© Guardian photo
Agriculture Minister George Webster walks to Province House. FILE PHOTO.
He’s not ruling it out but Agriculture Minister George Webster says the lifting of the deep water well moratorium and issuing new permits this year could be a stretch.
But that all might depend on the opinion of Islanders.
Webster confirmed at the annual meeting of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture Friday in Charlottetown that a process is forthcoming to engage the general public and gather opinion on the controversial issue.
A moratorium on deep water wells was established 10 years ago and some potato growers are pressing the government to lift the ban and allow some new permits to be acquired this year. There are already 35 deep water wells grandfathered into the regulations, and Webster said there have been no adverse effects recorded from those wells.
“We need much more consultation with the public so they are informed,’’ he told The Guardian in an interview. “We will likely be told here today that there is adequate water available, but we want the public to be able to air opinion and hear the science.”
Watershed management director Bruce Raymond of the Department of Environment was one of the highlights at the farm meeting when he identified that — while every region is different — P.E.I. is mostly blessed with plenty of water and at a regular recharge rate.
“It works out to the equivalent of 154 Olympic size swimming pools for every square kilometre,’’ he told a roomful of farmers at the Confederation Centre of the Arts. “That’s about 70 times more than we currently use across the province.”
Raymond wasn’t suggesting there was so much water that irrigation permits should be handed out carte blanche, but he confirmed that the entire province only uses seven per cent (for everything) of the 35 per cent of the current water supply readily available.
The $1 billion dollar potato industry is looking to irrigate about 30,000 additional acres and estimates it would only take an additional one per cent of water. Raymond said the “math” hadn’t been finalized, but estimated that was a low ball figure.
“We use about seven per cent of the available level (top of the aquifer) so there is still quite a bit of water,’’ he said.
Webster said Stratford is currently using almost 90 per cent of its current water supply and irrigation permits would not be entertained from that region, but he confirmed there were certain parts of the province where the water was more than plentiful.
The minister said he expects full consultations with the public coming soon and before any decision is made by government.
“This year might be a stretch but I’m not ruling it out or saying it’s going to happen. Some could be doable, but not from coast to coast to coast.”
Opposition Leader Steven Myers attended the presentations on deep water wells and climate change and insisted public consultation was necessary.
“I won’t oppose a decision based on good science,’’ he said. “But there’s no need to rush on making a good decision. I’m asking the government to put everything on the table so we can all decide.”