National water advocate speaks out against deep-water wells in P.E.I.

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Chair and vice chair of the Council of Canadians, Maude Barlow and Leo Broderick, are raising concerns about a proposal to lift a ban on deep-water wells for agricultural irritation in P.E.I. They shared their concerns during a news conference in Charlottetown Wednesday. Guardian photo.

A national water advocate is lending her voice to a growing coalition of Islanders who believe lifting the moratorium on deep-well irrigation would be devastating to the P.E.I.’s water supply.

Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, took part in a news conference in Prince Edward Island Wednesday denouncing deep-water wells for agricultural irrigation unless it can be proven beyond doubt it would not hurt P.E.I.’s groundwater supply.

“P.E.I. is dependent on its groundwater,” Barlow said.

“We have to say no to opening up this moratorium until there’s absolute proof, and that is going to take democracy and that’s going to take consultation, and the industry just cannot just come in and say it’s a done deal.”

Barlow shared her concerns with Premier Robert Ghiz in a meeting Wednesday morning.

The issue of deep-well irrigation has become a topic of heated debate in Prince Edward Island.

Industry giant Cavendish Farms and the P.E.I. Potato Board have been lobbying MLAs and government officials for weeks to lift the moratorium. They want access to deep-water wells to supply potato fields with water for supplemental irrigation during the dry summer growing months.

And they say they have science on their side.

Two weeks ago, two bureaucrats from the Department of Environment presented data to the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry showing P.E.I. is using only seven per cent of water available for extraction within current environmental regulations.

The data also showed the rate at which P.E.I.’s groundwater is replenished every year to be quite high.

Environment Minister Janice Sherry said at that meeting the Island has “more than enough water to meet our needs.”

Despite these assurances, a growing chorus of opposition is rising.

A new Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. water has been formed, made up of a number of environmental, social and political advocacy groups, including the Citizen’s Alliance of P.E.I., the P.E.I. Watershed Alliance, the Environmental Coalition of P.E.I., the Cooper Institute, several individual watershed groups, the NDP and Green parties of P.E.I. and even a local region of the National Farmers Union, among others.

“I sense that there is an agenda to have the moratorium lifted as soon as possible, and I’m hoping that doesn’t take place,” said Lloyd Allen, spokesperson for the coalition.

“I don’t think that it’s been proven that there’s a need to do this to begin with.”

Both Allen and Barlow said P.E.I. needs a comprehensive water policy whose sole function is to protect P.E.I.’s water supply.

Barlow also argued the provincial data must be peer-reviewed before any final decisions are made.

She charges there is critical information missing from this data, including how climate change will affect the groundwater supply in the future.

“We have to be very, very sure that anything we do with water and to water and any withdrawals of water are for sure not going to hurt the future capacity of the watersheds. And there are far too many scientists and environmentalists and hydrologists who disagree with the assessment of the government for anything to move ahead right now.”

The Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water will share their concerns with the MLAs on the environment standing committee Thursday.

Organizations: P.E.I. Potato Board, P.E.I. Watershed Alliance, Department of Environment Standing Committee on Agriculture Environmental Coalition Cooper Institute NDP Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Farmers Union

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  • islander
    February 27, 2014 - 10:57

    Crops need moisture. Grow them in places where it exists in the soil. There are plenty of them on PEI. Also begin building cachements for water on unused land so that the rain is contained and flows into the soil instead of running off to the sea. With appropriate mosquito control this can be done. We need to work WITH nature and not constantly battle against it. Potable water is a precious resource and should be regarded as such. The real problem of using up the potable water lies in the cities with watering of lawns etc with expensive treated water from city sources. More use of grey water is necessary. All of these actions can be taken without using deep water wells for irrigation.