses the mark and protecting Island water isn't the only resource that needs to be addressed. He said there is a lot more to the issue than just water.
"The recommendation to extend the moratorium can't be used as an excuse to do nothing," Campbell said.
"It needs to be related to an overall issue of, why are we asking for the water? Why do we have no organic matter in our soil? The reasons for that is because of the way the land is being farmed, why is that, because of pressure from industrialized farming."
Campbell said government needs to take a closer look at land ownership and the effect certain farming practices have on soil quality.
He said governments have had years since the moratorium was put in place to address the issue of agricultural irrigation. "Here we are today in a situation where farmers, or some anyway are asking for water."
Campbell also said farmers should not be drawn into a situation where their industry is put in competition with others — like car washes, golf courses or food processing plants — when it comes to access to water.
"That should not be something that's used to pit against farmers when it comes to irrigation for agricultural purposes."
Industry needs to conserve
The Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water says the recommendations should be celebrated, and government should act on them right away.
"I think they really deliberated and made some strong recommendations," said Catherine O'Brien, chair of the coalition.
She said she's pleased with the recommendation to expand the moratorium to all new high-capacity wells and that businesses will learn to operate within the new set of rules. She said the priority is the protection of P.E.I's water and making sure there is enough for future generations.
"I think if people want to have a sustainable businesses they're going to be looking at that and they'll appreciate that," she said.
"We need to make sure we're looking at conservation methods and any new industry, any new businesses that start up have to be following — hopefully — the new regulations that will be in place very soon."
In a statement to CBC, Environment Minister Natalie Jameson said the department is reviewing the recommendations and intends to proclaim the Water Act as soon as possible.