The contentious issue of deep-water wells in this province has drawn a lot of public debate in recent days.
Now it appears the well issue is drilling into the core of the relationship between the National Farmers Union and the P.E.I. Potato Board.
Between them, the groups represent a lot of farmers in this province.
Concerns have been raised following a request from some Island potato growers to have the province lift its moratorium on deep-water wells, allowing the growers access to the fresh water below. They say it will enable them to grow better quality crops on less land.
To forward their position, the Prince Edward Island Potato Board is encouraging Islanders to participate in an informed dialogue about the issue.
The board argues that it is safe to lift the moratorium, provided scientific data supports the position that no harm will come to the environment and groundwater supply.
To help their argument, the potato board says P.E.I. is presently only using seven per cent of the available groundwater recharge.
Of that seven per cent, the board claims 60 per cent is used for residential use, 30 per cent is commercial, eight per cent is used for livestock, and agricultural irrigation uses only one per cent.
If their figures are correct the request doesn’t seem outlandish, but are they correct? How can we be certain? Is the risk worth the reward?
The National Farmers Union doesn’t trust the data and it has to come as a blow to the potato growers to have the farmers union come out so strongly against them.
In its presentation to the province’s Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry, the NFU reiterated the position that the moratorium on permits for high-capacity wells ought not be lifted.
The union says land and water are connected and non-renewable resources must be protected. They also told the standing committee that there is no indication in recent hydrological studies to support lifting the moratorium.
This is a tough, and sensitive issue for Islanders. No one wants to hinder the success of our prized cash crop, but still most realize the demand for the world’s fresh water reserves is only growing, and while we may not be seeing evidence of that in this part of the world yet, in time it will come as populations continue to grow, and a changing climate reduces the amount of land suitable for growing food to feed the growing number of mouths on Earth.
The potato growers may be right; perhaps there is no threat to our fresh water by allowing them a regulated increase in access.
But what if they’re wrong?