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“Opening salvo” fired in P.E.I. battle over deep well irrigation vs water protection

Council of Canadians chairperson Leo Broderick.

The Council of Canadians has long called on the government of Prince Edward Island to maintain the 2002 moratorium on deep well irrigation and to furthermore legislate a complete ban on all deep well irrigation in the province.

In January 2014, the Journal Pioneer reported, “Leo Broderick with the Council of Canadians said there is a huge danger in allowing deep well irrigation in the province. ‘Our ground water is not an infinite resource and we will suffer from long-term ground water depletion’, he said. ‘Eventually our water table will respond causing serious environmental damage and affecting individual and municipal water supplies.'”

In February 2014, Maude Barlow spoke at a public forum in Charlottetown highlighting similar concerns about deep well irrigation.

In October 2015, Broderick presented to the P.E.I. Environmental Advisory Committee on the province’s draft Water Act reiterating the need to legislate a ban on deep well irrigation to prevent long-term groundwater depletion.

This past Monday, Robert K. Irving, the president of Cavendish Farms, told the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting that “supplemental irrigation” is needed when low rainfalls and drought-type conditions would mean below-average yields during potato growing season.

The CBC reports, “French-fry giant Cavendish Farms has reiterated its desire to see the end of a moratorium on new high-capacity agricultural wells pegged by the company as a way for P.E.I. potato farmers to stay competitive. …[Irving] told the luncheon that the industry can’t rely solely on rain to produce product — and he added that importing potatoes is not sustainable.”

The Guardian editorial board described Irving’s comments as the “opening salvo” in the debate on this issue this year.

The Guardian also notes, “The controversial issue of an agricultural moratorium on deep-water wells was on hiatus since legislators debated the new Water Act, passed last December. The act outlines how P.E.I.’s groundwater supply should be monitored, regulated and protected – but was oddly silent on those wells.”

On November 23, 2017, The Guardian reported, “The province’s long-awaited Water Act has been tabled in the P.E.I. legislature. …The act will prohibit hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’ for oil or natural gas exploration or production purposes. It also bans the removal of water from the province, such as the export or sale of bottled water. The bill does not, however, deal with the current moratorium on high-capacity wells for agriculture.”

That article noted, “[Environment minister Robert] Mitchell says this will be dealt with in the bill’s regulations, which have not yet been released. No decisions have yet been made on the issue, as the department is awaiting the results of a scientific study that will measure the effects of deep-water wells on the province’s water table.”

Last November, the CBC also explained, “Mitchell said the research will be used to develop regulations for the act, and the regulations will be put forward for public consultations in the new year. He said the act won’t come into effect until the regulations are complete — about a year from now.​” This past Monday, the CBC reported, “The province has said there is still research to be done.”

The Guardian editorial board now adds, “It’s interesting that critically-important regulations for the Water Act haven’t been disclosed. Government promised that high-capacity wells would be addressed in those regulations but don’t count on them being debated anytime soon with a provincial election approaching.”

Yesterday, the CBC reported, “According to the fixed date in P.E.I.’s Election Act, the next provincial vote should take place on Oct. 7, 2019 [but] speculation about an early election date arose following [Premier Wade] MacLauchlan’s January cabinet shuffle [and the] ‘haste’ to appoint a referendum commissioner [to oversee a vote on electoral reform happening alongside the next provincial election] by June 1.”

Further reading
Broderick says corporate power threatens PEI’s drinking water (April 2015)