Activists raise concerns to P.E.I. MLAs over deep-well irrigation

Teresa Wright
Published on February 27, 2014

Front, from left, Boyd Allen, Catherine O’Brien, and Don Mazer of the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water make a case against lifing the moratorium on deep-well irrigation to a provincial standing committee Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014.

A coalition made up of 16 groups and over 200 individuals from across P.E.I. urged MLAs Thursday to keep the current moratorium on deep-well irrigation in place.

The newly formed Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water made an impassioned presentation Thursday to a provincial standing committee currently holding hearings on the issue of deep-water wells.

Coalition spokeswoman Catherine O’Brien told the MLAs on the committee more extensive public consultation and review must take place before any move is made to allow more of these wells to be drilled.

“It is imperative that respect for protecting fresh water be at the forefront of these discussions,” O’Brien said.

“P.E.I. is one of only a small number of places entirely dependent upon groundwater, prompting the need for careful, diligent deliberations.”

Over 50 supporters and members of the coalition packed into the normally empty public gallery of the committee chamber to show their support.

The issue has sparked a heated public debate over water use in Prince Edward Island, and whether the province has enough groundwater to support industrial irrigation of potato crops.

The P.E.I. Potato Board and Cavendish Farms argue some Island farmers need access to more water in order to keep pace with competitors in the mid-western United States.

They also point to data compiled by the provincial Department of Environment showing P.E.I. has a high annual recharge rate and that increasing the use of groundwater for irrigation of crops would use only a fraction of available groundwater resources.

But the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water says this data is incomplete and should be peer-reviewed by scientists, experts and the public to ensure all relevant information has been included.

This was one of five recommendations presented to the standing committee Thursday.

The coalition also wants a comprehensive water policy developed for Prince Edward Island, suggesting perhaps a commission could be struck for this purpose.

It further wants government to determine and publish the full environmental, agricultural and environmental costs of lifting the deep-well ban.

“This is a time when we should be exercising particular care about the use and protection of our water,” O’Brien said.

“We can’t afford the risk of being wrong.”

Mi’kmaq Keptin John Joe Sark also shared his concerns over the effects the wells could have on P.E.I.’s water resources.

He said he would be the first to launch a court action should P.E.I.’s water be contaminated as a result of the wells.

“I strongly recommend that the moratorium on high-capacity, deep wells for potato field irrigation not be lifted until we are damn sure that these deep-water wells will not harm the quality of fresh water in this province,” Sark said.

The committee has a busy schedule of meetings planned on the issue as more and more individuals and groups continue to request the chance to lend their voice to the growing debate.

Next week, the National Farmers Union, the PEI Watershed Alliance, the Central Queens Branch of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation and Innovative Farms Group will have their chance at the committee table.