A Grim Diagnosis for our Waterways – The Guardian – February 19, 2013

Most Islanders are well aware of the need to protect the waters that surround them, but an Island biologist has effectively underlined the urgency of this. We’d be foolhardy to ignore him.

Daryl Guignion, biology professor at the University of Prince Edward Island, didn’t mince words last week when he addressed a public forum sponsored by the Island New Democratic Party in Cornwall. As a specialist in watershed ecology and protection, he discussed the state of the more than 200 watersheds in the province. “The siltation of watercourses and wetlands, streams, in my mind, is getting worse,” Guignion told the forum.

How bad is it? As someone who has patrolled Island streams for decades, silt that used to rise up to his ankles now rises to his knees, and in some areas, to his waist. Waterways that decades ago were solid fish for kilometres in length during spawning runs don’t have nearly as many fish today because silt is coating spawning grounds, rendering them useless, he said.

If we’re disturbed by Guignion’s description, that’s no surprise. After all, it paints a dismal picture of the state of our watersheds and is an ominous warning that we can’t simply dismiss. And if it shakes government and the residents of this province out of their complacency, then Guignion has provided a valuable service.

Too often those who sound the alarm on the environment talk in a global context or present their concerns in complex terms that alienate average citizens. This tends to paralyze rather than motivate. Guignion’s extensive personal experience of patrolling Island streams, and witnessing the buildup of silt is compelling. The image of being knee-deep and, in some areas, waist-deep in silt is alarming. You don’t have to be a biologist to understand the consequences of that for our waterways and the marine life in them.

Guignion has offered some practical suggestions for getting out of mire we’ve found ourselves in. Among other things, he suggests widening buffer zones around waterways and addressing problems created by the Island’s culverts and causeways.

If we’re smart, we’ll act on his advice.

Ambassadors for agriculture

Agriculture remains the underpinning of this province’s economy, so it’s fitting that those who promote public awareness of this industry are appropriately recognized. Their efforts serve us all.

Greg and Tania MacKenzie of Stratford, operators of MacKenzie’s Produce, received the Agriculture Awareness Award recently for their work in projecting a positive image of agriculture. The award has been presented since 1993 by the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture and Gordon and Sandra Sobey.

The MacKenzies’ commitment is commendable. The family, which has operated a commercial farm since 2003, has been active on many fronts through the addition of a greenhouse operation and a roadside stand, incorporating agri-tourism into their farm operations, and hosting Open Farm Day. They also have opened their farm to school and daycare field trips. The MacKenzies are also keen communicators online, particularly via their Facebook page, which offers a glimpse into the skill and science of growing food.

At a time when the majority of Canadians live in urban centres — and that includes Prince Edward Islanders — few of us actually know how our food is produced and how it gets to the grocery store shelves. We need more farmers like the MacKenzies who are committed not only to their occupation but to communicating with their non-farming neighbours about the challenges they face.