No more public funding for holding ponds, says P.E.I. government

The PC government says it has put a stop to public funding that was provided for the construction of agricultural holding ponds in the province, after the Green Party raised the issue in question period Friday

$4,900 from last budget went to build one holding pond, no word on previous years

The P.E.I. government says it will no longer provide funding for the construction of agricultural holding ponds. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

The PC government says it has put a stop to public funding that was provided for the construction of agricultural holding ponds in the province.

The issue was brought up by the Green Party during question period Friday in the P.E.I. Legislature.

"Yesterday during a briefing on the water withdrawal regulations, the minister informed the Opposition caucus that public funds have been awarded to complete work on some of these holding ponds," said Green MLA Michele Beaton.

The holding ponds, used to store water for agricultural irrigation, have become the latest point of controversy in a years-long debate over the management and protection of P.E.I.'s water supply.

$4,900 in funding in 2018-19

The province's agriculture minister said he would have to come back with an answer on how much government funding has been provided for construction of the ponds.

After question period a government spokesperson told CBC News $4,900 had been provided in the fiscal year 2018-19 to construct a single holding pond in Maple Plains. Information on funding from previous years was not immediately available.

Green MLA Michele Beaton raised the issue of public funding for the construction of holding ponds in the P.E.I. Legislature Friday. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

The money was provided through the province's Agriculture Stewardship Program. According to published guidelines, that program is "designed to increase environmental sustainability, climate change mitigation and adaptation by providing technical and financial support to encourage producers to voluntarily implement beneficial management practices."

Government said no funding is allocated for the construction of holding ponds in the current budget being debated before the legislature.

'We should not be funding holding ponds' 

"Let me be very clear," said Environment Minister Brad Trivers. "We want to make sure we protect our Island water, we protect our Island land, we operate in the best interests of the public. We believe that we should not be funding holding ponds and that we need to put stronger measures in place to regulate them."

Managing and protecting the province's water supply has been a topic of heated public debate ever since representatives of the potato industry asked the province in 2014 to lift its long-standing moratorium preventing the construction of new high-capacity agricultural wells.

P.E.I.'s Minister of Environment, Water and Climate Change Brad Trivers said public funding should not be used to construct agricultural holding ponds. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

On Thursday Trivers announced government would begin inspections of the 19 agricultural holding ponds it is aware of, suggesting they were being used to get around the moratorium.

Also on Thursday, government released a draft of the final set of regulations needed to bring the province's new Water Act into effect.

Those regulations include further restrictions on the wells that can be used to fill holding ponds, but do not include regulations regarding the ponds themselves.

'No idea how much water'

Currently the ponds are not regulated and do not require a permit, something Trivers said the province is considering changing.

P.E.I. has had a moratorium in place since 2002 on new high-capacity irrigation wells. On Thursday the province unveiled new draft regulations which would prevent multiple low-capacity wells from being used in place of a single high-capacity well. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

With no permits currently required for the ponds or for the wells used to fill them, Beaton said government has "absolutely no idea how much water is being pumped into them. We don't even know truly how big they are."

"What other regulations would allow you to build such a massive piece of infrastructure without having any kind of permits?" Beaton asked. She was part of a group that toured some holding ponds Thursday.

Beaton said no government funding should be provided for projects that she said are meant to be "skirting around" the moratorium or the incoming Water Act.

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About the Author

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.


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