The legislative committee that held highly charged meetings for months on the issue of deep-water wells has told government it believes the current moratorium on high-capacity wells should remain in place — for now.
The Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment Energy and Forestry tabled its report to the legislature Wednesday, delivering eight recommendations.
Most of the recommendations offer advice on how the government’s promised water act should be developed, stressing careful examination of proven scientific data when making decisions that affect P.E.I.’s groundwater.
But the committee also recommended the moratorium on high-capacity wells for agricultural irrigation should remain in place “at the present time.”
“We feel there is still more work that has to be done to address a lot of areas that affect Islanders in the use of our water resource,” said committee chair Paula Biggar.
“Having an extensive water act is one of the first steps that needs to be done before you can answer that other question of, ‘Should we lift the moratorium’.”
Heated debate over whether to allow farmers to drill high-capacity wells for crop irrigation has been ongoing for close to a year in P.E.I.
Environmental advocates say they worry the wells could deplete the province’s groundwater levels if used for industrial farming.
Groundwater is the province’s only source of drinking water.
But Cavendish Farms president Robert Irving told the same legislative committee last June that P.E.I. potatoes are not meeting consistency standards required by the french fry industry.
He said Cavendish Farms could be forced to downsize its operations and investments in P.E.I. if the government does not lift its moratorium on deep-water wells — a move that could have devastating impacts on P.E.I.’s important agriculture sector.
Environment Minister Janice Sherry said Wednesday she plans to release with a discussion paper on the upcoming water act, followed by Island-wide public consultations on the issue of water.
“I believe that, without a doubt, this is one of the most important issues to Islanders, on Islanders’ minds,” Sherry said.
As for deep-water wells, Sherry said the process to prepare for the water act — the discussion paper, the public consultations, the development of the act itself — will happen before any decision is made on lifting the moratorium.
“We’ve been very clear that there will be no lifting of the moratorium or making a decision around that until we go through a very thorough process of a water act for Islanders.”
But NDP Leader Mike Redmond wants a more immediate commitment.
“This Liberal government just doesn’t get it. We need an environment minister committed to doing what is best for the environment, starting with a commitment to continuing the moratorium on deep-water wells,” Redmond said.
If not, he suggested Sherry should “step aside.”