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Minister releases some P.E.I. water regulations, avoids details on high capacity wells

Communities Land and Environment Minister Richard Brown, left, and George Somers, manager of drinking water and wastewater management, take questions before a legislative standing committee in Charlottetown on Tuesday. Proposed regulations for the provinces Water Act were released on Tuesday.
Communities Land and Environment Minister Richard Brown, left, and George Somers, manager of drinking water and wastewater management, take questions before a legislative standing committee in Charlottetown on Tuesday. Proposed regulations for the provinces Water Act were released on Tuesday. - Stu Neatby

Some long-awaited details of rules governing the province’s new Water Act were released on Tuesday, but Opposition MLAs say they are disappointed the full regulations were not made public.

The new draft regulations include sections on water supply and wastewater treatment and well construction. A draft of regulations on extraction, which would govern high capacity wells, has been prepared but was not publicly released on Tuesday.

Concerns around high capacity wells, also known as supplemental irrigation, largely prompted the passage of the province’s Water Act in December 2017. Conservation groups had expressed concerns about the effect these wells would have on the province’s groundwater supply.

However, due to the lack of regulations, the Act has yet to be implemented, more than a year after it was passed.

Speaking before a legislative standing committee on Tuesday, George Somers, the province’s manager of drinking water and wastewater management, told MLAs his department was focused on implementing well construction and wastewater treatment regulations first.

"We just want to deal with these, get them out of the way so we're not overwhelmed, and then we can get on with the water withdrawal,” Somers said.

Communities, Land and Environment Minister Richard Brown said the public consultations would be split up into two components – one dealing with the regulations released Tuesday and another dealing with the regulations related to high capacity wells.

He said more time was needed to assess the impact of the regulations on these wells.
“We want any decisions to be based on science and not on politics. It's important we get the science done in time for the regulations,” Brown said.

Brown said the regulations around well construction and water supply and wastewater treatment would go to consultation and could be implemented within 90 days.

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said he was disappointed the draft of the extraction regulations was not publicly released.

“I thought their justification of that was pretty weak,” Bevan-Baker said in an interview.

"I think Islanders are ready to have the whole story. It's clear to me that the reluctance to deal with this now is related to the impending election."

PC MLA Brad Trivers also said he believed that the piecemeal release of the regulations was because of political considerations.
"We've been waiting a long time to get the regulations," Trivers said.

"It's highly questionable as to why they'd leave out the water extraction regulations if they're almost a hundred per cent complete."

High capacity wells have been controversial in Prince Edward Island. Last summer, Cavendish Farms urged the province to loosen restrictions on them, claiming a lack of rain had lowered potato yields.

Somers told the committee that the well construction regulations updated previous legislation to include geothermal wells but largely kept previous governance under the province’s Environmental Protection Act intact.

"Up until this point, geothermal wells weren't mentioned at all in the regulations," Somers told the standing committee.

The water supply and wastewater treatment regulations would strengthen existing legislative protection of drinking water, Somers said. The new rules are intended to also harmonize municipal system regulations with federal wastewater effluent standards.

Stu.neatby@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/stu_neatby

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