Pattern on water a concern

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Gerald MacDougall, manager of Fish and Wildlife, displays a sample of fish mortalities from the Dunk River in July 2007. Thousands of rainbow trout, speckled trout and salmon in the Dunk River and the Tryon River were affected. Guardian photo by Mike Carson

Lack of information suggests province busy trying to keep details from Islanders

Government and the agricultural sector are breathing a sigh of relief with no reports of fish kills following a series of torrential downpours across P.E.I. early last week. Many people were expecting the worst — news that some stream was affected by pesticides from a heavy runoff. To date, remarkably, nothing has happened.

Early in August, isolated thunderstorms had dumped heavy showers in various areas of the province and the result was 1,000 dead fish in the Springvale area. It is the only reported fish kill this year. The province argues that conservation and protection measures are working and the lack of dead fish last week would support that conclusion.

While Environment Minister Janice Sherry said the obvious goal is zero fish kills a year, there have been a series of troubling developments within the department that makes environmental lobby groups in particular, and Islanders in general, suspicious of government motives. A pattern of secrecy is developing.

To date, there is no information from an investigation into the North River fish kill which happened almost three weeks ago. The report would indicate if the fish kill resulted from pesticides contained in a flash runoff, or some other cause. The clamour is already out for charges against those responsible.

There is additional focus on that watershed because of water safety concerns raised by Charlottetown city council since the North River is a sub-watershed area adjacent to the city’s new wellfield being developed in Miltonvale Park.

In response to that fish kill, the province’s former chief conservation officer wrote a scathing letter to the editor critical of the province’s lack of support and resources to prevent fish kills.

Besieged farmers now have to deal with a citizens-on-patrol group which has announced plans to take photos and submit reports of any suspected spraying or farming infractions.

Water safety and supply have been in sharp focus since the issue of lifting a moratorium on deep-water wells convulsed the province for the past two years. Most Islanders view those wells as a threat to the province’s groundwater supply.

Ms. Sherry didn’t help matters when she refused to divulge the recommendation on the moratorium from an advisory panel. Media recently obtained a government document on the wells through access to information. But officials blacked out significant portions of the report such as all comments and draft policies on irrigation wells, which the document says the government supports.

While government continues to wrestle with the moratorium issue, McCains announced plans to shut down its major french fry plant in Borden-Carleton, throwing more than 120 workers out of a job. Cavendish Farmers has hinted any decision to follow suit could be affected by a favourable decision on lifting the moratorium since it is pushing hard for those wells to increase potato yield and assure size and quality.

The provincial government also didn’t help its case when it refused to release the location of groundwater test sites, including those that show increased levels of pesticide contamination, a fact confirmed by an environment official.

Cosmetic pesticide spraying inside municipalities is now an election issue, and continues to dominate the agenda in both Charlottetown and Stratford. City mayoral candidate Philip Brown is supporting a complete ban on cosmetic pesticides in Charlottetown while countless letters and opinion pieces to the editor also support a total ban.

Despite assurances there is no cause for alarm, there is a general perception the province is withholding important information on water issues from Islanders. The government must put the health of its citizens first. Secrecy only makes Islanders more suspicious.

Organizations: Charlottetown city council

Geographic location: P.E.I., North River, Springvale Miltonvale Park Charlottetown Borden-Carleton Stratford

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Recent comments

  • Joan Diamond
    August 27, 2014 - 16:06

    I watched the documentary 'Fish Tales' last week and a comment that hit home with me was that the dept of environment is quick to point out that the numbers of fish killed has decreased. This only makes sense when you realize that each time a fish kill happens it kills not only the fish, but everything else that fish are dependant upon for survival. Soon there will be no fish and we won't have to worry about fish kills anymore :(

  • Andrew Lush
    August 27, 2014 - 08:07

    The Province thinks that because there has only been one fish-kill so far, conservation and protection measures are working? I'm not aware of any new conservation and protection measures. I think it's just luck that we've only had one fish-kill.

  • poisonned
    August 26, 2014 - 18:29

    I was poisonned at the same spot ... I Saw the farmer spraying > After I was hit by the mist. When I reported it to the Minister of Agriculture he told me it was Swamp gas! You can laugh if you want > You are next .. your children have likely already been poisonned. Shameful.

  • UPWESTER
    August 26, 2014 - 15:48

    Everyone knows these fish kills are a result of spraying potatoes.This is driven by Irving and his Cavendish Farms. Instead of underfunded watershed groups and the enviornment people having to prove fish kills and the killing of everything smaller than a trout in the water, why not have Monsanto and Irving prove to us that the pesticide that they use is not the culprit everyone with half a brain knows it is? Make them make their case that the poisons they use are safe to do so. If they can prove this imperically, I will be the first to wish them well, until then, stop the killing!