News that the moratorium on deep water wells for agricultural purposes was ending broke just as the last issue of the Farmer was being put together.
Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Steve Myers and his communications team get a failing grade for the way they released the news. The statement he issued was vague, poorly written and never said anything about the fact the moratorium was actually being lifted.
For a minister who has a reputation for being outspoken, it was uncharacteristic, but I suspect it was by design. Since he came under fire from both the opposition and those supporting the ban for calling the moratorium "silly", he didn't seem to want to draw attention to his actions. Even in a television interview that night, he refused to acknowledge the moratorium was ending, saying essentially that agricultural applications for supplemental irrigation would be treated the same as an application for wells slated to be used for any other purpose. Since the moratorium was only for agricultural wells, by definition that means it is over whether the minister wants to say the words or not.
While the official announcement was definitely on the amateur side, the news itself did not come as a complete surprise. Myers had earlier indicated he felt he had enough information to make a decision on the fate of the ban. The opposition Green Party softened its stance on the idea of supplemental irrigation and the all-party Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability shifted its position from calling for a ban on deep water wells for all purposes to maintaining agriculture should be treated the same as other users.
However, the biggest factor in turning the tide had to be when the PEI Certified Organic Producers Cooperative indicated they weren't convinced the moratorium was achieving its objective of protecting Island groundwater. The group called for a comprehensive agricultural water strategy, incorporating best management practices and a holistic approach to water management centered on a watershed basis that provides access to all producers.
Those objectives are hard to argue with and the stance also meant the fight to end the ban couldn't just be portrayed as a battle by industrial agriculture and Cavendish Farms. There is no denying those sectors will reap significant benefit but climate change is resulting in drier summers and every crop needs water to grow.
However, as Edith Ling points out, the announcement still leaves plenty of unanswered questions. That includes the fate of the project to dig five test wells for research and whether holding ponds (seen by supporters of the ban as a way around the moratorium) will still be allowed.
Lifting the ban should only be seen as a first step. In many ways, the hard part is only beginning-- developing of a sustainable irrigation strategy to insure all future decisions are supported by science. The government's decision to allow water withdrawal from the Dunk River last year when recharge levels were low is a shining example of what can happen when sufficeint safeguards are not in place.