Activists raise concerns to P.E.I. MLAs over deep-well irrigation

Teresa Wright
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Front, from left, Boyd Allen, Catherine O’Brien, and Don Mazer of the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water make a case against lifing the moratorium on deep-well irrigation to a provincial standing committee Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014.

A coalition made up of 16 groups and over 200 individuals from across P.E.I. urged MLAs Thursday to keep the current moratorium on deep-well irrigation in place.

The newly formed Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water made an impassioned presentation Thursday to a provincial standing committee currently holding hearings on the issue of deep-water wells.

Coalition spokeswoman Catherine O’Brien told the MLAs on the committee more extensive public consultation and review must take place before any move is made to allow more of these wells to be drilled.

“It is imperative that respect for protecting fresh water be at the forefront of these discussions,” O’Brien said.

“P.E.I. is one of only a small number of places entirely dependent upon groundwater, prompting the need for careful, diligent deliberations.”

Over 50 supporters and members of the coalition packed into the normally empty public gallery of the committee chamber to show their support.

The issue has sparked a heated public debate over water use in Prince Edward Island, and whether the province has enough groundwater to support industrial irrigation of potato crops.

The P.E.I. Potato Board and Cavendish Farms argue some Island farmers need access to more water in order to keep pace with competitors in the mid-western United States.

They also point to data compiled by the provincial Department of Environment showing P.E.I. has a high annual recharge rate and that increasing the use of groundwater for irrigation of crops would use only a fraction of available groundwater resources.

But the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water says this data is incomplete and should be peer-reviewed by scientists, experts and the public to ensure all relevant information has been included.

This was one of five recommendations presented to the standing committee Thursday.

The coalition also wants a comprehensive water policy developed for Prince Edward Island, suggesting perhaps a commission could be struck for this purpose.

It further wants government to determine and publish the full environmental, agricultural and environmental costs of lifting the deep-well ban.

“This is a time when we should be exercising particular care about the use and protection of our water,” O’Brien said.

“We can’t afford the risk of being wrong.”

Mi’kmaq Keptin John Joe Sark also shared his concerns over the effects the wells could have on P.E.I.’s water resources.

He said he would be the first to launch a court action should P.E.I.’s water be contaminated as a result of the wells.

“I strongly recommend that the moratorium on high-capacity, deep wells for potato field irrigation not be lifted until we are damn sure that these deep-water wells will not harm the quality of fresh water in this province,” Sark said.

The committee has a busy schedule of meetings planned on the issue as more and more individuals and groups continue to request the chance to lend their voice to the growing debate.

Next week, the National Farmers Union, the PEI Watershed Alliance, the Central Queens Branch of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation and Innovative Farms Group will have their chance at the committee table.



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Recent comments

  • Worker
    February 28, 2014 - 22:35

    Nice photo! Hardly a working person in the crowd and all they do is complain about the farmers who work to grow food and keep this Island afloat. Where do they think the welfare comes from?

    February 28, 2014 - 12:11

    We live on an Island ,once are water table is fouled by saltwater or chemicals that is the end of this life sustaining resource .No wells OR fracking !

  • Observer
    February 28, 2014 - 10:25

    Trading possible destruction of our water supply for jobs, no matter how many, is not a good trade! There is too much at stake to take such a risk. Thank you to the residents who showed up to make the point.

    • Jobs
      February 28, 2014 - 12:46

      There would be no jobs created.

  • So...if...
    February 28, 2014 - 08:30

    I wonder what the govts plans are for deep water wells & fracking & would any of it be allowed in the winter river or north river water sheds. Just wondering......

  • MFH
    February 28, 2014 - 08:23

    I'm afraid that oposition to this is going to be a lost cause. A good number of cabinet members are farmers, farm related or friends of farmers and the needs of farmers come first and foremost in this province. The obvious danger of ruining our water supply means nothing when it comes to filling the pockets of the infuential people who control the government.

  • One of the Plebs
    February 28, 2014 - 07:56

    pleb·i·scite (plĕb′ĭ-sīt′, -sĭt) n. 1. A direct vote in which the entire electorate is invited to accept or refuse a proposal 2. A vote in which a population exercises the right of national self-determination.

  • Quiet Observer
    February 28, 2014 - 07:37

    I agree with having peer reviewed science be the basis for the decision. Right now, many arguments are being based on no science and ignorance of what the facts are. let's find the facts and have the decision based on that. By the way, for those of you slamming Cavendish Farms, stop and think what would happen if they closed shop and moved out. PEI would lose it's largest private sector employer and over 1,000 direct and indirect jobs. careful not to bite the hand that feeds you. And for those who think farmers don't deserve to make a profit, look at your own world - would you work for nothing? A farmers profit is his paycheque.

  • Stand Back For A Minute
    February 28, 2014 - 06:58

    On one hand we have a group of people who's main concern is the health and well-being of PEI water. On the other hand we have a group who's main concern is profits. Which group has the most long term effect on your life and the life of your grandchildren to come? Answer that question and then stand up and be counted. Don't just sit there.

  • Mr. P. Head
    February 28, 2014 - 06:22

    Another issue not being addressed here is the pressure by corporate interests to produce a certain type of potato. These multi-national corporations are not demanding a more nutritious and healthy product, they're demanding a product that fits their marketing strategy. Longer fries and larger potato chips in exchange for our children's water? The only thing more insane is a government that supports that insanity.

  • chris
    February 28, 2014 - 00:44

    The fact that Cavendish Farms (Irving oil) is petitioning the government should speak volumes to whether this is a good idea. If it were up to them the maritimes would look like the oil fields.

  • Joe Blow
    February 27, 2014 - 23:43

    Its funny....right now to try and push their agenda through, the government is saying the island has a high annual recharge rate and lots of water kicking around.....but in the summertime when the sun is scorching the ground, we are told to save water and use what we have sparingly!!! So which is it? Do we have lots of water, or so we not? Like most of the Liberals decisions....this one has a back door, crooked deal in place to make someone rich. There is no need for deep water wells. And what the heck are we doing trying to compete with mid-western US where there are millions of people and millions of farmers. We are PEI...140,000 people....keep it simple and look after ourselves.

  • Matt Kenny
    February 27, 2014 - 23:16

    Thank you to everyone who showed up to this meeting, as there are many more who believe in this issue but couldn't or didn't show up (Such as myself). The problem I have is that all of these people had to spend all their time, gas money etc. to attend a meeting on an issue that is also obsorbing much government resources to address,. This debate is long winded when common sense is obvious, it's simply not a good idea... look at California right now and the brave new world we are entering in water scarcity. We need to stop cowtailing to corporations, and protect our groundwater from corporate greed.

  • reality check
    February 27, 2014 - 22:17

    ''The P.E.I. Potato Board and Cavendish Farms argue some Island farmers need access to more water in order to keep pace with competitors in the mid-western United States.'' Now it comes out at the 11th hour. This is all about Robert Irving trying to scramble to make his inefficient plants at New Annan competitive with Simplot's plants in the U.S. It ain't gonna happen Mr. Irving. PEI is a high cost jurisdiction for energy alone. When Simplot closed 4 plants and opened 1 new one with 1/5 the work force and power requirements but 5 times the production capacity, the writing was on the wall for the Maritimes. Just make New Annan a tax write-off and go do something else in Dieppe with the money.

  • Andrew Lush
    February 27, 2014 - 21:50

    Thanks to Catherine O'Brien and Keptin Sark for putting forward such compelling arguments, and so eloquently. Let's make sure that the overwhelming response of Islanders to this issue results in a proper Water Policy that encompasses all users of water on our Island.