Transparency and openness should be the key principles followed by the Department of Environment, Energy and Climate Action as it begins the task of implementing a sustainable water strategy, maintains the chair of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability.
Montague-Kilmuir MLA Cory Deagle recently presented a report to the legislature on the topic, saying the committee has met 11 times since being mandated to study the issue in May. The all-party committee made eight recommendations on the issue.
Transparency was identified as a common theme of importance in the feedback received by your committee," Deagle noted.
The committee suggests government action on the issue be based on the concepts outlined in the "Irrigation Strategy: A Document for Review, Comment and Discussion." Deagle said in the report the committee "feels that the information provided in the document is an appropriate reflection of the evidence heard by your committee during their series of meetings on this topic." He added the committee was pleased to see the department is leaving the document open for public consultation until the end of the year.
"Your committee recommends government ensure there is a requirement for a soil health improvement plan that is tailored to potential crop that will be grown, and that it be tied to the permitting process for supplemental irrigation." the report notes. "Further, your committee recommends baseline data be established for new applicants with short, medium and long-term goals to improve recharge, soil and water health."
The report notes the need for a soil health improvement plan at the farm level was highlighted by a number of presenters including PEI Potato Board, PEI Watershed Alliance and the Federation of Agriculture. The Department of Environment, Energy and Climate Action later told the committee a system of soil quality monitoring and improvements known as the Soil Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) would be piloted for newly irrigated fields and the committee recommends that if the pilot proves to be successful, it should become a permanent condition for receiving an irrigation permit.
Deagle said the committee supports third party oversight when it comes to making decisions around water resources arguing that would help show transparency. The committee backs the department's proposal to create a central advisory board that will consist of users, conservation groups, senior government officials and other key stakeholders.
Department officials also told committee members that in instances where watersheds reach 90% of its allocation, a group of regional stakeholders will be involved with watershed specific decisions. Deagle noted in the report "As this committee is said to be made up of local water users, watershed groups and any other relevant stakeholders, your committee recognizes this will further allow for transparent decisions around water resources. "
The committee wants to ensure sufficient resources are allocated to allow for appropriate staffing levels for the monitoring and enforcement. They recommend a staff position be assigned to provincial irrigation and water use, adding that will help ensure compliance , trends and goals at both the provincial and application level are being achieved.
"Your committee believes that a dedicated point of contact for producers will assist in the streamlining of support and services," the report notes. "This position may be a serve to be a valuable addition in working alongside the Department of Agriculture and Land's Soil and Water Conservation Specialists who will be delivering the SHIP service. "
Committee members also suggest the province committee to continuous updates to ground and surface water monitoring technologies as such methods should be used to efficiently and appropriately measure, monitor and assess all significant impacts on the watershed. Deagle said the importance of effective monitoring was a common thread in many of the presentations heard by the committee.
"Your committee also encourages government to explore and consider investments in new methods for precise weather forecasting," the report notes. "The PEI Potato Board stressed to your committee the importance of accurate weather forecasting as the forecast can drastically impact the decisions made by producers on a daily basis. Your committee believes the exploration of such technologies would help to alleviate some of the stress and uncertainty that farmers face as it relates to watering of crops. "
Committee members also suggest government expand the current surface and groundwater monitoring locations and that the results from those sites be transparent and public. The MLA's also want government to explore the idea of creating an irrigation plan for users in each watershed that must be adhered to.
As well, Deagle and his fellow committee members are calling for an education campaign to allow the public to fully understand the state of the province's ground and surface water, and how it is managed.
"The information gathered for the water registry that is currently under construction will serve as a good foundation for what the public could benefit from learning," the report notes.
He explained the registry will show the status of watershed health and identify the issues that stress them. It will also include such information as current groundwater levels and stream flow and the report notes "tracking this information is critical to both determining what is an appropriate amount of water to use in a watershed but also acts as a double check to confirm that usage and its impacts are staying within acceptable limits."