I love our Island home. It offers beauty and opportunity in so many diverse ways. This is why it is deeply concerning to learn that nitrate levels are rising in some key watershed areas on PEI.
This has been a worry for both farmers and other Islanders who use or live near our waterways, and an issue that the Green caucus has been raising since its very first day in the Legislature. The news is also particularly disheartening as it shows a reversal to the gains that had been slowly made since the late 1990s.
The Minister believes this is the result of the droughts over the last couple of years. However, a report from his own department, Land Use and Long-Term Nitrate Trends in Island Streams, states that it takes 5 to 10 years for nitrates to travel through groundwater systems before reaching our streams.
The report also says the department lacks the data to determine the exact cause of this recent rise in nitrates. I would caution the Minister not to blame the drought, and therefore not to rely on irrigation as the sole solution.
It is important to note that nitrate levels in PEI waterways have been directly linked to the use of agricultural fertilizers, particularly in potato production. While the report is inconclusive, there are indications that the recent increase in nitrates may be related to changes in agricultural practices over the past decade.
I am glad to hear the Minister of Environment commit to addressing this issue. However, the solutions he has presented will only make small improvements in how nitrates are managed. While these are worthwhile endeavours, the real solution lies in reducing the amount of fertilizer that is applied to the land.
In speaking to farmers, we know that many are making efforts to reduce the need for fertilizers and experimenting with measures such as adjusting crop rotations and using nitrogen-fixing crops. It is critical that the Department of Agriculture and Land support farmers in doing this, and I will be looking to Minister Thompson as well for leadership on this file.