The P.E.I. government announced Wednesday that it will not issue any more permits for high-capacity irrigation wells until there is further study on their impact on water levels. More than 50 permit applications are pending, most of them from the Cavendish Farms potato processing plants which were hit hard by a drought last summer.

"After careful consideration, we believe the responsible course of action is to undertake a comprehensive study to ensure we are making the right decision in the long term," said Environment Minister Chester Gillan.

The high-capacity wells can draw as much as 500 gallons of water per minute, and concern has been raised about the effect they have on the Island's ground water levels.

Gillan said there is no evidence of any problem yet, but he is taking a cautious approach.

"I would stress that we have not seen any depletion of our water resources as a result of irrigation," he said. "However, with concerns about the impact of climate change on weather patterns and increased demand for irrigation, it is time to take another close look at the whole situation."

Cavendish Farms has said as many as 100 new high-volume wells are needed to ensure that there is enough water for the potato crop.

A drought last year reduced yields by as much as 40%, and the processing plants were forced to spend millions importing potatoes from as far away as Manitoba.

Gillan said a hydrogeological study that will examine the effects of the wells will be launched this spring.