© Teresa Wright - The Guardian
Potato farmers Gordon McKay, left, Kevin Schurman, centre, and Jason Webster of the Innovative Farmer's Group urged a provincial committee of MLAs Thursday to lift the moratorium on deep-water wells for irrigation.
A group of potato farmers got a chance to present their more controversial side of the growing debate over deep-water irrigation Thursday, telling MLAs they believe the moratorium should be lifted.
Jason Webster, Kevin Schurman and Gordon McKenna, of the Innovative Farm Group, made a presentation to the provincial standing committee currently examining the issue of deep-water wells.
They were last in a long line of presenters Thursday in Charlottetown, all of whom firmly denounced the harms of lifting the current moratorium on the wells.
“We’re feeling a little bit like a bunny in a lion’s den, I guess, today, but at the same time we think it’s fair to have our chance to let you know what our industry and our group would have to tell you what our opinion is on irrigation,” Webster said.
They showed candid photos of potato farmers with their wives and children, playing in the snow or in front of a camper in the summer. They explained that farmers who wish to use deep-water irrigation are responsible Island producers just trying to make a living.
Irrigation would not use vast quantities of water, they argued.
“We need the water as badly as you do, we’re not one bit interested in hurting it, but if it’s there and we can use it, and use it responsibly, we would really like to be able to use it,” Webster said.
The farmers said irrigation helps their potato crops realize a better yield and turn a better profit.
They also said P.E.I. farmers are at risk of losing vital processing and table markets without the ability to guarantee quality. Just one dry week in the summer can make a major difference in size and quality.
“We need the ability to be able to supply consistent, high-quality product to keep our processors interested in staying here,” Webster told the committee.
“Both our main processors have plants in other growing regions where they’re enjoying higher yields and more consistent quality. And unfortunately, we have to beg the question, if you were in business today, how long would you stay at a higher risk, lower quality area before moving your production in your long-term plan somewhere else? If we decide to totally never lift the moratorium on high-capacity wells for irrigation, we will be taking that risk.”
The committee chamber was once again filled to capacity and even overflowing with concerned members of the public. Some even had to stand in the hallway outside the room.
A number of environmental groups made presentations, including the P.E.I. Watershed Alliance, the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation and the Green Party of P.E.I., voicing concerns over how deep-well irrigation could affect groundwater levels or potentially contaminate P.E.I.’s water supply.
All of the environmental groups called for an independent review of the data compiled by the Department of Environment showing the Island uses only a small percentage of available water.
They also called for legislation to be enacted that would regulate and protect groundwater in P.E.I.
Even local representatives of the National Farmer’s Union firmly argued the moratorium on high-capacity irrigation should be kept in place.
So did Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker.
“I am certain that when Islanders are asked whether it is worth risking the long-term health of an irreplaceable resource and the long-term security of their and their children’s access to ample water simply in order to grow bigger potatoes, they will say that it just doesn’t feel right,” Bevan-Baker said.
“It is intuitively wrong.”