SUMMERSIDE - Island potato growers and the Council of Canadians are on opposite sides of the fence over the issue of deep-water wells.
Growers say that information provided at a recent Watershed Alliance workshop shows that the province has ample groundwater resources for supplemental irrigation. Recent studies by the P.E.I. Department of Environment, Labour and Justice have shown that the annual recharge rate for groundwater in Prince Edward Island is very high and that increasing the use of groundwater for irrigation of crops would use a small fraction of available groundwater resources.
“P.E.I. growers see both economic and environmental benefits to having the choice to utilize irrigation from deep-water wells,” said Gary Linkletter, chairman of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board. “By providing water to potato crops more consistently, growers are able to increase yield and food quality while increasing the overall health of the plants. Healthy plants in turn require fewer pesticides and better use available nutrients, leaving less excess nitrogen and phosphorous in the soil after harvest, benefits which would help to reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment.”
Leo Broderick with the Council of Canadians said there is a huge danger in allowing deep well irrigation in the province.
“Eventually our water table will respond causing serious environmental damage and affecting individual and municipal water supplies,” he said.
Growers say that supplemental irrigation for growing crops in Prince Edward Island is used only during the height of the growing season and would only be used for a limited number of days per year on each field and is in stark contrast to the 365 days per year that water is drawn from deep wells for municipal water supplies.
Maude Barlow, national chair of the Council of Canadians and the United Nations’ first senior adviser on water issues, said she values the role of farmers and understands their need for a steady source of water.
“But it is imperative that they not be allowed to imperil the Island’s limited ground water,” she said. “Unbridled irrigation is a source of great threat to water around the world. The planet is running out of accessible freshwater. We must fiercely protect what is left of our water sources and in fact, move to restore spent watersheds.”
Broderick said government should begin to transform P.E.I. agriculture into “a sustainable food production system putting small-scale farms at the centre of the transformation.”