PEI Water Act

Long-awaited legislation introduced

Water. It’s in every facet of people’s lives, from our bodily make-up, to daily activities of eating, drinking, cooking, and washing; water is an essential part of life itself. In 2010, the UN recognized the right to clean water and sanitation as one essential human right for all people.

In PEI, such legislation has been a long time coming. After years of public consultations, draft documents made, and further revisions, the Water Act was finally tabled in the PEI Legislature by Minister of Communities, Land and Environment, Robert Mitchell on November 23, 2017. It’s the next step in the process but it’s far from the last. The irony is that the right to clean, accessible water is not explicitly mentioned in the new legislation.

Given the prominence of agriculture on PEI, from family farms to large, corporate agro-based companies, water is vital to the economy, and to each and every person who relies on a clean, safe water supply. PEI is unique in Canada in its total reliance on groundwater for its water supply. The process to redefine and consolidate various legislation from the Environmental Protection Act, water well regulations, drinking water, sewage and wastewater regulations, and watercourse and wetland protections into a cohesive Water Act started in 2015.

After public meetings, private consultations, and submissions from a wide range of interested and vested parties, the Water Act was slated for introduction in the Legislature in May 2017 but it was November before the government was able to bring it forth.

“The process was so thorough, with wonderful meetings and consultations, opportunities for people to present, and send in emails, and it was lengthy enough that people had an opportunity to really come together […]. The committee that then took that information and sent back to government, they really captured Islanders’ concerns and sentiments,” Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water chair Catherine O’Brien said.

One item the Act now formally bans is the exportation of PEI’s water; an issue that many Islanders expressed concern about during the consultations. “There was a big outcry when some operators on the Island wanted to start bottling and exporting water. So they put that ban in, and that’s excellent. It’s really important that we protect our water and it not go off-Island,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien notes that not all anticipated issues were covered in the tabled legislation. In 2014, the discussion on lifting the 2002 moratorium on high capacity wells led to the realization that a comprehensive Water Act was needed, however, “You read through the whole Water Act and a moratorium on high capacity wells is not even mentioned. It’s not in there.”

The government has stated that they are waiting on scientific reports from UPEI about the recharge rates, and what a safe recharge rate will be before addressing high capacity wells. O’Brien’s concern is that by neglecting to place any wording in the Act about high-capacity wells, the door is opened again to a widespread lifting of the moratorium and a lack of understanding about the unsustainable use of the water drawn from these wells, not just from agricultural applications but on a municipal level as well.
Another major concern for Islanders during the consultations was hydraulic fracking. The Act does place a ban on fracking, but an initial clause that allowed for government to review the ban should it be deemed to be “in the public interest” was “so disappointing” according to O’Brien. During the legislative debate and subsequent Act amendments, this clause was removed. Green Party leader and Kelly’s Cross/Cumberland MLA Peter Bevan-Baker said in response to Minister Mitchell’s amendment, “I’m so pleased that you’ve made this a true ban, because as it was written before…it wasn’t really a true ban in any sense, previously. I’m really happy and I want to thank you for doing what you’ve done here.”

The Act itself is the framework, but the actual regulations stemming from the Act are still to be written. It’s within the regulations that final details are laid out and procedures for enforcing said regulations dictated.

During debate in the Legislative Assembly, Mitchell indicated that the regulation consultation process will begin in the spring. “We will use the summer months with staff to put together, what we will call draft regulations, moving forward. Probably about 12 months from this very time that we will be able to have the regulations complete and will be able to turn on the Water Act.”

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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