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Surface Water HeaderSurface Water Header

Approximately 27 percent of the Island’s annual rainfall eventually makes its way to the numerous streams, rivers, estuaries, lakes, ponds, bogs, and swamps throughout the province. These watercourses and wetlands are a vital yet overlooked part of our Island landscape. They are living systems, providing immensely complex habitat for a great diversity of wildlife beneath the surface of the water and along the water’s edge.

All of the Island’s wildlife population relies on a close relationship with surface water bodies. The salty barrier beach-ponds along the coastline are home to ducks (blue-winged teal, blacks, pintails), geese, and many edible wild plants. Rivers and streams are inhabited by beaver, muskrat, and otter, with clams inhabiting the river mouths. Thousands of insects and invertebrates (daphnia, hydra, caddis fly) and their larvae inhabit the summer pond. They provide food for trout which digest insects using sand and gravel in their stomach to help grind up insect shells.

The great blue heron stands in the shallows hunting for sticklebacks and frogs. Red-winged blackbirds, horned owl, and nighthawk soar overhead, scouting their terrain. Pond plants (cattails, bullrushes, wild rice, and duckweed) absorb nutrients from the water. In the presence of sunlight, they release oxygen and produce sugars and starches, which then benefit other living creatures. In winter, foxes and mink wait for muskrat to raise their head from holes in the ice.Island Dam

With the exception of coastal barrier ponds and the rare boggy pond, virtually all Island ponds and lakes are man-made. They provide water for agriculture as well as a place to boat, fish, hunt, trap, or skate. However abundant, these ponds need human intervention to remain fertile. Dams must be properly cared for, fish ladders maintained, edges protected.

Excessive Siltation Wetlands reduce flooding and erosion by storing water and evenly distributing stream flow. Improperly constructed causeways, bridges or wharves interfere with the ability of tides to flush out part of the estuary. Excessive siltation can also harm aquatic wildlife and plants by covering trout spawning gravel, suffocating fish eggs, killing aquatic insects, obscuring hunting grounds for herons and other birds, and smothering shellfish beds. Since so much land on Prince Edward Island is devoted to farming, agricultural activities account for the majority of siltation problems.

Erosion is the biggest threat to Island waterways. Though runoff can provide nutrients, the sediment can also choke out plants and animals and change water depth as it settles to the bottom. Ploughing to the edge, grazing cattle on the banks, road-building, and installing dams without spillways or fish ladders all threaten to destroy our ponds. Even small amounts of herbicides and pesticides will kill many pond creatures and thus disrupt the fragile and complex interrelationships. Maintaining hedgerows to slow and trap soil, refraining from cultivating near the water’s edge, and ploughing with the contours of the land all contribute to reducing soil erosion and siltation problems.

Bacterial contamination from livestock manure and human waste can create severe problems for wetland ecology; the shellfish industry that harvests mudflats is especially vulnerable to bacterial contamination. Pesticides entering streams and wetlands through runoff can be lethal to wetland organisms. In several instances, intense rains have washed “normal” amounts of pesticides from fields into streams, resulting in massive fish kills. Proper care in the application of pesticides, actions to reduce soil erosion, and finding alternatives to the use of pesticides all contribute to reducing pesticide damage to Island wetlands.

Vegetated buffers along watercourses can also substantially reduce the quantity of contaminants reaching the water. These “vegetated riparian buffer strips” will vary between 10 metres and 30 metres in width and consist of certain combinations of trees, shrubs and dense grasses, depending on the nature of desired filtration.

Erosion | Soil Conservation | Ground Water Quality
Forestry Practices | Natural Disasters | Irving Whale