Liberals look at long-awaited protection for waterways

Telegraph Journal

CHRIS MORRIS, Legislature Bureau
March 10, 2015

FREDERICTON • Environment Minister Brian Kenny says he is looking into long-stalled regulations to protect provincial waterways, but he is not committing to implementing the measures.

Kenny responded to questions on Tuesday from Green party Leader David Coon about the status of water classification regulations that have sat dormant on the province's books for 13 years without being enacted.

Ombudsman Charles Murray issued a scathing report last year in which he described waterway protection as a "mirage" and said that the regulation governing waterway classifications "is in some respects worse than having no regulation at all."

"I will continue to work with the ombudsman, the members opposite and all stakeholders on this important file," Kenny told the legislature.

"As the minister of Environment, my No. 1 job is to look at protecting our environment in a sustainable manner and, at the same time, to look at all our opportunities for job growth in the province. That said, again, I will take a look at working with all stakeholders in looking at the rules that are currently in place to see what we can do in the future. When I have some more advice to give to the legislature, I will provide it."

Coon said the clean water regulations have been ignored by several governments and different environment ministers. He said many New Brunswickers believe that, like the Clean Air Act, the province has firm standards in place to protect watercourses.

"We have standards for the quality of our air, but we don't have them for the quality of our freshwater," the Green leader said.

"So people assume when they go swimming it has been tested and meets some kind of standard, but that's not the case."

At issue are water classification regulations introduced in 2002 under the Tory government of Bernard Lord.

For the next 13 years, successive environment ministers have said they had to iron out issues with the legislation before proceeding with classification.

The legislation was intended to identify and classify water systems in order to protect them for such uses as recreation, drinking and wildlife.

Nineteen applications have been received since 2003, but not a single waterway has been classified under the program.

The Conservation Council of New Brunswick, a citizens' action group, said after the ombudsman's report last year that the stalled regulations are inadequate to protect watercourses just as plans are in motion to develop shale gas, reduce buffer zones and encourage new mining opportunities.

"New clear-cutting and river buffer infringement from the new forestry management plan, shale gas exploration and development, mining proposals such as Sisson Mine in the headwaters of the Nashwaak River watershed all present threats to New Brunswick's waterways, and it is clear from the ombudsman's report that our strongest tool to protect them is ineffective and non-existent," said Stephanie Merrill of the Conservation Council.