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Are large projects like Energy East putting drinking water protection on the chopping block in New Brunswick?

It was a classic case of, “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.”  With each presentation by the 5 people at today’ Press Conference, you could feel the awe, the astonishment, and the anger become stronger and stronger in the room.

(See Video 1, Video 2, Video 3, Video 4, Video 5, Video 6, and Video 7 of the Press Conference.)

On World Water Day, March 22nd, several experts, the Wolastoq Grand Council, and the Fredericton chapter of the Council of Canadians held a Press Conference today on unceded Wolastoq territory, here in Fredericton.  They called on the Brian Gallant government for the immediate halt to the hastily-planned review process for the New Brunswick’s new Water Strategy.

[Bill Ayer] “Nowhere in the proposed strategy is it clear that there is a process to cope with runoff sources of pollution from forestry, agricultural, and construction activities in a practical and cost-effective manner.”

[Lawrence Wuest] “The motivation for this step-backward is to remove obstacles from its industrial agenda, which includes most specifically the Energy East Pipeline, the Sisson [Tungsten-Molybdenum] Mine, the Minco PLC Manganese Project, and shale gas exploration and development.”

Here is the full Press Release: “Strengthen, not weaken, the protection of our rivers, bays and drinking water”, says New Brunswick groups questioning the government’s Water Strategy

“This is a strategy for large industry in New Brunswick.”

The call to action was decided at the Peace and Friendship Alliance gathering last Saturday, March 19th, in Fredericton.  We learned at this meeting that the fundamental water protection law in New Brunswick for all of our lakes and rivers was being dismantled by the Brian Gallant government of New Brunswick. 

In its place, a “Water Strategy” was being hastily proposed with limited advertising and three levels of meetings.  The first tier were tradeshow-style Open Houses that excluded any Q&A session for the public, the second tier were secret stakeholder meetings with watershed groups and municipalities that excluded the public, and the third tier were secret stakeholder meetings only with industry. 

(Note:  The Fredericton chapter of the Council of Canadians invited themselves to the last secret stakeholder meeting in Fredericton.  It took several polite requests, but we were finally allowed to give our presentation9 questions that Brian Gallant’s Government must answer before any Water Strategy process’.)

David Thompson, retired Fundy Baykeeper (Conservation Council of New Brunswick), put it best when he summarized the Water Strategy: “This is a strategy not to conserve and protect water, but it is a strategy to allocate water. This is a strategy for large industry in New Brunswick.”

An extraordinary wealth of knowledge was assembled at the Press Conference

Sharlene Paul is a Clanmother and is part of the Wolastoq Grand Council.  The Wolastoq (Saint John River Basin) are the traditional lands of the Wolastoqiyik, which translates to mean ‘the people of the beautiful bountiful river’,

Margo Sheppard is representing the Fredericton chapter of the Council of Canadians. Her background is an environmental planner with experience in the public sector, and she was Executive Director of the Nature Trust of New Brunswick for 14 years.

Bill Ayer, Lawrence Wuest, and David Coon represent well over 70 years of experience with the development and implementation of the Clean Water Act and the Water Classification Regulation.

Bill Ayer’s expertise is an aquatic biologist and he spent 29 years with Environment New Brunswick including heading up the team of engineers, scientists and planners that developed the Watershed Protected Area, Wellfield Protected Area and Water Classification programs, as well as starting up local citizen teams for individual watersheds. 

David Coon is currently our MLA for Fredericton South but spent 28 years with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, first as Policy Director and then their long-serving Executive Director.

Lawrence Wuest is an ecologist with experience in environmental research since 1975, and was part of the Working Committee on Ecological Land Classification Within New Brunswick.

“Clean Water for New Brunswick” is at stake

Let’s read what the Government of New Brunswick says about its own water quality law.  The title of the opening chapter of the ‘A Guide to New Brunswick’s Water Classification Regulation’ speaks for itself:  “Introduction: Clean Water for New Brunswick”.  The law implements goals for water quality and manages water on a watershed basis.

On page 5, “The Water Classification Regulation provides:

• raw water quality standards for watercourses that are used as public drinking water supplies

• standards for water quality for other watercourses

• standards for aquatic life (and the aquatic community) for all waters

• standards that can be used to prevent degradation of water

• an opportunity for New Brunswickers to participate in setting goals for water quality

• an opportunity to plan water quality for all the waters within a single watershed”

On page 7, “Biological or aquatic life standards for each class of water are also included in the Regulation. These standards are based on measures of the health of aquatic species such as insects (e.g. mayflies) and fish.”

