Scientist probing cause of Barclay Brook fish kills

Eric McCarthy
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O’LEARY -- The Barclay Brook, near O’Leary, has been the scene of recurring fish kills in recent years. Environmental scientist John Purdy wants to determine, for sure, what’s killing them. 

Probing Barclay Brook for answers

Morgan Smallman, left and environmental scientist John Purdy explain the features of in-stream probes that will be recording numerous water quality factors in the Barclay Brook and the Little Pierre Jacques River in West Prince this summer. A study funded by CropLife Canada is trying to determine what has been causing fish deaths in the Barclay Brook in recent years.

“It seems to be associated with agriculture, but there isn’t enough conclusive evidence to say what about agriculture,” Purdy said in an interview along the Little Pierre Jacques River in Milburn. “There’s always that uncertainty. Our goal is to remove that uncertainty and provide all stakeholders on all sides with good data.”

Purdy, who has been contracted by CropLife Canada to conduct a water quality study of the Barclay Brook, has established the Little Pierre Jacques as the reference stream for the project and has set up a monitoring station there. He is also setting up three monitoring stations on the Barclay Brook, upstream, down stream and in the middle.

If something happens in the water that’s harmful to fish, Purdy is confident the scientific equipment will capture and record the events.

“Our strategy is to collect a continuous sample so there is no possibility that anything coming down the river could be missed,” Purdy explained.

All stations have two testing systems. One is a chemistry analysis system that continuously draws water out of the stream and into a mixing pail, out of which a sample is drawn and collected hourly. Water samples will be checked for 15 different chemicals. The second is a fully computerized in-stream probe with Bluetooth capabilities that monitors such conditions as conductivity, Ph, dissolved oxygen, temperature, chlorophyll, ammonia and turbidity every 15 minutes.

“It’s state-of-the-art equipment. It’s got a lot of power to it and a lot of reserve capacity and back-ups,” Purdy reported. Well over 1000 meters of cable has to be run to power the equipment. Equipment alone for the project is costing more than $50,000.

Little Pierre Jacques is part of the study, Purdy said, because it is similar to Barclay.

The system has already been in pre-test in Ontario for a month, Purdy said, adding that a parallel system is running in Ontario for the duration of the P.E.I. test which will be conducted throughout the current growing season.

Morgan Smallman has been hired to look after the data collection equipment and to send off refrigerated samples for testing at regular intervals.

Although the study is funded by chemical companies through CropLife Canada, Purdy vows he will present true data, even if it points the finger for fish kills at chemicals.

“I’m independent; I’m retired. I say what I want to say, and I’m doing the best science I can do to contribute this. For me, it’s all about integrity and good science,” he insisted.

Pierre Petelle, Vice-President, Chemistry with CropLife, pointed out the study design, as prepared by Purdy has been shared with experts and with the P.E.I. ministries of Agriculture and Environment for them to scrutinize.

“We’re confident the design John has put forward is solid, defensible and the data will be what the data will be,” he said.

“The main thing is we’ve got the good science,” said Purdy. “The data stands on the data quality, not on who paid for it.”

The goal, he said, is to remove the uncertainty on what’s causing fish deaths and provide stakeholders on all sides of the issue with good data.

“We’re not here to whitewash anything; we’re here to provide good quality science at the state-of-the-art to the best of our ability,” Purdy commented.

 

Organizations: CropLife Canada, Bluetooth

Geographic location: Little Pierre Jacques River, Milburn, Ontario

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