Increased PEI Water Extraction Continues a Hot Issue

CBC News

High-capacity irrigation wells debate continues
Potato industry seeking end to moratorium on high-capacity well irrigation systems

Posted: Mar 14, 2014 9:38 PM AT

High-capacity irrigation wells continue to be the hot topic before the legislature's standing committee on agriculture.

On Friday, it was a packed house as the committee heard nine presentations that were at times emotional and full of frustration.

All urged government to move cautiously and wait for the best possible science.

P.E.I. gets all its water from wells, and the environmental groups supporting the moratorium are concerned high-capacity wells could affect both the quantity and the quality of what is available.

The high-capacity wells can draw as much as 500 gallons of water per minute, and concern has been raised about the effect they have on the Island's ground water levels.

This issue has ignited opposition from many groups.

"The concept of individual agricultural operators taking a major share of the public's water is untenable," said Randy Angus, with the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.

Most presenters were firmly against lifting a moratorium on the wells.

“Any premature lifting of such a moratorium could potentially cause irreversible damage to our bays and estuaries," said Brenda Campbell with the P.E.I. Shellfish Association.

John Jamieson, with the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture — whose group supports the irrigation wells in principle — wants more firm, scientific research.

"We think that the science needs to be peer reviewed in order to ensure the public that the most appropriate science information has been utilized and that be done by an independent third party," he said.

At the same time, the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture also recognized the pressures on potato farmers to produce higher yield.

“It's not what we need, it’s what Prince Edward Island needs -- the right amount of water, at the right place, at the right time,” said Alvin Keenan, president of the federation.

The most impassioned opposition came from Todd Dupuis of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, and outspoken critic and wildlife biologist Daryl Guignion. He questioned the government's assumptions that the wells would have little impact on rivers and habitat.

"This statement is blatantly inaccurate, and I don't care who they got, what scientist they got — they better rethink who they're getting their information from as far as I'm concerned," said Guignion.

“It's almost like I feel like we're being bullied by corporate interests to jeopardize our freshwater. resources."

"There are all kinds of unknowns there, and given the many unknowns regarding the impacts on finfish and shellfish which wasn’t talked about, our recommendations are ... maintain the moratorium while these uncertainties are being investigated. We need to do more homework,” said Dupuis.

Much of the pressure for these high-capacity irrigation wells appears to be coming from the french-fry processors. J.D. Irving-owned Cavendish farms has also asked to present its side to the committee.