The truth is also at stake

The public had been misled by the Brian Gallant government that there is a problem with their current water protection program.  But the Press Conference made it clear that this was not the case. 

The Water Classification Regulation was put in place in New Brunswick in 2002.   But not one of the 19 rivers submitted for protection by volunteer watershed groups has been enforced by the government.  

Ombudsman Charles Murray ruled in his 2014 report that any problems with the province’s Water Classification Regulation was corrected by an amendment of the Clean Water Act on December 19, 2008.

Report of the Ombudsman into the Department of Environment’s Management of the Provincial Water Classification Program (August 15, 2014)

Any suggestion that it was not legally enforceable were dispelled by Ombudsman Murray in his CBC Radio interview on August 19, 2014 where he remarked “an abuse of ministerial discretion”, “that strains credibility”, “that is not a credible statement”, and “I think the facts speak for themselves.”

But compare the above Ombudsman’s remarks with that of our current Minister of Environment Brian Kenny in his CBC Radio interview on March 24, 2014 where he remarked “Unfortunately, the regulation is not enforceable.”, “I can’t really speak on what has happened in the past.”, “The water classification is only one part of the water strategy.” and “This is just one component of it that a lot of people get stuck on.”. 

A stroke of the pen would eliminate the work of 25 years and the Water Classification Regulation

The above comments by the Minister are ominous and only grow the fears that the Brian Gallant government is preparing to remove this law in a future sitting of the Provincial Legislature. 

In one stroke of the pen, this would eliminate 25 years of work, millions of dollars of government data collection, tens of thousands of volunteer hours by 19 watershed groups, remove existing protection on all lakes and impoundments in New Brunswick, and ignore the requisite work completed on a minimum of 4 rivers/watersheds in New Brunswick Meduxnekeag River, Nashwaak River, Hammond River, and the St. Croix River. 

[Lawrence Wuest] “In a thinly-veiled attempt to disempower local watersheds, the Government has amalgamated many small but ecologically-important watersheds into one omnibus Saint John River Watershed, reducing the total number of recognized watersheds from 19 to 13.” 

These watersheds in the Saint John River Basin are the same ones crossed by the proposed Energy East pipeline (see red dots in map below):

[Lawrence Wuest] “This blatant subversion of due process has compromised the rights of residents of among others, the economically and ecologically important  

             Meduxnekeag Watershed,

             The Nashwaak Watershed,

             The Canaan River/Washademoak Lake Watershed,

             The Belleisle Bay Watershed,

             The Kennebecasis Watershed, and

             The Hammond River Watershed.”

The Gallant government would weaken water protection laws and eliminate local watershed control

[Bill Ayer] “We’ve got all of the lakes, the ponds, and the impoundments have come in. Think about how much of the water bodies in the Province of New Brunswick is already under law under the classification regulation. Think about the millions of dollars that have been spent here and the effort put in over 25 years.”

“This government now is throwing it out the window, and say we are going to have some workshops here, sit down in the next little while, and we’ll come up with this wonderful thing, whatever it is going to be, without any classification and without any non-point source capability to analyze the kind of extraction things that are going to happen in this province for sure in the near future.  And we won’t have any coverage.”

[Margo Sheppard] “Why is it rushing this process?  It seems they are discarding a 25-year process.”

[Lawrence Wuest] “The consultation process attempts to limit, manipulate, disperse, fragment, and control public and science-based input in a non-transparent way.”

“The process refuses to honestly communicate to the public the rationale for a revised strategy, and refuses to articulate clearly and truthfully the problems with the existing legislation and regulations.”

“The process ignores the recommendations of recent reports from several independent reviewers, including the 2014 report by the Provincial Ombudsman, the 2012 report from the Chief Medical Officer of Health on shale gas, and the 2016 report of the Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing.”

[David Coon] “Certainly, for example, just the people that I represent in my riding, I would expect many have not heard of this.  And secondly, they would be quite appalled to learn that this process is starting as if from scratch, when we’ve got strong legislation in place already.”

