'How come fracking isn't in the legislation?' public gives feedback on draft Water Act

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'How come fracking isn't in the legislation?' public gives feedback on draft Water Act

'How come fracking isn't in the legislation?' public gives feedback on draft Water Act

About 50 people attended the province's final public consultation meeting on the draft Water Act Wednesday evening in Pooles Corner.

Environment Minister Robert Mitchell said he hopes to bring the draft act to the floor of the legislature in a few weeks time. While the timeline is tight, he said that will still give his department enough time to make changes to the draft based on feedback from the consultation meetings.

Feedback at Wednesday's meeting, which was the last of four meetings held across the province, included both positive feedback and concerns.

Concerns about 'loopholes'

The Winter River-Tracadie Bay Watershed Association was one of three groups to present at the meeting. Association coordinator Sarah Wheatley said the group is concerned about wording in the act that would allow municipalities to exceed environmental flow rates, which could be environmentally damaging.

"It would seem that a municipal supply area could request an exemption from all of the provisions laid out, and the cabinet could approve it," said Wheatley.

She said she wants to see wording in several sections of the act changed.

No mention of fracking

Another concern raised by the groups that presented, as well as many of the people who took their turn to speak at the open mic afterwards, was that there is no restriction against fracking in the draft act.

"How come fracking isn't in the legislation? How come there's no moratorium or ban on fracking?" asked Karalee McAskill with the Cornwall and Area Watershed Group.  

Mitchell said fracking is something that would instead be addressed in regulations, rather than the act itself, in part because issues surrounding fracking don't only relate to water use.

"It  would fall under the energy file, the fracking piece. But the use of water for it can be dealt with within regulation," said Mitchell.

He added regulations can be adjusted and "strengthened" relatively easily, which he said would be useful in years to come. 

Chris Ortenburger with the Citizens' Alliance of P.E.I. pointed out that while regulations could be strengthened in the future, there is also the potential for them to be weakened.

"If the act is strong first, when it goes through that legislature, and it's passed, that is the primary source from which the regulations have to flow," said Ortenburger.

Changes already underway

With Mitchell's plans to bring the draft to the legislature in a few weeks time, some people expressed concern over whether the draft would actually see many changes based on consultation feedback.

"It's called a draft water act, but from your comments Mr. Minister, it sure sounds like it's the final draft," said Scott Sinclair, a local resident who spoke at the meeting.

Mitchell said two weeks is enough time to make changes, and that he and his staff have already started making adjustments based on the feedback from the previous consultation meetings.

The public can still submit feedback online until April 18.

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