P.E.I. still lacks data needed for irrigation decisions, says Opposition leader

P.E.I. Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker is expressing frustration that decades after the issue of high-capacity wells for irrigation was first raised, the province still hasn’t done the research to make an informed decision.

‘Here we are today in 2021 with a paucity of information trying to make really critical decisions’

Successive governments have failed to do the necessary research on the irrigation question, says Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker. (P.E.I. Legislature)

P.E.I. Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker would like to see an irrigation strategy created to guide decisions on agricultural water use, until the high-capacity well moratorium is decided.

However, he says an irrigation strategy would need to be based on strong science, which he argues hasn't been conducted yet. 

In recent years, farmers have been increasingly vocal about the need for irrigation, saying climate change is making summers on the Island drier.

On Island Morning Tuesday, Bevan-Baker expressed frustration that two decades after the high-capacity wells moratorium for irrigation was first implemented, the province still hasn't done the watershed-by-watershed research to get data on the possible impact of various types of water use options.

"Over those almost 20 years now, governments — various governments of red and blue stripe — have failed to collect that data," he said.

"So here we are today in 2021 with a paucity of information trying to make really critical decisions in the face of climate change and changing water patterns."

Bevan-Baker agreed an irrigation strategy would be helpful, but he says that work shouldn't be rushed. 

CBC News asked the Department of Agriculture whether work on a strategy is underway, but did not receive a response. 

Data needed for 'informed decision'

Bevan-Baker said his party is not ruling out irrigation, but he said the province needs to do an analysis of each watershed to see if the capacity is there to allow that without harming ecosystems. 

"Our position has always been that we need to know what the data are before we can make an informed decision," he said.

Allowing the construction of more agricultural holding ponds could be one farm irrigation solution down the road if research shows there is little harm to the environment, says Green Party of P.E.I. Leader Peter Bevan-Baker. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

More research is also needed on methods for reducing the need for irrigation, said Bevan-Baker.

That could include increasing organic matter in soil, changing crop rotation regimens, using cultivars that require less water, and allowing more holding ponds.

Bevan-Baker said he has sympathy for farmers, but insisted the province cannot rush into a decision on irrigation.

In the meantime, he suggested increasing financial support for farmers in the event of a drought.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning


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