By Catherine O’Brien (commentary)
The Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water was established recently, due to concern over the high capacity well issue. When the P.E.I. Potato Board and Cavendish Farms requested the moratorium on high capacity wells be lifted, there was an immediate outcry from farmers, fishers and residents all across P.E.I.
Letters to the editor of all the newspapers poured in with passionate and intelligent responses to the request for more water extraction. The potential for higher nitrates, rivers running dry, and fish kills and anoxic events were just too much for Islanders to accept. We know we live on a very vulnerable island and that water is a precious resource.
People from all walks of life took up the cause to ask our government to please keep the moratorium in place.
Several groups addressed the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry, including the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water. An unprecedented number of people attended each of the presentations, hopeful that the Standing Committee would recommend the moratorium stay in place.
The Standing Committee, in their April 2014 report to the P.E.I. Legislature, did recommend the moratorium stay in place, for now. It may allow more presentations from concerned groups in the future, but we do not know when or who may be allowed to make a presentation.
Even if it does allow more presentations, we do not consider that alone to be public consultation, where all of the public can attend and ask questions. The Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water continues to urge the Government of P.E.I. to conduct proper public consultations province-wide and respect the opinions and advice given.
We have learned that Minister Sherry has had a recommendation from the Environmental Advisory Council but she won’t share that information with the public. This lack of transparency is troubling. The protection of water is a priority for all Islanders.
We do not know as yet how many wells are in existence; where they are; what they are being used for; how much water is being extracted annually and if they are being properly monitored. We have asked for that information but so far have not received it.
If farmers were to have permission to dig high capacity wells, how many would actually do it? Those who could afford it may be pressured to dig high capacity wells in order to obtain contracts with the large potato processors. Others just can’t afford it.
Many say it is not necessary if proper farming practices are in place, including crop rotations, buffers, hedgerows and healthy organic matter in the soil.
The lifting of the moratorium is a decision that presents high risks for all and limited benefits for few.
The Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water recommends:
• That a proper peer-reviewed, multi- disciplinary scientific study be conducted over a length of time to ensure that any lifting of the moratorium is completely safe and will not harm the environment.
• That the Government of Prince Edward Island establishes a transparent and public consultation process that allows all Islanders to give their input on high capacity wells.
• That the P.E.I. Government works with due diligence and transparency, to develop a comprehensive integrated water policy for P.E.I. Such a policy must include and address the impact of climate change.
The Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water is an umbrella group, with members from all walks of life. We will keep working toward the protection of P.E.I. water and a sustainable Water Act on P.E.I. We encourage you to contact us and stay informed about upcoming forums, workshops and events.
Members include: Citizens’ Alliance of P.E.I., Cooper Institute, Cornwall Area Watershed Group, Council of Canadians, Don’t Frack P.E.I., Environmental Coalition of P.E.I., Friends of Covehead Brackley Bay Watershed, Green Party of P.E.I., National Farmers Union District 1 Region 1, New Democratic Party of P.E.I., Pesticide Free P.E.I., Save Our Seas and Shores P.E.I., Sierra Club P.E.I., Winter River – Tracadie Bay Watershed Association, and over 200 individual members.
Catherine O’Brien is Chair, The Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water. http://peiwater.com/