By Jason Daley/The Guardian
SPRING VALLEY, P.E.I. - Residents of Spring Valley say they are concerned that irrigation ponds being built by Indian River Farms will bring negative environmental consequences.
In 2016, the first large holding pond was built and wells were dug at the intersection of highways 102 and 104 in the community outside Kensington. The farm has now built two more. The ponds are used to irrigate potatoes to supply the Cavendish Farms plant.
Kay Wall, president of the Spring Valley Women’s Institute, says she’s heard from WI members and neighbours in the community who are worried about the effect these ponds have on residents’ wells.
“If they keep pumping water and irrigating acres and acres, some day the water’s going to run dry,” she said in a phone interview with The Guardian.
“If they were holding ponds and they were holding rainwater, that’s one thing. But when they’re pumping 24-7, that’s another thing.”
Officials from Indian River Farms maintain they have followed all environmental protocols in the development of the ponds and drilling of low capacity wells, neither of which require a permit.
“Potatoes need water to grow. Our ponds provide supplemental irrigation. That is, they are an insurance policy against crop failure in the event of a dry season and are only used on an ‘as needed’ basis,” said officials from the company in a written statement.
“If they keep pumping water and irrigating acres and acres, some day the water’s going to run dry. If they were holding ponds and they were holding rainwater, that’s one thing. But when they’re pumping 24-7, that’s another thing.”
Matthew MacKay, MLA for Kensington-Malpeque, says he’s hearing from residents who feel they have been left in the dark in the process.
“There’s been no public consultation. There was no spokesperson from Indian River Farms that did a public call. They just went and did it. And that’s what a lot of people are upset about because they don’t really know what the end result is going to be,” MacKay said.
Officials from the Department of Communities, Land and Environment said that it is common for low capacity wells to run continuously for the summer months when irrigation is required.
A statement by Bruce Raymond, manager of the water and air monitoring section for the Department of Communities, Land and Environment, notes that manmade ponds constructed to hold water are a solution to the present moratorium that exists in the province on new high capacity wells for agricultural irrigation.
“Some producers have sought to source water for irrigation, primarily of potatoes, by constructing a pond to hold water and a low capacity well to fill the pond. They then irrigate from the pond,” said Raymond.
P.E.I.’s draft Water Act proposes to regulate low capacity wells for all purposes including for irrigation ponds.
MacKay said he has had 50 to 60 calls regarding the issue over the last week alone.
“A lot of it is more concern for the future. What happens in 40 years’ time if we run out of water? Then what?” said MacKay.