Government must build trust on deep-water well issue

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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The report from the Commission on Nitrates in Groundwater calls for a mandatory three-year crop rotation on the Island. Some growers say it is the right thing to do at the right time. Guardian photo

Record on complying with regulation is not good if one considers the Crop Rotation Act

Letter of the Day

Editor: Before we discuss deep-water wells, we need to face our record on the Crop Rotation Act.

That’s the 2002 law which mandates a three-year crop rotation in potatoes. This is our history, it’s where promises meet performance and the record is not good.

About a quarter of potato operations are in violation of the act. This is a big reason people don’t trust government to regulate the industry. It didn’t have to be this way.

Imagine what the public atmosphere would be like if, instead of only 75 per cent of potato operations complying with the act, we were close to 100 per cent compliance. What if, instead of our soil organic matter getting worse province-wide, it was holding steady or even improving? What if the potato industry could point to those accomplishments? What if the government could say, “You can trust us to regulate wells because of how well we’ve regulated crop rotations?”

If that was the situation, people would still be cautious, they would still want to proceed slowly, if at all, but they would also appreciate farmers’ efforts to take care of the soil and they would be more inclined to believe government’s assurances.

As it is, the two camps on this question have very little basis for trust. Comprehensive science is only part of the solution. There was a time when science told us there were plenty of cod in the sea and plenty of big trees on the land. The scientists were right, but we mismanaged those stocks and now they’re gone.

Regardless of how much water is under our feet, it will be possible to ruin that resource too. Whatever policy we arrive at regarding deep-water wells will have impressive language around regulation, but those words will be empty if we can’t trust the regulator to enforce them.

It’s up to government to build trust, and what they need to do is take strong action on the Crop Rotation Act. Until they do, the old saying applies, “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Rob MacLean,

Lewes

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