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."