Comments on the PEI Extraction Policy presentation

The second is enclosed in this e-mail and what was read aloud at the last meeting: comments on the PEI Extraction Policy presentation written by Dr. Scott Rice-Snow, a hydrologist at Ball State University who was an adjunct professor with the Institute of Island Studies and lived on PEI for half of last year.

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I've had the chance to look at some of the web postings about the high-capacity well proposal, including the Ministry of Environment PowerPoint. The 'science' presented so far is certainly limited, and I can't claim to know all regulations in place for PEI groundwater that might be escaping coverage, Here are some thoughts:

The island-wide average 7%-used statistic seems to be getting most of the press, but is basically useless for evaluation of the water extraction conditions in any one part of the island, and therefore for setting water policy for the whole. Evaluation should be at least focused to the particular watershed. The Environment presentation makes this clear, and shows that particular watersheds on the island are already overstressed.

The criteria given for water extraction, that would presumably be applied if the moratorium is lifted, are focused on maintenance of the majority of local stream base flow. They don't address other concerns, such as change in concentration of pollutants in groundwater, lowering of water levels in nearby wells, and coastal salt water intrusion in aquifers. If the island decides to allow high-capacity extraction proposals, evaluated case-by-case, it would be important to broaden the bases for refusal.

The argument "It's all (mostly) just going right back into the ground anyway" won't have any validity if water is being transported from one watershed to another. (This adds to concerns about the quality of the returned water.) Transporting irrigation water across watersheds might become a lot more common as an answer denial of local extraction permits.

Any big well will create a 'cone of depression' in the water table surface that could lower water levels in nearby wells, and possibly shift directions of groundwater (and pollutant) flows in the surrounding area. These effects should be simulated, and open to public comment, prior to a permit.

If a proposed well is in a headwaters area of a basin, it's especially important to ask for a water budget for only that part of the watershed. Even if the watershed-wide water balance fits criteria, the smaller area's groundwater levels could lower considerably, and portions of nearby streams go dry. A big well near a watershed divide can draw in groundwater from adjacent watersheds, reversing previous directions of groundwater flow. If a proposed well is far downstream, near salt water, then local salt water intrusion into the aquifer is a key concern.

Of course, the variety of problems that could occur in specific locations might be brushed over at this stage of the debate, but they do bear on what protections should be in place before a ban is lifted, and in considering the cost/benefits of lifting the ban at all.

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