Environmental groups urge government to ban holding pond development

Two P.E.I. environmental groups are calling for an interim ban on the development of holding ponds - used by some farmers for irrigation - until the province has the power to regulate them under its Water Act. 

Holding pond rules part of province's Water Act regulations, which still haven't been finalized

The farmers who are building the holding pond in Shamrock, P.E.I., maintain the impact to the area's water table will be minimal. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Two P.E.I. environmental groups are calling for an interim ban on the development of holding ponds, used by some farmers for irrigation. That's until the province starts regulating pond development under its Water Act. 

Members of the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water and the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Land put out that call in Shamrock Wednesday, near a holding pond currently in development by two Island farmers. 

"This is a situation that allows for the unregulated development of large holding ponds with no permits required, and next to no oversight on the part of the provincial government," said Catherine O'Brien, a member of the water group. 

"[That's] putting a lot of pressure on the water table, and the surrounding wells potentially."

Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water member Catherine O'Brien speaks during the media event. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

The P.E.I. government has had a moratorium on high capacity wells for irrigation since 2002. 

But under current laws, there's nothing stopping farmers from building holding ponds that can be filled by any number of low capacity wells.

The province has produced draft regulations that would create the need for permits and assessments by the province before pond development can go ahead.  

But when pushed on the issue in the legislature last week, Environment Minister Natalie Jameson said government's still looking for feedback on the regulations. 

Farmers say pond has been 'carefully designed'

It's not clear when the Water Act and its regulations will be made into law. 

"So, we don't know how many more [holding ponds] are going to be built before the Water Act is proclaimed," said O'Brien.

David Weale holds up the sign that he brought to the news conference. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

The farmers developing the holding pond in Shamrock, Austin Roberts and Andrew Lawless, issued a statement to media following the environmental groups' news conference Wednesday. 

According to Roberts and Lawless, the pond was developed in the lower end of a field and has been "carefully designed ... to capture snow melt, storm runoff and rainwater."

While the farmers say they will use two regular flow ground wells to capture some water, they maintain the impact to the area's water table will be minimal. 

The holding pond in Shamrock will use two regular flow ground wells to capture some water but is 'carefully designed ... to capture snow melt, storm runoff and rainwater.' (Steve Bruce/CBC)

"This water management project will ensure the least possible impact to the environment and drastically reduce the need to use groundwater for irrigation," they said in the statement. 

O'Brien said her group has expressed its concerns in a letter to Premier Dennis King. Members are hoping to set up a meeting with King and Jameson.  

CBC reached out to the province for comment Wednesday. No one was made available for an interview. 

More from CBC P.E.I. 


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