Biologist speaks out against deep-water wells

Eric McCarthy
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ELMSDALE -- A wildlife biologist sounded alarm bells about land stewardship and the safety of Prince Edward Island’s groundwater during an information meeting this week. 

Daryl Guignion, who researches wildlife and their ecosystems and is an associate professor in UPEI’s Biology Department, was guest speaker for the meeting, which was organized by watershed groups in West Prince.

During his presentation Guignion outlined his opposition to the P.E.I. Potato Board’s application to have the moratorium on deep-water irrigation wells relaxed, but delved also into nitrate contamination, land stewardship and fumigation.

“If we start doing this, look out for soil erosion,” Guignion told a crowd of over 50 of his concern should farmers be permitted to fumigate their soil. “(Erosion’s) already beyond belief, but this is going to be incredibly bad,” he predicted. He explained fumigation would also kill the fungus which works to give soil its structure and helps keep it from washing away.

Guignion termed it “unacceptable” that since 2008 there have been reports of 41 bays in P.E.I going anoxic. He blamed the situation on nitrate overload. He said the situation has gotten so extreme that nitrate is washing out from Island rivers and into the Northumberland Strait. He referred to a study of rivers on both sides of the strait, which suggests 94 per cent of the nitrogen entering the strait in 2012 and 97 per cent in 2013 originated from Prince Edward Island.

On the use of deep-water wells, Guignion argued Prince Edward Island’s groundwater does not have a surplus to give up.

Surplus water, he stressed, comes out of the ground in springs and streams. He said exploiting that groundwater recharge risks allowing the springs to go dry. He told the audience there are 260 some streams on P.E.I., all fed by unknown thousands of springs.

Wells that supply the City of Charlottetown, Guignion said, have caused springs around the city to dry up at times during the summer season. 

Additional wells to supply supplemental irrigation for 30,000 acres of potatoes, he maintains, would use upwards to 20 billion litres of water per year, which he suggests is nearly three times the water that the City of Charlottetown draws.

“Where would you like to situate three new Charlottetowns draining the rivers?” he asked. “That is what it amounts to: scary stuff.”

In comparing a river to a hand, Guignion said a hand loses some of its effectiveness if one or more fingers are cut off. “This is, essentially, what we’re doing with our freshwater ecosystems: the more we drain those tributaries, the more damaging it is to the ecosystem.”

The guest speaker insisted farmers can get better yield from their potato crops simply by improving land stewardship practices and without the use of supplemental irrigation.  He spoke out against farming practices that have seen the organic level of tested fields decline for each of the past 15 years, and said fall cultivation, hedgerow removal that creates larger fields, and deforestation all lead to a degrading of the soil including its ability to prevent spring run-off.

“Poor land stewardship reduces the recharge of our groundwater and degrades water quality,” Guignion concluded. “That’s got to change.”


Organizations: P.E.I. Potato Board

Geographic location: West Prince, Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown

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