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31st March 2016
Are large projects like Energy East putting drinking water protection on the chopping block in New Brunswick?

March 25, 2016 - 6:48am

It was a classic case of, “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” With each presentation by the 5 people at today’ Press Conference, you could feel the awe, the astonishment, and the anger become stronger and stronger in the room.

On World Water Day, March 22nd, several experts, the Wolastoq Grand Council, and the Fredericton chapter of the Council of Canadians held a Press Conference today on unceded Wolastoq territory, here in Fredericton. They called on the Brian Gallant government for the immediate halt to the hastily-planned review process for the New Brunswick’s new Water Strategy.

[Bill Ayer] “Nowhere in the proposed strategy is it clear that there is a process to cope with runoff sources of pollution from forestry, agricultural, and construction activities in a practical and cost-effective manner.”

[Lawrence Wuest] "The motivation for this step-backward is to remove obstacles from its industrial agenda, which includes most specifically the Energy East Pipeline, the Sisson [Tungsten-Molybdenum] Mine, the Minco PLC Manganese Project, and shale gas exploration and development.”

“This is a strategy for large industry in New Brunswick.”

The call to action was decided at the Peace and Friendship Alliance gathering last Saturday, March 19th, in Fredericton. We learned at this meeting that the fundamental water protection law in New Brunswick for all of our lakes and rivers was being dismantled by the Brian Gallant government of New Brunswick.

In its place, a “Water Strategy” was being hastily proposed with limited advertising and three levels of meetings. The first tier were tradeshow-style Open Houses that excluded any Q&A session for the public, the second tier were secret stakeholder meetings with watershed groups and municipalities that excluded the public, and the third tier were secret stakeholder meetings only with industry.

(Note: The Fredericton chapter of the Council of Canadians invited themselves to the last secret stakeholder meeting in Fredericton. It took several polite requests, but we were finally allowed to give our presentation ‘9 questions that Brian Gallant's Government must answer before any Water Strategy process’.)

David Thompson, retired Fundy Baykeeper (Conservation Council of New Brunswick), put it best when he summarized the Water Strategy: “This is a strategy not to conserve and protect water, but it is a strategy to allocate water. This is a strategy for large industry in New Brunswick.”

“Clean Water for New Brunswick” is at stake

Let’s read what the Government of New Brunswick says about its own water quality law. The title of the opening chapter of the ‘A Guide to New Brunswick’s Water Classification Regulation’ speaks for itself: “Introduction: Clean Water for New Brunswick”. The law implements goals for water quality and manages water on a watershed basis.

On page 5, “The Water Classification Regulation provides:

• raw water quality standards for watercourses that are used as public drinking water supplies

• standards for water quality for other watercourses

• standards for aquatic life (and the aquatic community) for all waters

• standards that can be used to prevent degradation of water

• an opportunity for New Brunswickers to participate in setting goals for water quality

• an opportunity to plan water quality for all the waters within a single watershed”

The truth is also at stake

The public had been misled by the Brian Gallant government that there is a problem with their current water protection program. But the Press Conference made it clear that this was not the case.

The Water Classification Regulation was put in place in New Brunswick in 2002. But not one of the 19 rivers submitted for protection by volunteer watershed groups has been enforced by the government.

Ombudsman Charles Murray ruled in his 2014 report that any problems with the province’s Water Classification Regulation was corrected by an amendment of the Clean Water Act on December 19, 2008.

Any suggestion that it was not legally enforceable were dispelled by Ombudsman Murray in his CBC Radio interview on August 19, 2014 where he remarked “an abuse of ministerial discretion”, "that strains credibility", "that is not a credible statement", and "I think the facts speak for themselves."

But compare the above Ombudsman’s remarks with that of our current Minister of Environment Brian Kenny in his CBC Radio interview on March 24, 2014 where he remarked “Unfortunately, the regulation is not enforceable.”, “I can’t really speak on what has happened in the past.”, “The water classification is only one part of the water strategy.” and “This is just one component of it that a lot of people get stuck on.”.

A stroke of the pen would eliminate the work of 25 years and the Water Classification Regulation

The above comments by the Minister are ominous and only grow the fears that the Brian Gallant government is preparing to remove this law in a future sitting of the Provincial Legislature.

In one stroke of the pen, this would eliminate 25 years of work, millions of dollars of government data collection, tens of thousands of volunteer hours by 19 watershed groups, remove existing protection on all lakes and impoundments in New Brunswick, and ignore the requisite work completed on a minimum of 4 rivers/watersheds in New Brunswick Meduxnekeag River, Nashwaak River, Hammond River, and the St. Croix River.

[Lawrence Wuest] “In a thinly-veiled attempt to disempower local watersheds, the Government has amalgamated many small but ecologically-important watersheds into one omnibus Saint John River Watershed, reducing the total number of recognized watersheds from 19 to 13."

[Lawrence Wuest] “This blatant subversion of due process has compromised the rights of residents of among others, the economically and ecologically important

Meduxnekeag Watershed,

The Nashwaak Watershed,

The Canaan River/Washademoak Lake Watershed,

The Belleisle Bay Watershed,

The Kennebecasis Watershed, and

The Hammond River Watershed.”

The Gallant government would weaken water protection laws and eliminate local watershed control

[Bill Ayer] “We’ve got all of the lakes, the ponds, and the impoundments have come in. Think about how much of the water bodies in the Province of New Brunswick is already under law under the classification regulation. Think about the millions of dollars that have been spent here and the effort put in over 25 years."

"This government now is throwing it out the window, and say we are going to have some workshops here, sit down in the next little while, and we’ll come up with this wonderful thing, whatever it is going to be, without any classification and without any non-point source capability to analyze the kind of extraction things that are going to happen in this province for sure in the near future. And we won’t have any coverage.”

...Continued in PART 2