P.E.I. moves to get more controls over irrigation ponds

The P.E.I. Department of Environment is responding to concerns about holding ponds used for agricultural irrigation.

'They can have a similar impact to a high capacity well'

Some farms have built holding ponds to supply their irrigation systems. (CBC)

The P.E.I. Department of Environment is responding to concerns about holding ponds used for agricultural irrigation.

The province has had a moratorium on high capacity wells for irrigation since 2002. Some farms have responded to this moratorium by building holding ponds that can be filled by any number of low-capacity wells.

Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker told the legislature's environment committee Tuesday he's heard concerns from some homeowners who have had to dig deeper wells because of their proximity to a holding pond.

George Somers, the manager of drinking water and waste water for the province, said there are about 20 holding ponds in the province used to store water for irrigation. He said the local impact on the water supply can be the same as a high capacity well.

"Certainly when you put a lot of so-called low capacity wells close together, they can have a similar impact to a high capacity well, but any effects would be very local," said Somers.

"We've had one or two occasions where there've been concerns raised, but for the most part the radius of influence if you will of a low capacity well is pretty limited, and so the effects are certainly not watershed scale at all they're very localized."

Somers said when the province's new Water Act comes into effect it will provide better oversight of water usage. It will look at how much water is coming from each pump per day, rather than the current rules which look at the flow rate per minute.

While the moratorium prohibits new high capacity wells for irrigation, permits are allowed for other industries.

Proclaim Water Act, says Green leader

Bevan-Baker said the situation with holding ponds points to the need for government to bring the Water Act into effect as soon as possible. The legislation was passed in Dec. 2017 but still has not been proclaimed pending the development of regulations to go with the act.

"I think those holding ponds need to be monitored extremely closely, which they are not currently," Bevan-Baker said. "But I think more importantly we need to proclaim the act so that these holding ponds can no longer be used in the manner in which they have been built."

Government released two sets of draft regulations for public consultation this week — regulations dealing with well construction and the operation of water and sewage treatment systems.

But opposition parties criticized government for not releasing regulations setting out the rules for water extraction, which would include rules for the operation of high-capacity wells.

More P.E.I. news

With files from Kerry Campbell


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