Agriculture federation wades into deep wells debate

Teresa Wright
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Federation of Agriculture representatives Alvin Keenan, left, John Jamieson and Mary Robertson presented Friday to the provincial standing committee currently examining the issue of deep-well irrigation. Guardian photo.

The P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture wants the moratorium on deep-water wells lifted, but only after the provincial government’s scientific data has been independently reviewed and proven accurate.

Executive director John Jamieson told the provincial standing committee currently examining the issue of deep-well irrigation the federation is sensitive to the tremendous anxiety this issue has raised among Islanders.

But some farmers say they need irrigation to ensure the potato processing industry remains viable in the province.

“It’s extremely important to the economy of Prince Edward Island that farmers have the ability to use science and technology that allows for the growing of high quality crops,” Jamieson told the committee.

“Food processors require high quality crops to maintain customers and markets and we are at a significant risk of losing essential processing and table markets by our struggles to guarantee a quality product year after year.”

That’s why the agriculture federation believes the moratorium on deep-well irrigation should be lifted.

But only after the science from the Department of Environment, which has said P.E.I. has more than enough water, has been peer-reviewed – something environmental groups have also been calling for.

“The scientific opinion we think is strong, but given the angst, we’re saying it doesn’t hurt to send it out for review.”

This hot-button issue has galvanized Islanders into a debate over the province’s groundwater resource and how it should be managed.

Earlier this year, Irving-owned Cavendish Farms and the P.E.I. Potato Board mounted a full-scale lobby effort, pushing for access to deep-water wells in order supply potato fields with water for supplemental irrigation during dry spells in the growing season.

It has since become a lightning rod for environmental advocates who have banded together in a grassroots campaign to protect P.E.I.’s groundwater against corporate and monetary interests.

Jamieson said Friday he is disappointed the debate has become on pitting agriculture and farmers against those who care for the environment.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” he said.

“I think we, as an industry, are responsible. We recognize the challenges we have and we’re not going to walk away from that, but we are taking actions to try and improve our environmental stewardship.”

Members of the Federation of Agriculture passed a resolution saying they would only be in favour of lifting the moratorium if it was proven to be safe for the Island’s water supply.

They also believe – should the moratorium be lifted – that new wells should introduced slowly, in a highly monitored, phased-in approach, working collaboratively with local watershed groups.

But Todd Dupuis of the Atlantic Salmon Federation cautioned the committee over the many unknown outcomes of depleting the Island’s base flow of groundwater and how this could impact salmon and other fish and shellfish habitat.

Dupuis, who has worked in watershed restoration for more than 25 years, pointed to a report completed by the Canadian Rivers Institute in 2009 that advised base flow of P.E.I.’s groundwater should not be reduced.

Yet the Department of Environment water extraction policy allows for up to 35 per cent reduction.

“Our recommendations are, maintain the moratorium while these uncertainties are being investigated,” he said.

“We need to do more homework.”

 NDP Leader Mike Redmond, who also presented to the committee Friday, called on government to take a thorough and cautious approach to water policy.

“This is a time when informed assessment of the long-term needs of the Island's soil and water must be done. A life-first approach to sustainability must underpin the analysis of our water supply."


Organizations: P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture, Department of Environment, P.E.I. Potato Board Atlantic Salmon Federation Canadian Rivers Institute

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, P.E.I., Irving

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Recent comments

  • timetostand
    March 15, 2014 - 22:47

    What should happen here is,there really should be a public vote.This is too big not to give the public the final say.As a taxpaying citizen I demand a chance to voice MY opinion...This is OUR water...NOT for it`s fate to be decided on a chosen few in the name of profit.The government MUST listen to people and do what is only right.

  • dave anger
    March 15, 2014 - 18:08

    what is the royalty that the government will be receiving per liter from the farmers as water is worth more than oil whenyou are thirsty!

