Deep-water wells continue to raise concerns

Teresa Wright
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Cathy Ryan, from the University of Calgary, tells MLAs she believes P.E.I. has a plentiful amount of groundwater. The standing commitee on environment continued to probe the issue of deep-water wells at a hearing in Charlottetown Wednesay.

More organizations and citizens are urging the P.E.I. government to exercise caution as it continues to consider Cavendish Farms’ proposal to lift the moratorium on deep-water wells for farming.

On Wednesday, the P.E.I. Aquaculture Alliance appeared before the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry, which has been holding a series of heavily-attended hearings on the issue.

Ann Worth, executive director of the alliance, told MLAs on the committee her organization has been given assurances by scientists at the Department of Environment that P.E.I. has plenty of groundwater and that it recharges at a high rate.

But given that mussels, oysters and finfish operations rely on healthy waterways to grow their fish, Worth said she hopes every effort will be made to ensure the science is sound.

“We need to be rock solid in our view that there will be no detrimental impacts from incremental deep-water wells for agriculture use.”

A public debate over whether to allow farmers to drill deep wells so they can irrigate their crops when the rain doesn’t fall has been ongoing for several months.

It has sparked intense public interest, with the committee room being filled to capacity in the normally empty public gallery and dozens of groups and citizens lining up to share their views.

Environmental advocates say they worry the wells could deplete the province’s groundwater levels if used for industrial farming.

Groundwater is the province’s only source of drinking water.

But Cavendish Farm president Robert Irving told the committee earlier this month P.E.I. potatoes are not meeting consistency standards required by the french fry industry.

One dry summer day can ruin a whole crop, he explained. With irrigation, P.E.I. growers could not only produce more consistent potatoes, but more of them, as it would increase their yield per acre.

Cavendish Farms may be forced to downsize its operations and investments in P.E.I. if the government does not lift its moratorium on deep-water wells farmers, Irving told the committee.

On Wednesday, a hydro geologist from the University of Calgary told MLAs she believes P.E.I. does indeed have a plentiful amount of groundwater.

Cathy Ryan suggested any new wells should be drilled significantly deeper than has been done to date to ensure any water extracted for irrigation would not interfere with nearby waterways.

“They would be more expensive to drill and to instrument, and they would take a little bit more time and energy, but I think that you can pump more water for irrigation… but it’s going to take some communication and cooperation between all parties.”

But Worth said the province must satisfy the ongoing concerns and questions that have been raised by those worried about an increase in groundwater use for potato farming.

“Can we say today that we have conducted comprehensive analysis in this area?” Worth said.

“We have to think clearly and comprehensively about any and all potential impacts of decisions that may adjust in any way our relationship between land and water.”

The Aquaculture Alliance called for a comprehensive review of the province’s water protection and extraction policies as well as a land and sea task force to be struck.

The province did announce earlier this month it would bring in a water act to oversee management of the Island’s water resources.

Environment Minister Janice Sherry also stated the moratorium on deep wells for farming will not be lifted until after this act and its regulations are in place.

In the meantime, the committee will continue its hearings on the issue.

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

Organizations: P.E.I. Aquaculture Alliance, Standing Committee on Agriculture, Department of Environment University of Calgary

Geographic location: P.E.I.

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Recent comments

  • Lucky 13's
    June 27, 2014 - 07:04

    So we had to travel 5000 km for someone to give an opinion? And in favor of drilling. Fancy that. A little more information as to who approached her and what was she paid? Science can often be as dependable as the fox guarding the henhouse. But it's a cool word to throw around.

  • Islanders
    June 27, 2014 - 06:17

    What do canned pop, automobiles, alcohol, the Confederation Bridge, same-sex marriages, cell towers, Plan B and high-capacity wells have in common (the list could be longer)?

  • intobed
    June 26, 2014 - 22:23

    Anyone remember Jack Mintz, an economist from the University of Calgary, who was parachuted in by the PEI provincial government to tell us that the HST will "reap hugh benefits for PEI"? The true beneficiaries were big business. Now we have a hydro geologist from the same university telling us we have lots of water, so go ahead and approve the wells. Just too much of a coincidence for me. I don't believe her.

  • Rosemary
    June 26, 2014 - 20:27

    When is the next meeting about this . What time and where? We Islanders have got to take a stand on this ground water issue.

