Nitrates Project

Nitrates occur naturally in the environment and are essential for plant growth. Excessive nitrates, more than plants can use, can contaminate the groundwater which we drink and affect the quality of our streams. Over time as agriculture practices have become more intense and housing developments and population densities have increased, nitrates have increased to the point that they are the most common contaminant in water for PEI watersheds.

In the watersheds of the Wheatley River Improvement Group (WRIG) and those of the Kensington North area where there is a large amount of human activity (agriculture, industry, residential), we have relatively high levels of nitrates with many well water samples testing greater than 5 mg/L. According to the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water, the maximum acceptable level of nitrates for drinking water is 10mg/L. High nitrate levels in our streams have also led to excessive algae growth and anoxic events in our estuaries. These anoxic events greatly, often terminally disrupt life in the estuaries (the upper extremities of salt water rivers and bays), and are a source of bad odour and black muck shorelines to local residents.

The Wheatley River and Southwest River watersheds have been selected by the PEI Dept. of Environment, Energy & Forestry to participate in a pilot project aimed at creating a community based process for reducing nitrate levels. These watersheds were selected in part due to a high level of participation by the farming community with environmental management and watershed issues. The partners with the project are the PEI Dept. of Agriculture, PEI Dept. of Environment, Energy & Forestry, the PEI Federation of Agriculture, along with KNWSA and WRIG and the residents and landowners in these two watersheds. There are both similarities and significant differences between the watersheds, and the two watershed groups. Close communication between the two groups exists and will continue throughout the pilot projects.

The proposed activities for the pilot include nutrient (fertilizer, manure, crops) management planning on a watershed basis, community meetings, wetland assessments, and demonstrations. The eventual goal of both pilot projects is to come up with a draft plan for managing nitrates. A draft plan suggests that this is the beginning, and that further planning and refinements will no doubt occur.

The Wheatley River Improvement Group and the Kensington North Watersheds Association are both determined that these pilot projects will be successful in reducing groundwater nitrates without causing hardship on those who live and work in our watersheds. The benefits from this project for the Southwest River and Wheatley River watersheds will be reduced nitrate levels in wells, reduced nutrient loading in general, increased biodiversity by sensitive aquatic species, healthier soils, and increased awareness of nitrates and other watershed issues.

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