P.E.I. water strategy 'a leaky document'

·3 min read
Catherine O'Brien, chair of the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water, has been trying to get some answers from the Environment Department. (Steve Bruce/CBC - image credit)
Catherine O'Brien, chair of the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water, has been trying to get some answers from the Environment Department. (Steve Bruce/CBC - image credit)

While praising the goals of P.E.I.'s recently released water strategy, some water protection groups have some concerns about how exactly it is going to be implemented.

The province announced regulations on its new Water Act would come into effect June 11, which would, among other things, end the moratorium on high-capacity wells for irrigation. Permits for irrigation wells would be tied to the creation of a soil conservation plan, and the province will create an open web site where the public can monitor water extraction from high-capacity wells.

While praising the goals of the plan, Catherine O'Brien, chair of the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water, has questions about how it will work.

"It's a bit rushed as far as the timing of this, getting it out because they're rushing to get the permits immediately to people who do want to irrigate," said O'Brien.

"But they also have said that they're going to have some governance around that, and that is not established yet. So it feels like a bit of a leaky document."

Seeking details

The coalition has a lot of questions, O'Brien said, but efforts to arrange a meeting with Environment Minister Steven Myers to ask those questions have been unsuccessful.

Emails and phone calls have gone unanswered, she said.

"We're very interested in the governance side of it," said O'Brien.

Rick Gibbs/CBC
Rick Gibbs/CBC

"Who's going to be on the governance body and how is that going to be rolled out? We're also concerned that I don't know that there's a budget line in there for anything to do with this. So regarding any kind of resources available to monitor and enforce all of this."

According to a document released by the King government last week, the province is still exploring ways to develop an "arm's length, independent body" to oversee all water use on the Island, saying that's the preferred governance model identified by stakeholders during public consultations.

The province says it will conduct further consultations around the issue of governance, and says creating a new body could require further changes in legislation. In the meantime, the Department of Environment, Energy and Climate Action remains in charge of issuing permits for water extraction.

Mike Durant, chair of the P.E.I. Watershed Alliance, agrees that the goals of the strategy are sound, but he also wants to know more about the specifics of monitoring it.

"How are we going to ensure when we launch this that what we intended to happen is really going to happen?" he said.

"How do we actually ensure that the benefits that are identified in this strategy, how are they going to be achieved and how are we going to know that they're going to be achieved?"

On releasing the strategy, Myers said the plan brings unprecedented transparency to water use on the Island, and fairness by providing access to farmers. Agriculture had been under a moratorium for high-capacity wells since 2002, while all other industries could continue to apply for permits.

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