Deep water well issue may go to public consultation

Steve Sharratt
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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.”

Organizations: P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture, The Guardian, Department of Environment Confederation Centre

Geographic location: Charlottetown

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Recent comments

  • Here's A Thought
    February 02, 2014 - 12:10

    Comments here on the Guardian website are fine but most MLAs don't read them. You need to write directly to your MLA and to Minister Sherry or Ghiz himself. If people feel as strongly about these deep water wells as it appears then speak up or it will be Plan B and HST all over again only worse because there's no going back after the water is contaminated. If they continue to hear from the same people all the time they tend to ignore them. It's no big deal, just google their email address and write your MLA.

  • w kennedy
    February 02, 2014 - 03:40

    with the added nitrates and agri. chemicals I drink bottled water. The fluoride and chlorine make city water unfit even for showers.

  • Stewart Smith
    February 01, 2014 - 21:44

    If the minister wants to hear public opinion, he need look no further than the letters that have appeared in this most excellent newspaper. I've never seen so many people and organizations come down so firmly against a proposal. And as for Mr Raymond, shame on you. Who do you work for???

  • don
    February 01, 2014 - 11:52

    John MacDonald. I agree with you and it also has been proven that watering during the day light hours is nuts and when i see it pouring down rain and the farmer is still watering his fields to me that is not nuts that is “retarded”. And and to be watering your crops in the heat of the day is also “retarded” have any of these farmers ever hear of EVAPORATION? And can they tell me how many farmers have drained the creeks of water and the fish leave as they have no water? Now lets see the farmer use the well he has on his farm connected to his house if he has the back bone he has no trouble using other waters use your own. Leave the fish water alone. And the safest time to water is an hour before sunset and an hour after sunset that's hen the ground is cool and you will not have the water EVAPORATING into the air. And as far as the minister sherry she was born in a town what does she know about farming? Sherry show us your College degree in the field of farming or environment? Show us we all know you are just a big puppet for ghiz and you do as you are told and show us that paper it belong o the people NOT YOU. We the tax payers owns that nice chair you sit your butt into and everything in that office we paid for. So show us that paper. But we know this it goes against the farmers and the big farmers can not have it be known now can they. Now sherry prove us wrong if you can. And we know that the law will change to make the the big farmer like the irvings OWNS this government and members of the liberal party in the house but you all have to make it look like you all care. But tell me sherry and be honest if you can what will YOU do when we NO LONGER HAVE FRESH WATER?

  • I love water
    February 01, 2014 - 11:44

    "We use about seven per cent of the available level (top of the aquifer) so there is still quite a bit of water,’’ .. Yay! So let's just use it all til it's gone. Just because it APPEARS to be plentiful, there is still not justification to mine it so potato farmers can net more profit on their "investment". Public consultation? Absolutely.

  • UPWESTER
    February 01, 2014 - 11:02

    I just bet that where George Webster said the water was more plentiful just happens to be alongside his and Robert Irving's fields.We have to stop these big greedy farmers before they kill us all with their toxins and using up all the water.This Island cannot support factory farming in the quest to make a gigantic french fry.

  • bigjimpei
    February 01, 2014 - 10:31

    More voodoo math from the same Liberal government that can't balance a budget. An aquifer that holds a million liters of water has a maximum of one million liters of water available at any given time. Mother nature doesn't conveniently refill that aquifer every time it drains. You get maybe 25 million liters of water available to the aquifer when the the snow melts. George and his farming buddies are calling that 25 recharges of the aquifer to make their point...but at least 24 million liters of that water runs elsewhere because the aquifer is full. If mother nature was co-operating and providing rain during the growing season we wouldn't need irrigation. Agricultural irrigation will pull water from the aquifers beyond their ability to naturally recharge. Claiming that they aren't doing any harm because the aquifer will eventually recharge is just plain stupid.

  • Romeo
    February 01, 2014 - 10:13

    If you decie to drill wells, make them Government owned and. The water can be paid for. Then when peoples wells run dry the Government has a slush fund to redrill new wells for the public.

  • fred
    February 01, 2014 - 10:04

    TIME TO WAKE UP .Going by past experiences / This gov. tells us all the things that are good for us and the economy. How do you think that is working out for us now? This is a conflict to have mr. webster as agriculture minister ! This is sort of like putting the monkey in charge of the zoo !

  • hammike
    February 01, 2014 - 09:56

    The big problem is the lack of organic material in the soil. Organic matter helps soil to retain moisture. The current 3 year rotation with potatoes, beans, and corn does not allow the organics to be replenished. We need a 5 year rotation with 2 consecutive years of sod.

  • Lloyd MacLeod
    February 01, 2014 - 09:14

    Let,s put everything on the table so we can all choose the best course for all the people. Yeah right just like the HST. It does,nt matter what the people think. They will do what they want and to hell with what we think.

  • hedge lines, hedge lines, hedge lines
    February 01, 2014 - 08:55

    Come on

  • John MacDonald
    February 01, 2014 - 08:08

    Legislating a lion's share of our water is unacceptable. The article states: '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.” ' Simple common sense is being ignored in an argument which says no harm has occurred so far. The argument is made that therefore, more deep wells should be okay. What?! Okay until they're not! Then, do you think the public will be given back their right to inexpensive water? Not if the trends of history are any indicator. Environmental scientists concerned with global weather issue clear warnings. Water will become an increasingly valuable commodity in the future. It's likely the global extremes of floods and droughts which are breaking records will become even more extreme as global warming progresses. The world news reports major shifts in weather extremes. That's enough science to support keeping our watertables protected for everyone's benefit, not just potato farmers. Beware statistics you'll undoubtedly hear. The potato lobby has ample money to produce plenty of statistics to be used to convince government. It will require paying attention to this argument to protect your water. Use your common sense, folks. Use your voices. Hold on to your and your grandchildren's water at all costs.

    • Kay Wall
      February 01, 2014 - 09:42

      I couldn't have said it better myself! I totally agree. We live in an area of the province which is seeing trees being cut, topsoil blown away and lots of water being used by a large food processor with several wells. Also the city of Summerside has moved wells close to this area and a potato wash plant has also arrived. This year one of the streams went dry - The first time I ever saw that! Water is a necessary resource for survival and the term "You never miss the water until the well runs dry" is so true. We had our well polluted years ago by the food processing plant and with five small children at the time, it was no picnic and no one carried water to us!! Many wells now are already too high in nitrates to be safe. We are in the narrowest part of the province and we don't want to be bringing up salt water either. We will never support deep water wells as we watch the trees being cut to gain more land by greedy potato farmers!! The water belongs to all Islanders and should remain that way science or no science. I grew up on a farm and we had two springs surrounded by trees which fed the streams and watered our cattle and now the trees are gone and so are the springs and streams. It has turned into farm land!

  • hedge lines, hedge lines, hedge lines
    February 01, 2014 - 06:23

    Put hedge lines back in! large farmers taking them out for years to dry the land for early cropping, now the ground is to dry. But an uneducated decision is to waste water, today's fix is tomorrow's problem. Hedge lines, hedge lines, hedge lines!

  • don
    February 01, 2014 - 05:37

    Minister George Webster you are in a conflict of interest and i'm sure you are still in farming but a family members running the farm for you. but even if not your buddies will vote in the favor to help you all drain our drinking water do you care? NO