PEI

Water Act regulations on the way but not for high-capacity wells

Environment Minister Richard Brown says Prince Edward Islanders will soon get their first look at some of the regulations to go with the province's Water Act. But they will not include regulations for high-capacity wells, the issue that sparked the creation of the Act.

Water advocacy group concerned provincial election may disrupt public consultation

Environment Minister Richard Brown says Water Act regulations will be done in sections, starting with well construction and municipal water systems, with the controversial high-capacity wells after that. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Environment Minister Richard Brown says Prince Edward Islanders will soon get their first look at some of the regulations to go with the province's Water Act.

But that will not include regulations for high-capacity wells, the issue that sparked the creation of the Act.

The Water Act was passed in the legislature in December of 2017. But it will only start to be implemented when regulations are passed to go with it.

"We have a number of regulations ready," said Brown, minister of communities, land and environment.

"We want to start proceeding with public consultations on them, so early in February I'm hoping to get before the standing committee and we will post those regulations."

'We've made it that way in order to make it flexible enough to allow us to get underway right away and not wait for all the regulations at once because that could take up to years,' says Communities, Land and Environment Minister Richard Brown. (PEI Legislative Assembly)

Timeline is 'open'

Brown says there is no official timeline for the public consultation.

"We're leaving it open, as much as needed," Brown said.

"We will put it on the web and then we'll see how many people want to participate and then from there we'll start hosting meetings and if people want more meetings, we will have more meetings."

Brown says executive council can implement and proclaim sections of the Water Act as they go along. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

Brown says the regulations will also be done in sections, starting with well construction and municipal water systems, with the controversial high-capacity wells after that.

"That's number three," Brown said.

"We're just waiting for some more information in terms of that. We're hiring some people to administer the high-capacity wells that we have currently in place so we're going to get some more data then go to the public with that."

Proclaim 'as we go'

If all goes well, Brown hopes to have the first two sets of regulations in place by spring.

"Executive council can implement and proclaim sections of the act as we go along," Brown said. 

"We've made it that way in order to make it flexible enough to allow us to get underway right away and not wait for all the regulations at once because that could take up to years."

The Water Act was passed in the legislature in December of 2017. But it will only start to be implemented when regulations are passed to go with it. (CBC)

Parts of the act will then take effect as the regulations are approved.

"Once we start passing our regulations, the sections that are prudent to those regulations will be proclaimed," Brown said.

Election concerns

But a water advocacy group on P.E.I. is worried there may not be time for public consultation before a provincial election call. 

"We had been told at the fall sitting of the legislature in 2017 that the regulation consultation would be happening in the spring of 2018," said Catherine O'Brien, chair of the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water.

"That didn't happen. We've been anxiously waiting."

Catherine O'Brien says her group had been asking for a meeting with Brown since he took over as minister in January 2018. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

O'Brien says her group had been asking for a meeting with Brown since he took over as minister in January 2018.

"Waiting a whole calendar year is a little frightening when we had such a great consultative process and then silence for a year," O'Brien said.  

"A lot can happen and a lot has happened in a year before this Water Act comes into place."

'Very nervous'

O'Brien points to a couple of water issues that have caused concern for the coalition in 2018, including new high-capacity wells for aquaculture and the increased number of holding ponds across the province.

"He did apologize and said from now on moving forward we'll be meeting more and he is concentrating on water so we hope that is the case," O'Brien said.

"We're just still very nervous about this because this is likely an election year and if we wait until after an election, we don't know what will happen with the Water Act."

Catherine O’Brien, chair of the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water, pictured here reacting to debates about the Water Act in November 2017. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

Brown had no prediction as to what will happen if the writ is dropped.

"If there is an election and I don't know when there is an election, what regulations are passed will be passed and what sections of the act are passed will be passed," Brown said.

"The rest will be left up to the newly elected government."

As for more high-capacity wells in 2019, Brown says the moratorium will remain in place.

"We've commited to no new high-capacity wells in 2019," Brown said.

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About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water rowing, travelling to Kenya or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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