Who is Responsible for Water
by Rob Sharkie
Water is something we typically take very much for granted here on PEI, both in quantity and quality. We don’t often associate water quality problems with our own home, usually such things occur in the news. This has changed. W e are now seeing increasing levels of nitrates in our groundwater supply, and nutrient enrichment in our estuaries is becoming commonplace. These issues are not surprises; biologists and conservationists have been warning that these things will occur for the last 20 to 30 years. It was predicted that this would huge negative impacts on the shellfishery, recreational fishery, and even property values.
To date, there has been little progress in tackling these growing problems. In order to protect water quality, something must be done to control land mismanagement—land- use planning, a clear vision and goals for environmental stewardship, environmental regulations that are enforced, and major changes in the way we practice agriculture and forestry,tonamejustafewthings.Our government is not leading the charge, however—oddly, it is watershed groups that are expected to deliver these necessary changes in their respective areas through watershed planning.
Of course, watershed planning and land use planning are key to getting control of these problems. The concept of stewardship plays a major role in efforts to combat environmental problems; so does the idea that all of us need to work together to solve these environmental problems. Community ownership of watersheds is a concept that is not new, but it is a very important one. However,
planning and delivering are two very different things. It is quite easy to state that one has a watershed plan—quite another to implement that plan to see real results.
Since the 1970s, people have been talking about the need for land use planning on PEI. In the 90s, the Round Table Report made many recommendations regarding land use for PEI, many of these recommendations have yet to be implemented. Three years ago, a large conference on the growing problem of nutrient enrichment took place in Summerside, a conference at which government representatives committed to immediate action on the problem. No
comprehensive, provincial action has taken place as yet. W hy? Shouldn’t our water quality be a number one priority? The reason is that the decisions that need to be made to protect human health – our health – would be politically unpopular. Everyone is afraid to discuss nitrate levels in drinking water, or whoever does quotes outdated research insisting that we don’t have to worry. This isn’t good enough anymore. The problem is not going to fix itself, no matter how much our government would like to pretend that it will. This can no longer be regarded as a political issue, but one of human health.