Late on a Friday afternoon on February 18, 2021, the PEI government announced that it would finally be proclaiming the Water Act on June 16th. This is excellent news and long overdue.
BUT, it’s not all good news. At the same time, the government released its second draft of regulations, and not everything reflects what we had expected.
Under the last draft of regulations that government shared with Islanders, holding ponds that were being filled from multiple low capacity wells (and therefore acting as a high capacity well) would be banned, and those already in existence would have 5 years to become compliant. The all-party Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability committee recommended this time be reduced to 2 years. Many of these holding ponds were built in just the past few years as a way of circumventing the moratorium on high-capacity wells.
Now, we learn that the government is not only ignoring the committee's unanimous recommendation, but is planning to instead grandfather in all those holding ponds - along with any others that get built between now and June 16th. They never need to be compliant.
This is irresponsible and doesn’t take into account what is actually happening on a watershed by watershed basis. You cannot use a ‘one size fits all’ approach with water, as some locations are already stressed. And it is deeply unfair to farmers, because it means that some will "win" (in the short term) while others lose - the winners and losers being picked by the government. See Lynne Lund's latest op-ed to the Journal Pioneer.
By delaying the Water Act for years, the government has left the door wide open to a holding pond building spree. Now, it is allowing them to stay forever, at the expense of all other current and future users of PEI water.
It’s also a contradiction from what we’ve been told all along that government intended to do. Both current Minister of Environment Steven Myers and Premier Dennis King had voted in favour of Lynne Lund's July 2020 motion calling for an interim moratorium on holding ponds (although such a moratorium was never enacted). And during the 2019 election campaign, Dennis King said: "...water is the issue that islanders all want to talk about...This might be a case that since we don’t know the impacts of what we are allowing them to do now with the holding ponds, the effects might actually be worse than the effect of the high capacity wells…A government led by me will recognize that and we will make sure the processes are in place, that the regulations are there to make sure our water is protected.*"
*April 8, 2019 All-Party Leaders Environmental Forum. See video here.
We still have time to let the Premier know that Islanders expect a Water Act that will actually protect our water. Green MLAs will be pursuing this in the Legislature, but they need you to speak up, too!
Want to help? Here’s what you can do:
#1. Send your input to the Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability Committee by April 17th. All submissions will be published and will help the Committee assert its case to the Minister of Environment for better, fairer regulations.
#2. Write a letter to the editor expressing your concerns about grandfathering in holding ponds.
#4. Call or email Premier King. While we have had three Environment Ministers in the past two years, we’ve had only one Premier and he has a responsibility to Islanders. Let him know what you think, because ultimately, this is his choice.