No decision has been made on deep-well irrigation: Sherry

Teresa Wright
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Environment Minister Janice Sherry, centre, spoke to a committee of MLAs on the issue of deep-well irrigation Thursday. Joining her were the provincial director of environment Jim Young, left, and Bruce Raymond, right, manager of watershed planning for the province.

Environment Minister Janice Sherry says government has made no decisions on deep-well irrigation and the moratorium will not be lifted unless it’s proven it will not diminish the quantity or quality of P.E.I.’s groundwater.

Sherry was in the hot seat Tuesday at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry.

She said the question of whether to lift the current moratorium on deep-water wells for irrigation has become a leading issue and that she has received a lot of impassioned feedback from Islanders.

She said she welcomes a “lively debate.”

“As a government, we are listening to what Islanders have to say on this issue. We are listening to what the agricultural industry is telling us,” she said.

“You will hear that we have more than enough water to meet our needs. However, that supply must be carefully monitored and managed, That is the issue when it comes to issuing permits for high-capacity wells.”

The issue has become a topic of heated debate, especially after industry giant Cavendish Farms and the P.E.I. Potato Board mounted a full-scale lobby effort several weeks ago. They are pushing for access to deep-water wells to supply potato fields with water for supplemental irrigation.

But environmental groups are raising serious concern over the impacts large-scale agricultural irrigation could have on P.E.I.’s groundwater levels. They also worry about potential nitrate contamination.

The committee meeting Thursday saw a packed crowd of concerned Islanders in attendance — a rare occurrence for the normally empty public gallery of the committee chamber.

A technical briefing was presented about how P.E.I.’s groundwater is managed and scientific data about recharge rates, compiled by the Environment Department.

Bruce Raymond, manager of watershed and subdivision planning for the province, said provincial data shows the rate at which P.E.I.’s groundwater is replenished every year is quite high.

This recharge rate is equal to 154 Olympic-sized swimming pools for every square inch of the Island, he told the committee.

Raymond also said only seven per cent of water available for extraction within environmental regulations is being used.

But when the time for questions came, Opposition MLAs were mainly interested in the politics of the issue.

Opposition Leader Steven Myers asked Sherry who first suggested the moratorium be lifted.

She said the request came from the potato board.

“What’s been told to me by many, many people, too many to think it’s not true, is that government went to the potato board and said, ‘Hey you should ask for this because we’ll probably give it to you’,” Myers said.

“Absolutely not,” Sherry replied.

Agriculture Critic Colin LaVie questioned Sherry on the involvement of the premier’s former chief of staff, Chris LeClair, and former Liberal MLA Cynthia King. The two were hired to help the potato board lobby in favour of deep-water wells.

He asked whether the Environment Department paid them.

Sherry firmly denied this, saying Cavendish Farms hired LeClair and King to educate people about high-capacity wells.

“I don’t have a role to play in that, that’s totally a private business hiring someone to provide a service for them. That’s got nothing to do with government,” Sherry said.

“When you talk about educate, is this process already done?” LaVie asked.

Sherry stressed that nothing has gone before cabinet on this issue and that all opinions and data are continuing to be assessed.

“We need informed discussions. We need facts. We need science. We need to build a consensus around this issue and I can assure the members of this committee that the views of all Islanders will be taken into account before a decision is made.”

Organizations: Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment Department, P.E.I. Potato Board

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Recent comments

  • w kennedy
    February 15, 2014 - 02:19

    So it doesn't rain enough on PEIsland??? This actually to me is good news they didn't cave in right away. Usually for short term gain the future generations actual food supply has been compromised and our present health [a major tax expense] with industrial farming and GMO getting approval world wide.

  • former cavendish farms worker
    February 14, 2014 - 12:52

    Robert Irving has been trying to reduce costs at the 2 plants in New Annan but they, along with the McCain's plant in Albany are the highest cost french fry plants in North America. Energy is a big component, so are the spuds that they process. There are a lot of fixed costs without much wiggle room. So where do you go to? Cut worker salaries, or increase the output, or both. I think the 20-30 year old plants in New Annan will be closed within the next 10 years. Simplot just replaced 3 old plants in Idaho which employed 400 workers each, with 1 single new plant that employs only about 300 workers yet surpasses the output of the 3 old plants. Irving won't be able to compete with that.

  • johnny
    February 14, 2014 - 12:12

    souns like some ppl in govt have already been bought by big agriculture

  • Joe Blow
    February 14, 2014 - 11:35

    Well one thing is certain....if Janice Sherry has anything to do with this decision....the wrong decision will be made!! Just like all the wrong decisions she made with Plan B! This is one MLA that doesn't deserve to be a minister. What a joke this government is!! We are the laughing stock of Canada with this government full of idiots.

    • And you?
      February 14, 2014 - 12:39

      Joe blow?? You're a Rhodes scholar?

  • Stephen Murnghan
    February 14, 2014 - 11:33

    Before any decision is made we, teh people of PEI, need to be informed on the science behind the issue. Here is the water extraction science and policy that keeps getting mentioned. It includes the references and studies that were contucted to determine the current extraction levels as well as the recharge rate for our ground water. I really don't care what side of the issue you fall on...that's the beauty of democracy you are entiled to your opinion and I am entitled to mine. But PLEASE make it an informed opinion. To see through the political spin from both sides you need to be informed.

    • Quiet Observer
      February 14, 2014 - 12:20

      Well said.

    • Well done
      February 15, 2014 - 07:18

      Stephen, you have offered the only sensible comment I have read on this issue.

  • SlyFox
    February 14, 2014 - 10:43

    What has me impressed is ,these two people start a lobbyist company and just in time for deep water well issue.This reminds me of when Cynthia King apply for a job and got it that was never advertise.Timing is everything and these two seem to have perfect timing.

  • jon
    February 14, 2014 - 09:41

    Forget about drilling new wells....more like government issued water tanks attached to your houses and charged back to you on your taxes. You can only go so deep for water. When its over....that's it !! That will be the next step. I am beginning to wish that the Island potato industry would go away forever................

    • common sense
      February 14, 2014 - 15:23

      Potato industry go away forever? Prepare to be poor or move away from PEI... The industry has asked for the moratorium only if it has no adverse effect on the environment. That is fact. Stop dumping on the one industry that creates jobs and prosperity in this province out of ignorance and jealously

  • Time To Act
    February 14, 2014 - 09:36

    Dear Islanders, please, you must speak up. Write letters to your rep and to Ghiz and to Sherry. Don't just leave it to others thinking there will plenty of people speaking up. That's what happened with the HST and Plan B and everything else that they've pushed down our throats. They're your kids and grandchildren. The LEAST you can do for them is speak up about this.

  • don
    February 14, 2014 - 05:44

    Sherry i hope you have a BIG shovel. we still want to see hat top secret paper you were given it is the tax payers building and you work for us. or is it of NATIONAL SECURITY that you can not show us? and we all know that you will allow deep well as money talks, and when we no longer have fresh water what will you do then? tell us with all your training and your years of schooling in this field. remember sherry where you were born in a town not a farm.

  • no
    February 14, 2014 - 05:19