Time to lift moratorium on high-capacity irrigation wells for farmers, says P.E.I. MLA

The chair of a P.E.I. legislative committee looking at water regulations thinks it's time to lift the 19-year-old moratorium on high-capacity irrigation wells for farmers. 

Legislative committee discussed water regulations ahead of new Water Act

P.E.I. has had a moratorium on new high-capacity irrigation wells in place since 2002. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

The chair of a P.E.I. legislative committee looking at water regulations thinks it's time to lift the 19-year-old moratorium on high-capacity irrigation wells for farmers. 

MLA Cory Deagle chairs the standing committee on natural resources and environmental sustainability, which met Thursday to talk about the water withdrawal regulations in P.E.I's new Water Act, which will go into effect June 16. 

"Right now, the moratorium is on the agriculture sector. So if you were to put a car wash in, build a car wash, water a golf course, if you wanted to build a golf course, you can apply and get a high-capacity well," said Deagle. 

"But if you want to, say, water your crop, you're not able to do that." 

MLA Cory Deagle says P.E.I.’s moratorium on high-capacity irrigation wells is discriminatory toward farmers. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Deagle said permits for high-capacity wells are also issued for towns and cities in P.E.I. 

"If the science says we can, you know, why do we vilify farmers?" 

The moratorium on high-capacity irrigation wells for agriculture has been in effect since 2002 in the province. 

MLA Lynne Lund, the opposition critic for environment, water and climate change, said asking whether to lift the moratorium is the wrong question. 

"The question is, are we currently protecting water on P.E.I in a lot of the province? The answer to that would be yes. But in certain areas we already know the answer is no," said Lund. 

"I think the concern that so many Islanders have is that government is not prepared to follow the rules they have in place now."

Green MLA Lynne Lund says if P.E.I. lifts the moratorium, there could be a negative impact on some streams, rivers and wells. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.)

The new regulations in the Water Act contain stronger language with an emphasis on conservation, according to civil servants who presented at the committee meeting Thursday. 

The regulations will also require drought contingency plans for those that use large amounts of water. 

Farmers, towns, and factories, for example, will have to develop these plans and get them approved.

Protecting the resource

Lund said the amount of water coming from high-capacity wells is not her main concern. 

"I think what we really need to be talking about is what is the fair share of water that we can access safely from any given watershed," she said.

"My main concern is making sure that we protect the resource for future generations and that we find ways to distribute the water that is available in a fair way." 

Base decision on science, says MLA

Deagle said the issue of the moratorium hasn't been dealt with by either Liberal or Conservative governments of the past. 

"I think it should be a decision that's based on science and science only," he said. 

"I hope that we can make a decision that, you know, will encompass everyone, including farmers. So we're not just singling out one industry and discriminating against them," said Deagle. 

The committee is looking for public feedback on the new regulations in the Water Act, and will report back to the legislature on any changes it thinks should be made.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Brian Higgins


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