Water Extraction

“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” 
~ Thomas Fuller, 1732

The City of Charlottetown uses the Winter River watershed as it’s primary source of municipal water. A small amount of water is still sometimes pumped from the old Malpeque pumping station (1888) located within the City of Charlottetown during times of peak demand. Over the years three wellfields were developed in the watershed: Brackley (1930), Union Road (1949), and Suffolk (1994).

the other river

However, the amount of water that is being extracted each year is too high. Local residents and the watershed group have noticed troubling evidence of this over extraction:

  • Dry streams in 2001, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020
  • Springs stop flowing
  • Fish stocks are decreasing
  • Farmers in the area not allowed to irrigate crops
Brackley branch of river completely dried up
Brackley branch of Winter River completely dried up (2012)
Regular water flow from a Brackley branch spring
No flow from the same spring in summer 2020

A new water extraction policy has been developed that is based on reductions in the water flowing in nearby streams. Water extraction shouldn’t reduce the flow of water in the stream by more than 35% in an average summer. This policy is supposed to be more conservative of the water resource. However, we still have questions about how it will work in practice since the City pumps water from the Winter River all day, every day, the only way to determine what the stream flow would be naturally is through computer modelling. In several recent years, streams have gone completely dry, which would be a 100% reduction in flow – so an improvement would be welcomed.

The previous guidelines for water extraction were based on the amount of precipitation that generally falls in an area each year. A sustainable amount of water extraction was deemed to be 50% of all the precipitation that falls in a year, called 50% of recharge. This policy is the one our association is more familiar with and has used in our watershed management plan. From the graphs below, it is clear that the City has been extracting more than this guideline. So reductions in extraction by the City will be needed to conform to either the old or the new provincial water extraction policy.

  • A detailed table of past extraction information: City water extraction (2000-2014)
  • 2013 Presentation discussing old and new policies: Water-Extraction-Policy-G-Somers-Nov-30-2013
  • Since the new policy should be more restrictive in most cases, and it is hard to determine what an average summer stream flow would look like in the river without the extraction by the City, we will continue to use the 50% recharge values for illustrative purposes.

However, due to a grandfather clause, the City does not currently have to follow either of these policies. They are allowed to continue to take the same amount of water that they have been taking for years.

The Government of Prince Edward Island permits the City of Charlottetown to extract water at an unsustainable rate. In the City’s permit from the province, effective October 2010, it was stated that as no previous permit had been in place, the current permit would be based on the average daily pumping rates that approximately match the usage in 2009.

A new wellfield at Miltonvale Park became fully operational to supply water to Charlottetown in spring 2019. The aim is for this pumping station to reduce the stress on the Winter River, however, with the abnormal past few summers (very wet 2019, very dry 2020, very wet 2021) it is hard to say presently to what extent this pumping station is helping. Also, if consumption continues to increase, and the City keeps growing before too long yet another water source will be needed.


Water is being extracted beyond its capacity to recharge and to support its ecosystem, but we have solutions.

City Residents can…

Watershed Residents can…

The Government of Prince Edward Island can…

  • Introduce a strong regulations to support the Water Act, and hold the City of Charlottetown accountable to comply with the Act and regulations.
  • Strictly enforce other environmental rules and policies, such as crop rotation rules.

The City of Charlottetown can…

  • Develop a comprehensive policy and programs that result in significant water use reductions by residents and businesses.
  • Set annual targets for water reduction, so progress can be gauged (which we have long advocated).
  • Implement the Water Shortage Restrictions in a timely manner during dry weather.

A printable two-page brochure has been developed on this topic as part of our door-to-door campaign from 2014: The effects of unsustainable water extraction

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