  • alljokesaside
    June 26, 2014 - 15:10

    I somewhat agree with Stewart. It is time for this to stop. If we are forever bowing to Irving because of the Cavendish Farms threat than call Robert Irving out on it. The Island cannot live in fear forever...we should be better than that. Do not forget that Irving already gets ample handouts as well. If government would step up and say no to Robert Irving, then government would be applauded. If it is the employment at the French fry plant that some are concerned about...think about it, if all we do is cave into Irving, eventually the staff will be replaced by TFW as soon as Robert Irving threatens again.Our Island....we want it back.

  • alljokesaside
    June 26, 2014 - 15:09

    I somewhat agree with Stewart. It is time for this to stop. If we are forever bowing to Irving because of the Cavendish Farms threat than call Robert Irving out on it. The Island cannot live in fear forever...we should be better than that. Do not forget that Irving already gets ample handouts as well. If government would step up and say no to Robert Irving, then government would be applauded. If it is the employment at the French fry plant that some are concerned about...think about it, if all we do is cave into Irving, eventually the staff will be replaced by TFW as soon as Robert Irving threatens again.Our Island....we want it back.

    • don
      June 26, 2014 - 16:50

      do you see the biggest fry maker in the world making THREATS? no you do not robert and ghiz are alike do it my way or else. i will say mary jean is great to have on PEI. but i agree islanders put up or shut up tell your mla's you do not want to live under threats and you want your fresh water.

  • Stewart Smith
    June 26, 2014 - 12:07

    Industrial farming on PEI is getting more expensive, more damaging to the environment, and more dangerous to our health. Exactly like the last death throes of the oil and gas industry, they are desperate to squeeze every last drop of money out of the land before they destroy it. I say we vote the Irvings off the Island!

  • Land Owner
    June 26, 2014 - 11:13

    Just a thought ... what if all the peer-reviewed solid science says that there is plenty of water and that deep water wells for irrigation will not negatively affect our groundwater? Will everyone say that government should ignore the science? I do not know what the science all says beyond what has been done by our provincial Environment Department. But when more science comes in, I think we need to listen to it - not let emotion cloud our judgment (either way).

    • How it is
      June 26, 2014 - 16:29

      Emotion has nothing to do with it. It's prudent to err on the side of caution. These farms aren't getting any smaller and the future is uncertain. Do you really believe it's wise to gamble away our future on french fries? This island has gone through many sudden changes over the years. We will survive another one if potatoes come to a halt. Think about it.

    • don
      June 26, 2014 - 16:44

      well i think you should rethink your thinking. it was science that said that the fake sugar was not harmful now science is telling you it is not safe. science is a toss of the coin. are you willing to put the fresh water of our kids and grand kids of this island on the word of scientist that are paid by government and or big companies that wants the deep water wells?. if your boss tells you o fake a report and your job is on the line what will you do? right you do as he says as he pays your wages. Stewart Smith i agree with you but lets add the ghiz gang to go with irving fry plant. i do not see mccains whining or making THREATS to close up and they are the biggest fry company in the world and i remember reading that irving is i think 17th on that list. we have to look at a few things. 1. what is more important fresh water or money? you can not drink cash but you can water and you can sell water to get cash. and do you think sherry cares about you or anyone other then herself? so ask yourselves water or cash?

  • don
    June 26, 2014 - 10:48

    who hired this lady? she does not care about our fresh water supply she gets paid and leaves. and reality yes once ghiz is one killing PEI he packs up and leaves. to me he is no islander just a greedy bully who found islanders sucker enough to vote his gang in and used his fathers name.

  • don
    June 26, 2014 - 07:57

    who paid for Cathy Ryan to come here? she does not care about our fresh water. she goes home and ll is well as she cash's her cheque. again i do not think ghiz will do anything till after the election. but look out after it if hey win i can see big money getting our fresh water, and i can see a lot of schools being closed out side of the 2 cities.

  • rigpei
    June 26, 2014 - 07:56

    As surely as government keeps ignoring the use of neonic pesticides on farm lands that are killing our pollinating bees, government will once again ignore our environment problems and bow to the dictates of Cavendish Farms. Of course they will use the routine CYA policy by paying for all kinds of "expert" opinions to certify it is ok to dig the deep wells for farm use.

    • don
      June 26, 2014 - 11:10

      can you tell me who owns PEI ? islanders or irvings? in the liberal book irvings. but ghiz better know this irving is the same as you when you kill PEI you move away but unlike ghiz we are real islanders.

  • reality
    June 26, 2014 - 06:32

    rape the island !!!the true canadian way !!!!

    • don
      June 26, 2014 - 08:00

      the ghiz way he cares about the island as much as you do a rattle snake. he will kill this island and then move away.if you think i'm wrong she what happens