Report of the Commission on Land
By Alan Hicken (guest opinion)
For almost six years, I volunteered on the P.E.I. Environmental Advisory Council (EAC). I always appreciated the many presentations made to the EAC by staff and experts from the Environment Department and other federal and provincial public servants.
My final two years on the EAC were as chair. My objectives were to be fair, objective and engage the EAC council to participate objectively in debate on the many issues that concerned the environment on P.E.I.
Finally, we respectfully advised the P.E.I. ministers of environment in accordance of the terms of reference for the EAC. When I began volunteering the EAC had just released the report “Upstream Downstream” and unfortunately many of the report’s recommendations still have not been dealt with.
I believe our greatest work was our foundation document on a Conservation Strategy for P.E.I. Retired judge Ralph Thompson’s report, Commission on Land and Local Governance, gave the EAC the direction in his second recommendation to create a Conservation Strategy for P.E.I.
Our objective was to develop a discussion paper towards such a strategy. This document was finished just as the Plan B protests began and public meetings on a P.E.I. conservation strategy were stalled. We had begun a broad, open conservation strategy to protect P.E.I.’s natural capital, including our groundwater. This must include all the stakeholders which rely on P.E.I.’s ground water. Every Islander, scientists, industry representatives and all levels of government need to be at the table. An adequate supply of quality water is our life.
The issue of fracking, deep wells and the seriousness of protecting our ground water need to be addressed. Recent public comments on deep wells have caused me, and many others, great concern.
“Protecting our ground water is not debatable” was Environment Minister Janice Sherry’s first comments to me as chair of the EAC. How times have changed after watching the recent CBC interview where Minister Sherry said the “P.E.I. Potato Board will educate Islanders about deep wells.”
I am sorry but that is not acceptable for any environment minister to say. If she or any government were concerned then they would make public the data they have on all public wells to show the conservation and quality of the water. Bring the scientists, agronomists and the data forward, let their peers and all Islanders judge what quality of water we want to drink.
I have not spoken to any farmer yet who wants to pay for an expensive irrigation system they don’t need, don’t want and certainly none want to damage our ground water.
I haven’t heard that producers will get any extra dollars for a hundred weight of potatoes produced with an irrigation system. I also don’t expect Island taxpayers will want to pay for a subsidy scheme to pay for this equipment to sit in a field for all but one in 10 years.
During my six years on the EAC, we had the opportunity to bring in scientists and experts to explain many issues about the P.E.I. environment, including ground water.
One particularly graphical presentation was made by a provincial hydrologist, Mr. Yefang.
His research showed the levels of nitrates found in test wells deeper into P.E.I. wells over a 20-year period. This data was taken from an area of high irrigation and agricultural production. Surely this data was made available throughout the government. What else are they not telling us? Why won’t they release this presentation and other data? The public needs to see all of the science.
I encourage all scientists and agronomists to step up to the plate and make your data known. Protecting our environment is about our health, life and prosperity where we live today.
Alan Hicken of South Pinette is the former chairman of the P.E.I. Environmental Advisory Council.