P.E.I. potato farmers say holding ponds help counter impacts of drought

·2 min read
Greg Donald, general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board, says decisions about holding ponds need to be based on facts and evidence, not fear-mongering.  (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)
Greg Donald, general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board, says decisions about holding ponds need to be based on facts and evidence, not fear-mongering. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)

Some Island farmers have no choice but to use irrigation ponds to counter the impacts of drought conditions like what was experienced on the Island last summer, says the P.E.I. Potato Board.

The board issued a statement Thursday to address what it described as myths by a small group of Islanders that farmers will run streams and wells dry.

Greg Donald, general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board, says he's hearing more and more concerns from what he describes as "some special interest groups." He said decisions about holding ponds need to be based on facts and evidence, not fear-mongering.

"This isn't something new," Donald said in an interview with CBC News.

"Ponds or holding ponds have been used for supplemental irrigation for years and they're legal, they're permitted by the province, and they are also monitored by the province. There has been an increase recently in the construction of some, but that's because of the circumstances that we find ourselves in given that, although it's winter and it's been colder, we haven't forgotten last summer how hot and dry it was and unfortunately, in certain parts of P.E.I., that's been the case for the last few years."

'We are going to need access to water'

Holding ponds have been a controversial work-around for the agricultural industry in light of a long-standing moratorium on new high-capacity irrigation wells.

The farmers who built this holding pond in Shamrock, P.E.I., maintain the impact to the area's water table will be minimal.
The farmers who built this holding pond in Shamrock, P.E.I., maintain the impact to the area's water table will be minimal.(Steve Bruce/CBC)

In the legislature last week, the Green Party raised concerns about allowing existing holding ponds to continue operating indefinitely after the province's new Water Act is proclaimed in June.

Green MLA Lynne Lund told reporters that it's not a big deal in some areas of the province, but in areas like the Dunk and Wilmot rivers, she's already hearing concern from farmers about "waterways going dry."

Donald said some Island farms will struggle to survive another year of drought conditions. He said holding ponds are not necessarily the best option for farmers in the long term, but they are needed until a science-based decision can be made about the future of high-capacity wells.

The province has set up a research project to further study the impacts high-capacity wells will have on watersheds and the environment on the Island.

"The use of water for supplemental irrigation, it has to be done responsibly, period and we believe it can be done responsibly," said Donald.

"We are going to need access to water in order for our family farms to survive here in P.E.I."

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