  • fred
    March 15, 2014 - 10:54

    sorry . Enough is enough! Why take a chance on our water supply just to satisfy corporate greed. Potato farmers should consider themselves lucky to even continue on the way they are going / Poisoning fish / small animals /shellfish/contaminating wells with high nitrates. pei has the highest rate of cancer in north america. Federation says the only time they may need the extra water is if is really dry and they will monitor it . Ya the same way they monitor all the nitrates in wells and all the fish kills that happen every year .The driest time of year is the worst time to use it / that;s when everyone;s water level is at risk . If there is that much water / why is P.e.i. introducing / by law; low flow toilets / shower heads and faucets . These large corporations; black mailed the gov.far too long. This foolishness has to stop.

  • Concerned
    March 15, 2014 - 09:33

    End selfish corporate potato dams. These greedy pigs are poisoning the Island, provide terrible jobs for minimum wage. They bring nothing to our economy. No wells, No more pesticide, No more herbicide.. Have a conscious greedy pigs! A thank you to all the up and coming Organic Farmers with crop diversification, you folks are the future of Island farming and we all can be proud of you. Much respect.

  • SlyFox
    March 15, 2014 - 08:56

    So if there is so much ground water why did Charlottetown dig the extra well,steams going dry that never did before and so on? Mr,Jamieson must be talking about a different source of ground water than what Charlottetown uses if there is so much extra to go to water potatoes. Our water is a one time resource,if well let it be poisoned it is gone. Think about this the next time your in the shower or tub.

  • candrayo
    March 15, 2014 - 08:34

    I will say it again Farmers…be nice to Mother Nature…and she will be nice to you! Poison her, and she will eradicate her poison…US! I am more afraid of her power than I am yours…so please stop this crazy need to make money and just get on with the business of feeding your brothers and sisters healthy food! Please….

  • fed up
    March 15, 2014 - 07:43

    John I don't know what is fair but Islanders have to protect themselves from the farmers. Farmer are enemies of the environment. Want proof ? Take a drive around during the melt in a few days. Thousands of tons of topsoil in the ditches and brooks, that is all the proof anyone needs .

  • T D MacRae
    March 15, 2014 - 06:07

    If the province feels strongly enough about saving water that they legislate low-flow toilets, rejecting deep-water wells should be a no-brainer. Re: low-flow legislation: “It’s the right thing to do. We live in an age where water is very important to us, water quality is very important to us and we are using water at an ever-growing rate so we have to be careful with our precious resource,” said Steve Townsend, with P.E.I.’s Environment Department.

  • intobed
    March 14, 2014 - 23:43

    The PEI Federation of Agriculture represents businesses that are only interested in increasing their profit. margin. They have given us high cancer rates, the HST, fish kills, anoxic waterways, and many other negative events that have had a detrimental effect on Islanders. Whatever they say, don't believe them. PEI needs a better way of farming ... we need better farmers.

    • don
      March 15, 2014 - 06:17

      intobed. i agree with you fully they care less about islanders and more about money. but they will pay in the end. the governments can not tell what mother nature is going to do. look at out west they had drought and bad and mark my words it will happen here.

    • Patrick
      March 15, 2014 - 10:14

      Cancer rates are high in all the Atlantic provinces, Newfoundland is as high as PEI if not higher, what are you going to blame on the high cancer rates there? No pesticides used there. or very little.

  • johnthames
    March 14, 2014 - 20:45

    Redmond should steer clear of science and stop mentioning his life-first policy, just introduces political mumbo-jumbo where it's not needed and makes the real science look like it's not on his side. Go away Mike Redmond. That said the industrial agriculture industry has been free-riding on the environment and human health here for years. Fish kills and elevated cancer rates are the proof. The real question is whether the decision makers are getting evidence-based advice in a manner they can understand. I have my doubts. Here is the bottom line: if we contaminate the base ground water in this province the game is over, for everyone. Can we take the risk for larger french fries? The answer is no.