End of moratorium on high-capacity irrigation wells brings 'model of fairness'

·2 min read
For 20 years, P.E.I. farmers have not been allowed to drill high-capacity wells for irrigation. (Brian Higgins/CBC - image credit)
For 20 years, P.E.I. farmers have not been allowed to drill high-capacity wells for irrigation. (Brian Higgins/CBC - image credit)

Starting June 11, farmers on P.E.I. will be able to apply to the provincial government for a licence to drill a high-capacity well to water their crops.

A moratorium on high-capacity wells for agriculture has been in place since 2002. Other industries — such as golf courses and food processors — have been free to apply and drill wells.

"There's a model of fairness built into this that farmers can finally apply for water, because they were the only ones who couldn't," said Environment Minister Steven Myers

The lifting of the moratorium came out of discussions surrounding the new Water Act, which became the active law regulating water on P.E.I. a year ago. Last spring, government released draft text for a regulation that would lift the moratorium, and in a news release Friday the province confirmed that regulation is now part of the act.

Water monitoring tools on open website

Myers said the implementation of the regulations is the culmination of a lot of work and public consultation, and the result is water being protected more than it ever has been.

"There's the highest level of transparency that we have ever had," he said.

"People will be able to see who's drawing water at any time, and how much water is being drawn, what watershed has the highest uses, as well as other things like pesticides in waterways."

The province announced a new water registry along with the lifting of the moratorium.

This online platform will include maps that display water information such as water use, well locations, water quantity and quality, along with other information connected to water in the province.

Applicants must participate in the Soil Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) program with the Department of Agriculture and Land, have a drought contingency plan and, in heavily used watersheds, must bring forward a watershed irrigation plan.

Myers is not expecting a great rush of applications on June 11, particularly with farmers still busy in the fields.

"As the summer wears on we'll probably see a few, but I don't think we're going to see a mad rush," he said.

"I think that you'll see when the gauges go online and people are able to monitor them, you might be surprised to find that agriculture isn't the highest user, and maybe the concerns are best laid elsewhere."

The province will continue to monitor water use, watershed by watershed, Myers said.

He noted if a particular watershed is found to have too many users, permits can be revoked.

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