August 6, 2007

PEI confirms chair, names members to groundwater nitrates commission

Armand DesRoches, a former chief justice of the Prince Edward Island Supreme Court, has been confirmed as chair of the Commission on Nitrates in Groundwater. DesRoches, who is now counsel with the Charlottetown law office of Stewart McKelvey Sterling Scales, will be joined by four members recently appointed by the provincial Cabinet. They include: Chief Darlene Bernard of the Lennox Island First Nation; Dr John MacLeod, a retired research scientist who has done extensive research on soil fertility and nutrient cycling; Dr Heather Morrison, the province's Chief Health Officer; and Stewart Affleck, a retired potato producer from Bedeque. They were selected on the basis of personal experience and expertise and reflect a broad cross section of PEI society.

Nitrate is the most common chemical contaminant affecting PEI water supplies. The commission was created in response to concern about steadily rising nitrate concentrations in some Island streams over the last 20 to 30 years. Few jurisdictions are as completely dependent as PEI on groundwater for their source of freshwater, and increases in nitrate levels have also been detected recently in private wells in some areas of the province.

The commission's overall mandate is to develop a strategy to bring nitrate concentrations in surface water and groundwater to acceptable levels as soon as possible so that residents will be able to rely on high-quality natural drinking water and streams, rivers, ponds and estuaries will support a healthy variety of aquatic life.

The focus of its work will be on recommending solutions, and as part of this task, the commission will review and assess current research, associated recommendations, and available measures and technologies. Its terms of reference note that nitrate reduction measures will involve collaboration and co-operation by government, landowners, industry and the public. In the coming months, the commission will invite written submissions and presentations on solutions to the problem of nitrate contamination.

The commission is due to report to Premier Robert Ghiz by June 2008, with its report made public as soon as possible thereafter. The strategy will be implemented through various regulatory instruments and economic policy. Education will also be a key component of the strategy. Depending on the policy instruments chosen, departments and agencies may work in co-operation, co-ordination and/or collaboration with the private sector in reducing nitrate contamination in water.

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