By Mark and Caroline D'Arcy
FREDERICTON - Last October 25, 2011, the Friends of the UNB Woodlot met with Environment Minister Margaret Ann Blaney to discuss the following: (1) to strengthen the protection of our wetlands; (2) to increase our acquifer mapping and groundwater flow monitoring; and (3) to implement province-wide, watershed-based source protection of our drinking water.
We explained that the introduction of the shale gas industry in New Brunswick only magnifies the need for stronger wetland and watershed protection policies. These policies would help fulfill the promise to New Brunswickers on page 9 of her government's election platform:
"A new Progressive Conservative government led by David Alward will:
Support the responsible expansion of the natural gas sector while ensuring the safety and security of homeowners and our groundwater supply."
Instead of listening and expressing concern, Minister Blaney attacked us for being misinformed, dramatic and using scare tactics, such as examples from the documentary Gasland and Walkerton, Ontario. We remained poised and politely explained that our acquifer in Fredericton was not an isolated bathtub of water, and that we need to protect our drinking water based on watershed boundaries, not municipal boundaries. We explained that there will be problems in the future if we continue to ignore areas just outside the Wellfield Protection Area, for example, destroy wetlands, locate gas stations directly overtop groundwater, and allow shale gas development to occur in the watersheds surrounding Fredericton.
In the hopes of stressing the importance of water-shed based protection, we offered Minister Blaney details from the Walkerton, Ontario contamination and the 36 local conservation authorities implemented in that province to avoid another catastrophe. However, our comparison to Ontario's watershed-based source water protection plans - plans that are developed and managed at a local level - was dismissed by Minister Blaney as comparing "apples and oranges". Minister Blaney said that we do not need to look to other jurisdictions for water protection strategies, but instead will develop a "made in New Brunswick" solution.
We discussed the reality of climate change that is now increasing the severity of rain storms, such as the 6 inch cloudburst over Magaguadavic Lake in December 2010, less than an hour's drive from Fredericton, that caused the catastrophic flooding in Charlotte County. As a pressing public safety issue to make Fredericton more resilient from these future storms, where is the rain going to go if we destroy our wetlands, cut down our urban forests at the top of the valley in southside Fredericton, and pave our city with impervious pavement?
During our meeting and in our briefing notes to the Minister, our group stressed the following economic and environmental damages to her government if the above measures were implemented: (1) Ensure the safety and security of our groundwater supply; (2) Reduce flooding costs for the government ($34 M from 200-2009 and an estimated $50M from the December 2010 flood); (3) Prevent our minicipal taxes and water rates from increasing due to expensive stormwater management costs; (4) Protect our homes and businesses from increasingly severe rain storms; and (5) Fulfill the Alward Government's commitment to impose the toughest standards in North America on gas companies operating in New Brunswick.
Based on the strong economic and environmental advantages of strengthening these wetland and watershed protection policies, we hope that Minister Blaney will recognize the environmental and economic advantages to implementing these measures as she moves forward.
The first test of "imposing the toughest standards in North America" will be this December when Minister Blaney will introduce the Department of Environment's long-term strategy for wetland managment. This wetland strategy was developed during a series of five closed meetings this summer and fall with a total of 46 groups. The list of these groups on the Department of Environment website clearly shows that industry interests outnumbered environmental interests.
Although Minister Blaney defended this process as "public consultation", we hope that the public will be given the opportunity for true, meaningful consultation that includes public question-and-answer format meetings in the province.