A motion calling for a moratorium on the construction of new agricultural holding ponds passed in the legislature on Tuesday night.
The motion, which is non-binding, reached the floor following a public debate over the construction of a shallow holding pond in Shamrock by two farmers.
The construction of this holding pond occurs at a time in which the regulations for the province’s new Water Act have been publicly released but not yet proclaimed in the legislature.
High-capacity wells are currently prohibited under a provincial moratorium but holding ponds, which pump groundwater from multiple low-capacity wells, are not.
The motion was introduced by Green MLA Lynne Lund.
The legislative assembly passed the motion by a margin of 15 to 10, with all Green MLAs in support and all Liberal MLAs opposed.
Government MLAs were split both in favour and against the motion.
Environment, Water and Climate Change Minister Natalie Jameson voted in favour while Agriculture and Land Minister Bloyce Thompson voted against.
Neither low-capacity wells nor holding ponds are currently regulated in the province but will be once the new Water Act regulations are proclaimed.
During debate in the legislature on July 2, Lund suggested construction of holding ponds was a way to circumvent the moratorium on high capacity wells.
“We define a high-capacity well as one that withdraws 345 or more cubic metres of water per day. However, if you drill multiple wells that collectively exceed 345 cubic metres a day in order to fill a holding pond, you’re effectively achieving the same result as you would if you had a high-capacity well,” Lund said.
“In other words, you’re using a loophole to bypass the moratorium.”
At a glance
What's a high-capacity well?
- High capacity wells withdraw over 350 cubic metres of water per day.
- Low capacity wells withdraw between 25 and 350 cubic metres of water per day.
In an interview, Lund said the previous Liberal government maintained incentive programs that allowed some farmers to construct holding ponds.
"They were holding onto the moratorium on high capacity wells, but if you wanted to construct a holding pond that essentially was a bypass, you could get funding to do so," Lund said.
Jameson said she voted in favour of the motion because of public concerns about agricultural irrigation. This moratorium could be enacted by her department.
"Irrigation ponds are posing a concern. I have directed my staff to look into it and to see what options are available in the interim while we wait for the Water Act to be proclaimed," Jameson said, adding she had directed staff to look into the matter "immediately”.
"I'm certainly getting impatient with this Water Act and really looking forward to getting it proclaimed," she said.
Not all members of the PC cabinet voted in favour of the motion.
Thompson said the motion placed an unfair burden on farmers.
He said research has shown that water usage on golf courses and among residential homeowners draws more from P.E.I. wells than large-scale agriculture.
“P.E.I., as a whole, uses less than two per cent of (its) annual recharge,” Thompson said, referring to a presentation about aquifers made by provincial staff during a standing committee meeting last fall.
“When I listen to the science that was presented to a standing committee here in this legislature, it was just a small number – two per cent of that two per cent was used by agriculture. That means 0.04 per cent of our annual recharge is to water our food.”