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15th December 2017
'Significant gaps' in P.E.I.'s new Water Act concerns group

Coalition raises concerns as debate begins on legislation

By Kerry Campbell, CBC News Posted: Nov 29, 2017 9:00 PM AT Last Updated: Nov 29, 2017 9:00 PM AT

Debate has begun on P.E.I.'s new Water Act amid concerns raised by one advocacy group that the bill contains "significant gaps" that undermine measures put forward to protect the province's supply of fresh water.

Catherine O'Brien, chair of the Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water, said while the bill includes a ban on fracking, clauses allowing cabinet to override the ban "completely negate it."

The current draft of the Water Act allows cabinet to make the decision to allow hydraulic fracturing if doing so "may be in the public interest."

"There isn't a ban in my mind when I read that," O'Brien said. "It's showing a ban but saying it can be completely overturned without any public consultation."

No mention of irrigation wells

O'Brien also objects to the government's decision to exclude any mention in the act of the current ban preventing more high capacity wells to be developed for irrigation on P.E.I.

The possibility of the government lifting that ban set off a series of highly-charged public meetings in 2014 which eventually led to the development of the Water Act.

"The number of Islanders that asked for that moratorium to stay in place far outweighs the ones that want it lifted," O'Brien said.

Environment Minister Robert Mitchell has said the government is awaiting the results of research looking at how much water can be drawn from the water table, and how that affects streams and wildlife.

But O'Brien said it's not just about capacity and how much water can be taken, but what that water is used for.

"There's a lot more that we're looking at here: why are we using that water, what is the purpose of that water use, and is it for the greater good of the whole Island and our ecosystem?"

Overall, O'Brien praised the consultation process which led to the development of the Water Act and said she was pleased to see public feedback reflected in the document.

Opposition raises concerns

During second reading debate of the act Wednesday afternoon, opposition MLAs brought up some of the coalition's concerns, including those around the lack of a declaration of Islanders' fundamental right to access clean, affordable drinking water.

Following the debate, Mitchell said the possibility exists to change any part of the bill. However the initial sections of the bill were passed without being amended.

Mitchell has said there will be another round of public consultations next year, before regulations are put forward and the bill takes effect.