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GUEST OPINION: Way past time to settle water issue

Automated farming irrigation sprinklers system work on cultivated ground in this stock shot.
Automated farming irrigation sprinklers system work on cultivated ground in this stock shot. - 123RF Stock

Gary Walker
Guest opinion

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I hate to rain on anyone's parade, but what the heck is going on here? A moratorium on drilling high-capacity wells in the province has been in place since 2002. Back in 2014, the Council of Canadians said, "There is a huge danger in allowing deep well irrigation in the province." Our ground water is not an infinite resource and we will suffer from long-term ground water depletion.

"Eventually our water table will respond, causing serious environmental damage and affecting individual and municipal water supplies."

This year, on April 3, 2020, Cavendish Farms advised their P.E.I. potato producers to "sell to other markets if they can," as the company was dealing with a sharp drop in demand for its product, in the wake of COVID-19-related restaurant closures. On April 2, Agriculture Minister Bloyce Thompson announced funding of $4.7 million dollars to Cavendish Farms, saying the money would pay for shipping from the 2019 growing season "to help mitigate the potato surplus".

Also, a spokesperson for the department told CBC that "as part of the arrangement, Cavendish Farms had agreed to process the 40 million kilograms of potatoes that didn't have a market. The P.E.I. government says this money will result in 40 million kilograms of Island potatoes being processed, rather than potentially going into landfill."

In June of 2020, after COVID-19 hit, the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water at https://peiwater.com was calling for a moratorium on holding ponds, however, Cavendish Farms was, and continues to call for deep-wells.

So, as nearly I can tell, after an eternity without rain on P.E.I., Cavendish Farms — supported by Mr. King's government is 1) doing us a favour by taking our "surplus" potatoes, and, 2) supported by other groups, still wants deep-water wells.

Hold it right there. It is way past time to re-think the water issue here on P.E.I. It is said that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Soon, unless a miracle occurs, without lots of rain, we won't have to worry about deep-water wells; there won't be any water left in the ground. Which begs the question: Since we can't sell last year's crop of potatoes, why are we planting more? The Souris P.E.I. Export Processing Organic Plant told this writer that it can't keep up with demand for its potato products. So do we need more, or less? Or a new company or government to call the shots?

We are in a new reality. It's way past time that we seriously looked at other crops here in P.E.I. Please. As far as water goes, potatoes and golf clubs have done a great job of poisoning our steams and wasting the little water we have left. And what's with the obsession with huge lawns, acres and acres of them in the country? These aren't good for water; plus, cutting these lawns causes a huge amount of air (and noise) pollution — great for global warming.

Now — the icing on the cake — a professor at UPEI is proposing a four-year study on deep-water wells. Four years! This study would involve installing four new high-capacity irrigation wells to measure the impact their use has on the local watershed. And people with ties on are nodding their heads and thinking this is a good idea. Really, is there a crystal ball involved here? What will the Island be like in four years? How about four weeks? Four days?

Two major things are needed for immediate survival — air and water. Things have changed, and rapidly. Ask the people in Vancouver about clean air. As for water — we can't afford to waste any. What if we have to stay indoors, and have little snow and no rain next summer? Last year you would have laughed at such ideas. This year, thanks to COVID-19 and weather patterns, both of which we have no control over, all bets are off.

The main thing that we need now, and will in the future, is water. Good, clean water, for our own survival on our Island home. Let's conserve what we have left.

Gary Walker is a former educator who lives in Charlottetown.

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