Water Act protects drinking water and the environment, supports research
Prince Edward Island will bring the Water Act into effect June 16, 2021, ensuring government is able to manage and protect water resources for the common good, including humans and the environment now and into the future.
“Islanders want and deserve strong regulations, evidence-based decisions and healthy rivers and streams. Bringing the Water Act and water withdrawal regulations into effect will allow us to manage and track who is using what amounts of water, provide government experts with additional data and increase public transparency on water use.”
- Environment, Energy and Climate Action Minister Steven Myers
The Water Act is supported by four sets of regulations including updated Water Withdrawal regulations, which were the subject of public consultation in the fall of 2019. Under these regulations all water wells drawing above the level of domestic household consumption will require a permit.
Following public and community feedback, government is strengthening the water withdrawal regulations. Changes include:
- conservation of water resources is explicitly noted as a policy objective of the minister;
- government’s water withdrawal policy for healthy stream flow and aquatic environments is included defining acceptable levels needed to allow or prohibit extraction;
- the minister can require a drought contingency plan for selected, large water withdrawal programs;
- a provision is being made for construction of high capacity wells for research in agricultural irrigation and there is a policy to guide government’s decisions on research projects; and,
- a provision is being made to grandfather existing clusters of low capacity wells used for agricultural irrigation (e.g. holding ponds); however, no new clusters that have the same impact as a high-capacity well will be permitted.
As required under the Water Act, government will provide the regulations to the Standing Committee of Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability for 90 days, at which point they will take effect. The regulations continue to be available online for public comment.
Under the provision for research, the Province will be permitting the proposal by the Canadian Rivers Institute at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) into the impacts of high capacity wells in agricultural irrigation and the environment. The Province will invest in the project, removing the need for financial contributions from industry. The research program is also being expanded to consider soil health and the relationship between soil health, nutrient management, and supplemental irrigation. Maintaining soil health and organic matter levels is important for soil productivity and for maximizing the benefits of supplemental water use.
Farms participating in the irrigation study will be asked to develop a Soil Health Improvement Plan. Producers will create individual plans for each farm property that outlines the management practices in place to support soil health; including the monitoring of soil health over time with soil health testing.
Additional enhancements are planned to support soil health through Department of Agriculture and Land including a merit-based program for the construction of erosion control structures, an incentive for soil building rotational crops, an increase in support for spring tillage and winter cover crops, and the addition of the soil health testing package to the long term Soil Quality Monitoring Project.
“Our goal at the Department of Agriculture and Land, is for a progressive, dynamic, agriculture industry that is both financially sound and environmentally responsible. I support decisions about water being informed by science and this research will provide valuable information on supplemental irrigation as part of a sustainable approach to farming,” added Bloyce Thompson, Minister of Agriculture and Land.
Department of Environment, Energy and Climate Action
Department of Agriculture and Land
Backgrounder – Research proposal
The research program proposed by the Canadian Rivers Institute at UPEI is permitted under the research provision of the water withdrawal regulations.
This project expands on research underway on the impact of municipal high capacity wells and water withdrawals on stream flow levels in the Coles Creek watershed. Under the Province’s research policy, any new high capacity wells to study agricultural irrigation will only be approved to withdraw water while the research is being conducted.
The research will be governed by a steering committee made up of government, industry and watershed groups in the areas where research is occurring. Government will ensure real-time data on the amount of water used in the irrigation sites is available publicly.
The program will measure:
- the impact of agriculture irrigation on the surrounding environment;
- the impact of irrigation on the uptake of nutrients in different crops;
- any changes in the amount of nitrates in groundwater;
- any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from increased nutrient uptake;
- the impact irrigation may have on the different sites chosen across PEI as part of the research project.
The program will also be expanded to factor in soil health and the importance supplemental irrigation has on soil health. The Department of Agriculture and Land will work with farmers and researchers to:
- implement soil health improvement plans that include compliance checks and soil health analysis testing that monitors trends in soil health over time;
- measure the impacts supplemental irrigation has when utilized on soils with varying soil health profiles.
The project will occur in different sites across the province and include a variety of crops. Additional sites may be considered if deemed appropriate to gather findings necessary for the research but any new projects or expansion of existing projects will only occur if it meets the research policy criteria.
Backgrounder – Water Act
The Water Act passed in the winter of 2017; however, the Act could not be brought into effect until an initial four sets of key regulations were developed including:
- well construction regulations;
- water supply and wastewater treatment system regulations;
- water withdrawal regulations; and,
- sewage disposal systems regulations.
Drafts of the regulations were presented to the public for comment over the course of 2019.