Island Water

PEI is uniquely dependent on its groundwater; therefore a number of issues are of particular concern to islanders: Watershed health, potential of "fracking" taking place here, the production of GMO Salmon

Watersheds & The Environment

We need a sense of urgency.

It must be created, starting with citizens!

April 26, 2013 --The PEI Watershed Alliance sent a letter to the United States Food and Drug Administration calling for a moratorium on the development and sale of GM fish.

To find the Watershed Alliance site and letter click here.

There are about 250 definable watersheds on Prince Edward Island ranging from as small as one stream or watercourse to large systems of rivers, tributaries, ponds, wetlands, and estuaries. Watercourses on the Island total about 510 kilometres in length on a land area of approximately 5,687 square kilometres.

A watershed is an area of land that catches precipitation and guides surface water and groundwater into wetlands (such as a marsh or swamp), watercourses (such as a river, stream or estuary), and bodies of water (such as a pond or the ocean). Watersheds on PEI essentially all feed a relatively connected system of fresh water aquifers. The Island depends on ground water for its entire supply, including drinking water. Everyone lives on a watershed.

Settlement of PEI during the last two centuries, with the associated clearing of land and use of fresh water, initiated a pattern of wetland drainage and infilling for agriculture, increasing use and consumption of land and water resources, urban and rural development, and shoreline modification. The consequential loss of and damage over time to water courses, wetlands, and wildlife habitat is not precisely known, but it has been substantial. It is a grave matter of ongoing and growing concern for the well being of all living things on the Island. We also know climate change is introducing increased temperatures, precipitation, extreme weather events, and tidal surges that will be more and more difficult to manage.

Following the commissioning of numerous studies which engaged significant environmental issues, wide public consultations, and published reports during the past several decades, the PEI government concluded in 2007 that:

Successful watershed management and planning is a community-based initiative which is dedicated to the protection and enhancement of our natural resources, particularly in terms of water quality…. In order to be successful, watershed management must be more than a project which deals with the symptoms. It must be an all-inclusive, community-driven process designed to deal with the issues and problems in that watershed. The planning process must be transparent and open to participation by all interested parties in order to build community buy-in and support for the process and the management plan. Ultimately, it should result in a management plan which is based on the community’s goals for the watershed and which provides a guide to help citizens realize their vision.

There are now about 25 watershed management groups on the Island supported by a variety of provincial, federal, and some municipal government programs; memberships and donations; private foundations, organizations, and businesses; plus a variety of non-governmental organizations. The primary goals of the various groups “…tend to revolve around three things: 1) to restore and improve the ecological health of the watershed for wildlife and human use and enjoyment; 2) to inform and educate the public about issues affecting watersheds; and 3) to advocate for, and work with, government to ensure better environmental practices, regulations and enforcement.”

A useful, but somewhat dated and limited, list of possible funding sources is provided in the PEI government’s publication A Guide to Watershed Planning on Prince Edward Island. Not unexpectedly, obtaining funding is a time-consuming challenge for watershed groups. As an insightful study put out in 2011 observed:

Most groups must apply to several funding sources every year because the grants have specific eligibility requirements and project timelines. Applying for funding and producing financial and activity reports represents a significant amount of time and effort for watershed groups…. The recurring theme…found among watershed groups is that while most stated that they certainly could use more money to accomplish their goals, their main concern was for stable, long-term funding so that they could build long-term strategies for their planning efforts and avoid the incessant, frustrating and unpredictable grant application process every year.

Watershed board members almost universally say emphatically that they would prefer to volunteer for “boots in the water and on the ground” work rather than for committees and their associated tasks.

In 2010, the PEI Watershed Alliance was incorporated to - among other things - provide a collective voice for watershed management organizations; facilitate information sharing and communications; encourage and participate in cooperative partnerships with governments and other organizations in identifying and meeting environmental challenges; and provide leadership, coordination, and technical assistance in dealing with environmental issues at community levels. The organization’s website is an increasingly important forum and resource for watershed management issues on PEI and elsewhere.

LINKS -- watershed management

(please see Links page for other water issues)

A Guide to Watershed Planning on Prince Edward Island, page 3. PEI Environment, Energy, and Forestry, 2007.

Darren Bardati, Watershed Voices in Prince Edward Island: Hearing from Watershed Groups, pages 29, 31. 2011.

A Guide to Watershed Planning on Prince Edward Island, Appendix 6. PEI Environment, Energy, and Forestry, 2007.

The PEI Watershed Alliance provides a helpful website resource including links to other important resources

Harris M, Dupuis T, Guignion D, MacFarlane R, 2012. Technical Manual for Watershed Management on Prince Edward Island. Chapter 3, pp. 15-43 (the table is on p. 41)

Environmental Advisory Council, 2007. We Are All Downstream, We Are All Upstream, We Are All Part of a Watershed, page 2. A report on the public consultations on managing land and water on a watershed basis. Government of Prince Edward Island, Ministry of Environment, Energy and Forestry. Charlottetown, PEI.

A technical manual for watershed management was prepared for the Alliance in 2012. The manual includes a “must read” chapter on “Key Influences on PEI Watersheds” ending with a table of some significant issues affecting our water and soil, the contributing factors, impact, and mitigation measures. The list of issues alone is alarming: soil erosion, nitrate enrichment of groundwater, nutrient enrichment of surface waters, pesticide contamination of surface waters, drawdown of groundwater, loss of riparian and coastal forest cover, in-filling and eutrophication of estuaries, habitat fragmentation, and climate change.

To fully appreciate what the development of watershed organizations on PEI means, one must recognize that the phrases “watershed issues” and “environmental issues” are inextricably intertwined in reality.To work on one is to work on the other. As a particularly timely and important report prepared for the PEI Minister of Environment, Energy and Forestry in 2007 stated:

Our health and well-being are inextricably connected with the health and well-being of our land and our water. In one sense, we are all “downstream.” Each of us experiences the consequences of a degraded and disturbed watershed. We are all “upstream” as well, each with our own profound ecological footprint. We are all responsible, each of us part of the problem, and each of us part of the solution. The path to a sustainable future requires us each to accept our dual roles and to join together in an inclusive, community based planning process.

Yet, to paraphrase many of the people who have attended and commented at various recent seminars and meetings about various aspects of the environment on PEI:

There have been numerous and often excellent reports on environmental issues prepared for the government during the last decade or so. There hardly seems much left to describe, state or recommend. Why keep commissioning more and more reports unless they have to do with unexamined or emerging issues such as fracking or drilling for oil in the Gulf?

What seems to be missing is decisive government resolve, informed action, and even simple enforcement of existing rules, regulations, and laws.

If governments really want to encourage the numerous hard-working volunteers, boards, and their summer crews engaged in watershed management as community-based initiatives, it must support them by reducing the frequent and ongoing recurrence of events such as repetitive watercourse siltation, fish kills, and buffer destruction, to mention but a few. Too often, the concept of “community-based initiatives” seems to be a convenient excuse for governments to avoid dealing with substantive issues.

One comment in particular seemed to summarise many opinions regarding the current state of affairs about the environment on our Island:

We need a sense of urgency.

It must be created, starting with citizens!