Water Issues a Concern in Wake of PEI Kill

THE GUARDIAN - Charlottetown

Pattern on water a concern

Published on August 26, 2014

Lack of information suggests province busy trying to keep details from Islanders

Government and the agricultural sector are breathing a sigh of relief with no reports of fish kills following a series of torrential downpours across P.E.I. early last week. Many people were expecting the worst — news that some stream was affected by pesticides from a heavy runoff. To date, remarkably, nothing has happened.

Early in August, isolated thunderstorms had dumped heavy showers in various areas of the province and the result was 1,000 dead fish in the Springvale area. It is the only reported fish kill this year. The province argues that conservation and protection measures are working and the lack of dead fish last week would support that conclusion.

While Environment Minister Janice Sherry said the obvious goal is zero fish kills a year, there have been a series of troubling developments within the department that makes environmental lobby groups in particular, and Islanders in general, suspicious of government motives. A pattern of secrecy is developing.

To date, there is no information from an investigation into the North River fish kill which happened almost three weeks ago. The report would indicate if the fish kill resulted from pesticides contained in a flash runoff, or some other cause. The clamour is already out for charges against those responsible.

There is additional focus on that watershed because of water safety concerns raised by Charlottetown city council since the North River is a sub-watershed area adjacent to the city’s new wellfield being developed in Miltonvale Park.

In response to that fish kill, the province’s former chief conservation officer wrote a scathing letter to the editor critical of the province’s lack of support and resources to prevent fish kills.

Besieged farmers now have to deal with a citizens-on-patrol group which has announced plans to take photos and submit reports of any suspected spraying or farming infractions.

Water safety and supply have been in sharp focus since the issue of lifting a moratorium on deep-water wells convulsed the province for the past two years. Most Islanders view those wells as a threat to the province’s groundwater supply.

Ms. Sherry didn’t help matters when she refused to divulge the recommendation on the moratorium from an advisory panel. Media recently obtained a government document on the wells through access to information. But officials blacked out significant portions of the report such as all comments and draft policies on irrigation wells, which the document says the government supports.

While government continues to wrestle with the moratorium issue, McCains announced plans to shut down its major french fry plant in Borden-Carleton, throwing more than 120 workers out of a job. Cavendish Farmers has hinted any decision to follow suit could be affected by a favourable decision on lifting the moratorium since it is pushing hard for those wells to increase potato yield and assure size and quality.

The provincial government also didn’t help its case when it refused to release the location of groundwater test sites, including those that show increased levels of pesticide contamination, a fact confirmed by an environment official.

Cosmetic pesticide spraying inside municipalities is now an election issue, and continues to dominate the agenda in both Charlottetown and Stratford. City mayoral candidate Philip Brown is supporting a complete ban on cosmetic pesticides in Charlottetown while countless letters and opinion pieces to the editor also support a total ban.

Despite assurances there is no cause for alarm, there is a general perception the province is withholding important information on water issues from Islanders. The government must put the health of its citizens first. Secrecy only makes Islanders more suspicious.