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P.E.I. farm groups hold different opinions on high-capacity wells

P.E.I. Potato Board general manager Greg Donald, left, and president Rodney Dingwell make a presentation during an April 10, 2017 public meeting on the province’s draft water act.
P.E.I. Potato Board general manager Greg Donald, left, and president Rodney Dingwell make a presentation during an April 10, 2017 public meeting on the province’s draft water act.

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Groups representing P.E.I. farmers found themselves on opposite sides of the fence Monday night when it came to the future of high capacity wells in the province.

There were two differing opinions on the use of high capacity wells for irrigation during a public consultation on the province’s draft water act at Murphy’s Community Centre.

The province currently has a moratorium on high capacity wells for agricultural use, which Communities, Land and Environment minister Robert Mitchell said would remain in place until there was more scientific research done on the issue.

Although the proposed act bans the export of bottled water, it does not address the moratorium on high capacity wells.
Members of the National Farmers Union said it was disappointing a moratorium wasn’t included in the draft.

“Given the community outcry during the 2015 and 2016 consultations, this seems almost outrageous,” said Edith Ling, women’s district director. “For real future control on high capacity wells, it is imperative that this be in the act.”

Other agricultural groups felt differently.

David Mol, president of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture, said the group supports making science-based decisions on the moratorium but also wanted assurance that all Islanders and industries would receive equitable access.

RELATED: Islanders asked to comment on first draft of P.E.I. Water Act

In 2014, the federation’s membership voted for a resolution asking government to remove the moratorium for supplemental irrigation as long as scientific data could show it wouldn’t negatively impact the environment and that the new water extraction policy provides adequate controls for operating wells.

Ron Maynard, second vice-president, said the draft act’s increased management control and monitoring should allow for consideration of lifting the moratorium.

“The (proposed) water act provides increased scrutiny, increased controls and increased monitoring,” said Maynard, who recommended the granting of permits be strictly monitored. “Essentially, only to the farmers following the strongest, best management practices and in watersheds where it makes sense.”

The P.E.I. Potato Board also supported lifting the moratorium if it could be deemed environmentally responsible.

General manager Greg Donald pointed to the province’s statistic that only 1.4 of the province’s total groundwater recharge is actually extracted, with 0.02 per cent being accounted for by agricultural irrigation.

“We believe the continuation of the moratorium on high capacity wells for irrigation without any demonstration of any adverse affects on water resources would not be keeping within the stated goals of the act,” said Donald. “But we only support it if it can be done responsibly.”

Mitchell said he hopes to get the draft act passed during the spring sitting of legislature.

It will then be followed by more public consultations to develop the act’s regulations, which has a timeline of about 18 months.

Mitchell said he was proud of how the process has gone so far.

“I’m no different than you, I want protection of our water for my children and their children. So I share all of your values on that.”

The final public meeting will be held at 7 p.m. this Wednesday at the Kaylee Hall in Pooles Corner.

 

 

 

Mitch.macdonald@tc.tc
Twitter.com/Mitch_PEI

 

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