Minister should not give in to potato lobby

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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By Roger Gordon (Letter of the Day)

Our Minister of the Environment has shown poor leadership, not to mention patronizing attitude, by inviting the industry-inspired potato lobby group to educate Islanders on the merits of deep-water wells for irrigation purposes.

Now, Gary Linkletter has started this education remit with a treatise (Guardian, 25 Jan. - Guest Opinion) that attempts to explain the case for allowing corporate farming to access this precious water source by citing in the name of science conclusions from a government report. Is this the same report that the minister said would not be made available to the public, because it “was sent to me?”

So, it is hidden science. It is also science that obfuscates rather than clarifies. Mr. Linkletter makes no distinction between the shallower aquifers currently in public use and the deep-water source that would be accessed. We are given no information on the methodology used to form the conclusions. Respected environmental scientist Daryl Guignion believes there is insufficient scientific knowledge about the size and replenishment rate of the deep-water source to warrant lifting the moratorium. I agree.

Mr. Linkletter makes no mention of the quality of the deep water that he and his group would like to access. And for good reason.

The mindset of the agro sector toward industrial-scale production of potatoes, a low-value farm gate crop, has resulted in pesticide contamination of our rivers as well as high nitrate levels in surface and ground waters. The 2008 provincial Commission on Nitrates in Groundwater reported that as of 2007, an astounding 17 per cent of private wells surveyed were above or close to the safety limit for nitrates.

Aside from the fact most of the water will be wasted through evaporation, irrigation of heavily contaminated fields will speed up the leaching of agro-chemicals through the soil into our drinking water supply. And we are the only province in Canada totally dependent on groundwater. What is needed is not more potatoes, more pesticides, more fertilizers, but fewer potatoes, a more diversified agro-economy, with less reliance on toxicants. Water is a resource that belongs to the people of the province, not a sector of it. The minister should just say no to this irresponsible request.

Roger Gordon, Stratford, is a retired biologist and former Dean of Science at UPEI

Organizations: Commission on Nitrates

Geographic location: Canada

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