P.E.I. environment minister releases Water Act regulations

P.E.I. is a step closer to bringing its Water Act into force. The Water Act was passed in the legislature in 2017, but has not yet come into effect.

Draft regulations continue moratorium on high-capacity wells, close 'loophole'

P.E.I.'s environment minister has released the third and final set of draft regulations needed in order to proclaim the province's Water Act. (CBC)

P.E.I. is a step closer to bringing its Water Act into force. The Water Act was passed in the legislature in 2017, but has not yet come into effect.

On Thursday, Minister of Environment, Water and Climate Change Brad Trivers announced public consultations on the third and final set of regulations needed before the act can be proclaimed.

The final set of regulations focus on water withdrawal, and control how much water can be drawn from wells, watercourses and wetlands. 

"I'm so happy we're moving this process along, and I can't wait until we have the proper protections in place for our water," Trivers said.

Moratorium on high-capacity wells

The regulations, which can be viewed online, have enhanced permit requirements for both high- and low-capacity wells. 

The draft regulations state that permits will not be given for the construction of high-capacity wells for the purpose of agricultural irrigation — but include a clause to grandfather in wells previously authorized under the Environmental Protection Act. 

Environment Minister Brad Trivers says the draft regulations maintain a current moratorium on high-capacity wells. (Al MacCormick/CBC)

That continues the moratorium that is currently in place. 

"The current moratorium was through an order in cabinet. This is a moratorium that's explicitly in the regulations. Otherwise they're pretty much a continuation of the existing moratorium," Trivers said.

Closing a loophole

Trivers said the regulations will also close a loophole that can be used to get around the moratorium.

"Currently, multiple low-capacity wells are being used together to pump high-capacity volumes of water for irrigation," Trivers said.

"Under the new regulations, when multiple low-capacity wells are used together to pump the same volume as a high-capacity well, they will be treated as a high-capacity well, and all regulations for high-capacity wells will apply."

When multiple wells are used to feed a holding pond for irrigation, they would fall under the same regulations as high-capacity wells. (CBC)

Trivers said a prime example is when multiple wells are used to feed a holding pond.

While the regulations are under review, Trivers said his department is "taking action to make sure that we don't see a plethora of holding ponds spring up in anticipation of the Water Act being proclaimed."

He said he has asked staff to inspect all existing holding ponds, to make sure they are not negatively affecting the environment. While he said there are currently no government regulations for holding ponds, he said that is being considered. 

In the meantime, Trivers said he has the authority under the Environmental Protection Act to shut down wells "if they're negatively impacting on the environment."

Public consultation

Issues of water extraction on P.E.I. have been debated for years. The initial recommendation the province develop a water act was made by a provincial standing committee in 2014, under the government of Robert Ghiz.

Trivers said the new regulations were completed over the winter by the previous MacLauchlan government but not released to the public.

Green MLA Lynne Lund said her party needs time to examine the regulations, but said she's concerned about the phasing-in period, which could take up to five years. 

"Five years seems to be a long time," Lund said, suggesting restrictions on wells used to fill agricultural holding ponds should come into effect immediately.

The period of consultation on the draft regulations has now begun. Islanders can give feedback online until Oct. 2, and the province will hold public meetings in the fall. 

More P.E.I. news

With files from Kerry Campbell


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