The research being conducted by Dr. Michael van den Heuvel is important for the development of a sustainable irrigation strategy, the deputy minister of the Environment, Energy and Climate Action recently told members of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability.
Since the province announced in June it planned to lift the moratorium on deep water wells for agricultural purposes, several groups supporting the moratorium have questioned the need for the study. Finance Minister Darlene Compton announced in this spring's budget the province would be funding the work of the Canadian Rivers Institute rather than industry.
The study will see test wells dug at five locations across PEI (one of them on an organic farm) to gather data on any impact to the water supply. Brad Colwill told the committee Dr. van den Heuvel is also doing work on the impact of water withdrawal at Coles Creek in Charlottetown in addition to the new projects.
"Both of those would continue, and the findings of that – which extend well beyond environmental flows, and one of the key pieces we were excited about that is the soil health and nitrate components of that study – will continue in parallel," he said. "As time proceeds we’ll always be collecting more and more science that’s available to ensure our decisions are informed as best they can, so that will continue to help inform those."
Goerge Somers, who is the department's manager of drinking water and wastewater, agreed, saying "the stuff Mike’s doing is going to say, okay, you guys are currently saying 35% of base flow reduction is okay. That’s our current best guess. He’s going to look and see: Is that really good or not?"
Somers went on to say "Typically in the past, and not just here but elsewhere, they’ve used statistical approaches to determining what the impact on fish habitat is and things like that. The goal here is to actually tie it a little closer to actually what the effect on fish populations are, see if we still like the same number or whether we need to go to a different number or percentage or whatever. "
The manager said there will also be an ongoing need to keep the science as up to date as possible. He added "At the moment, what we’re doing, we believe, is as good as any other spot and the best science will support at this point, and what we’re saying with this is that, okay, if we can use that for carwashes, municipalities, or whatever, why can’t we use the same criteria for agriculture?"