All-party committee lists 7 ways to improve P.E.I.'s new water regulations

A legislative standing committee that has been looking at regulations under Prince Edward Island’s Water Act is making seven recommendations.

'Agriculture shouldn't be discriminated against based on their industry,' says chair

A crop irrigation system running near Brookfield, P.E.I., to compensate for hot, dry weather in the late summer of 2019. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

A legislative standing committee that has been looking at regulations under Prince Edward Island's Water Act is making seven recommendations.

Chair Cory Deagle says a key step would be creating a water budget for each watershed and instituting strict monitoring and controls to make sure that no more water is taken than has been budgeted.

"Obviously, water is extremely precious. It's one of our most important resources that we have on the Island," said Deagle, the MLA for Montague-Kilmuir. "We don't want to say, 'It's open season on water.' There has to be rules and regulations in place."

Other recommendations to the government include:

  • Clarifying the parameters regarding drought contingency plans.
  • Reversing a decision to "grandfather in" systems of low-capacity wells feeding into holding ponds, if those wells collectively draw more than a single high-capacity well would.
  • Requiring ongoing testing and reporting for every water withdrawal permit.
  • Looking into water metering and placing strict limits for water usage. 

If the provincial government followed all the committee's recommendations, Deagle added, it would be safe to lift the moratorium on high-capacity wells for farmers that has been in place since 2002. 

The committee would like to see farmers treated the same way other industrial users are, he added. 

"We're saying that agriculture shouldn't be discriminated against based on their industry. They should be treated the same as any commercial use." 

Myers says he's open to changes

P.E.I.'s environment minister said there won't be changes to the regulations before they take effect June 16 as part of the new Water Act, but there could be in future. 

Steven Myers agrees with Deagle about treating farmers fairly. He has pointed out that 91 high-capacity wells have been approved in the province since the moratorium was put in place, but none of those were for agricultural purposes. 

We certainly don't want to be dismissed.— PC MLA Cory Deagle

For the last year and a half, Deagle said, his six-member committee has been meeting with a number of P.E.I. groups interested in how water is used.

The seven recommendations were unanimously backed by the MLAs from all three parties represented in the legislature. 

"We certainly don't want to be dismissed," he said. "Obviously, we're not the ones that make the decision … [but] I think the feedback that our committee has should be taken seriously and considered by the Department of Environment."

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