The P.E.I. government should place a moratorium on all new high-capacity wells that are not for residential use. That's one of the recommendations from a legislative standing committee examining the Water Act.
The moratorium on high-capacity wells on the Island currently only applies to the agriculture sector, and has been in place since 2002.
The standing committee on natural resources and environmental sustainability says the moratorium needs to be expanded "until research is available to make evidence-based decisions."
PC MLA Cory Deagle, who chairs the legislative committee, said expanding the moratorium would mean the province may not approve things like new car washes, golf courses or food processing facilities — anything that might need high-capacity wells — outside of urban centres served by central water systems.
"Our recommendation was that it be extended to all those other sectors to ensure fairness because right now the agriculture sector is singled out," Deagle said in an interview with CBC News.
'Fear that is out in the public'
"Our committee is whole-heartedly in agreement that we need to look at the science. And whether that takes three, four, five years to look at the science and make an evidence-based decision on what are the facts in front of us and not really the fear that is out in the public on high-capacity wells," said Deagle.
The legislative committee is also calling on the province to immediately proclaim the Water Act.
Legislation creating the act passed in the P.E.I. Legislature in December 2017, but the regulations were never finalized which means the act is still not law.
Environment Minister Natalie Jameson said she'd like to see the Water Act proclaimed "as soon as possible."
The minister said the act will go into effect 90 days after the regulations are approved. That will happen early in the new year, she added.
'Human needs and ecological considerations'
But the environment minister is less clear on what will happen to the call for the inclusion of all high-capacity wells in the moratorium.
"I don't necessarily know if there's been enough consultation around it," Jameson said.
"I firmly believe that current and future policy decisions need to be science-based. They need to be informed by results of local research and certainly strike a balance between human needs and ecological considerations."
When asked where that leaves farmers, some of whom say they desperately need access to high-capacity wells to deal with increasingly dry summers, Jameson said, "My heart goes out to farmers, this year especially, it was an extremely dry year."
Jameson said she wants to work with farmers to find a solution.
In a statement to CBC News, Jameson's department said expanding the moratorium "may have an additional unintended consequence of encouraging commercial and industrial users to try to set up in cities/towns where there is more of a concern on water use."
'Agricultural sector is feeling singled out'
The Environment Department statement went on to say expanding the moratorium on high-capacity wells would prevent the province from approving wells for a number of other sectors including aquaculture, food processing, firefighting, fun parks and some larger geothermal heating units.
The legislative committee is also recommending government refer all future research proposals on the impacts of high-capacity wells to the legislative committee.
Lynne Lund, Opposition environment critic, said while some scientists told the committee that additional high-capacity wells would not impact the province's water supply the issue is "massively more complicated" than that. She wants to see a wider discussion on what sustainable agriculture is going to look like.
Until then, Lund said she supports expanding the moratorium on high-capacity wells.
"A clear theme that we heard is that the agricultural sector is feeling singled out, that use for high-capacity wells for agriculture doesn't have a different impact on an aquifer than, let's say a high-capacity well for a car wash," said Lund.
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