[Lawrence Wuest] “By not classifying, the Northcliff Resources never had to go to the residents of the watershed and were free to propose the mine without that constraint in the EIA. I’m convinced that under this strategy, they will do away with that local control.  The Naskwaak no longer exists in their named watersheds, and so the residents of the Nashwaak no longer have that control.”

Water Classification is used around the world to protect water quality

The magnitude of this issue can’t be stressed enough.  Why is over 50% of our drinking water (private wells and rivers) not covered by comprehensive water quality protection such as water classification?  An extremely large percentage of New Brunswickers (40%, 280,000 people) get their drinking water from groundwater using private wells.  An equally large percentage (40%, 300,000 people) get their drinking water from their municipality using surface water (rivers and lakes).  The remainder (20%, 173,000) get their drinking water from municipal wells using groundwater.

If the watercourse classifications will not be enforced by the Gallant government, then the existing protections under the Act are unenforceable for Lakes (Class AL) and Drinking Water Supply Protected Areas (Class AP).

This type of water classification program is in place throughout United States and Europe and in some Canadian provinces.  To have the New Brunswick government run in the opposite direction should ring the alarm bells.  An excellent example of just how unbelievable this situation is can be seen with our shared international waterways on the East Coast.  Maine and New Brunswick share two large river systems, the Saint John River (Wolastoq) and the St. Croix River, and yet only the Maine half of the river system is protected with this program.

[Bill Ayer] “This clever and unique system can tell aquatic scientists how healthy or sick the river is over time. It will measure if severe exposure to chemicals has occurred whether from either end-of-pipe or run-off pollution.  The ratings of the river’s health may be classified into categories, such as A, B. and C.  The little bugs, as the Maine scientists say, don’t lie.  Thus a system of classification based on aquatic life can be built to serve river managers with a complete and comprehensive watershed management record.”

“What we do to water we do to ourselves.”

Since time immemorial, Wolastoqewiyik (which means people of the beautiful river) have been responsible for protecting Wolastokuk (the Maliseet Homeland). Wolastoqewi¬ Kci-¬putuwosuwinuwok (Wolastoq Grand Council) is the traditional sovereign governance structure of the Wolastoqewiyik.

Their Ancestors pledged to protect the land, rivers, and tributaries, as well as care for all our relations. Their collective rights come from the land and are premised on their social relations with nature.

[Sharlene Paul] “We have never ever thought of water as a commodity.  It is not a commodity to us, it’s a human right.”

“We consider water is life.”  “What we do to water we do to ourselves.”

[Sharlene Paul, reading from the Water Declaration declared in Peace and Friendship, on the 30th of May, 2015, at the mouth of the Wolastoq (Saint John River) and the shore of the Bay of Fundy]  “The Peace and Friendship Alliance opposes these abuses. We are committed to restoring balance to our relationship with the water, thereby renewing our treaty responsibilities to each other as distinct nations.  When we care for the water, we care for each other.”

The Water Strategy process of the Gallant Government must be halted

[Bill Ayer] “We need to protect these waters.  This Province is recognized for the goodness of its waters. If we lose that, we are going to lose our economic base, and our existence here, for making profits in the future.”

“The lack of transparency of mythical problems with the existing legislation has set the stage to repeat the mistakes of the past, to increase the mistrust of the public in government accountability, and to generate more of the unrest and turmoil that has already cost the Province socially and financially, and has marred the reputation of the Province nationally.”

I call on the government to immediately halt the current Water Strategy consultation process, and to institute a more appropriate, non-partisan, and more science-based process that will accurately and impartially report of the public in a transparent and truthful way.”

[Sharlene Paul]  “We will care for the water by building a sustainable economy that rapidly transitions away from fossil-fuels to renewables, restores our forests, reduces the carbon footprint, decentralizes energy supply, and builds food security through a regional biodiverse farming sector.”

CALL TO ACTION:  The New Brunswick Government has set up an e-mail and questionnaire to receive feedback on their Water Strategy process.  We call on citizens, groups, and Indigenous people in New Brunswick to call for a halt to the this current Water Strategy process.  Please tell the government that this is a strategy not to conserve and protect water, but it is a strategy to allocate water.  We only want one thing, a halt to the process.  Our water is not yours to destroy or sell!  Here is the link to the government’s Water Strategy website with all the contact information & questionnaire:

Working Towards a Water Strategy for New Brunswick (Dept. of Environment and Local Government)