How Much Ground Water Is There?

ground water pump Nearly all of us depend on ground water for our everyday needs, but how much is there, and how quickly does it recharge? Of all the volumes of fresh and unfrozen water…ground water is the greatest. This is the water that sits between the grains of sand, sandwiched by layers of clay, and flows through cracks in the rocks.

It’s Called Groundwater.

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New research has shown that the global volume of ground water is huge. More than 99% of all fresh  and  unfrozen water on Earth is ground water. Consider , that if we were to extract all the water from the ground and pool it on top like a flood, it would be 180 meters deep over all the continents.groundwater 3


At issue is the length of time rain and melting snow takes to recharge this resource in a human time scale. The new research has shown that only less than 6% of global ground water is replenished in a single human life time, and is renewed greatest in areas of high rainfall and mountains. Many on the planet depend on groundwater for their livelihoods, but live in areas where the renewal rates are slow or not existent.

There are a few implications we need to consider…

We know groundwater is an important resource, and we need to determinate how to manage it best.

Groundwater is vulnerable to pollution and climate change. Changing weather patterns are likely to impact renewal rates in many regions.

A great many of us depend on groundwater for drinking, growing food, produce energy, and to manufacture building materials. Rivers and lakes depend on it.

California’s Drought: Groundwater At Risk

Ground water a resource that needs our attention.



this blog is based on an article in Water Canada Jan/Feb 2016, Ground Control, by Scott Jasechko and Tom Gibson.

Connecting with Water in Ottawa

On the day before the 2014 Ottawa municipal election a candidate was urgently calling the Ecology Ottawa offices, wantecology Ottawaing  the organization to post his environmental positions on it’s web site.


Earlier Ecology Ottawa developed a candidate survey on the group’s primary concerns..including water. The reason for the survey was to see which candidates would make water a priority, not just if they liked clean water. We can all agree that clean water is important, but we have to move beyond blanket statements and find a way to make water advocacy emotive. We all connect with water in some way so let’s use this connection to empower people to enact change.Voting


Many environmental organizations wrestle over policy, only to be met with silence when the blood , sweat , and tears of the organization are published. Being right is not enough. In the lead up to the 2014 election Ecology Ottawa  focused on being seen , heard, and counted..the candidates must know there is a large group that cares about the environment. Policy could come second to being heard and recognized. The candidates could then reach out to that group. The organization’s surveys forced the candidates to clarify their position on water and it’s level of priority.Ottawa City Council Chamber

Founded in 2000, Lake Ontario Waterkeepers wants to create a swimable, fishable, and drinkable future for Lake Ontario.  In looking at what connects people to water they have come up with the Waterkeeper  Swim Guide, a website and  app that gives up to date information on beach swimability. Using this technology they hope to assist with people connecting with the water. Having easier access to water quality information is good , but they want to be heard, to be heard they need more voices.

Both Ecology Ottawa and the Lake Ontario Waterkeepers  are trying to empower the community through collaborative efforts to influence the water discussion. For example, in the Ottawa Municipal election the candidates realized they could not ignore the environmental discussion as survey responses started to be discussed at the election debates.

Gord Downie speaking for a Lake Ontario Waterkeeper project.

The candidate who called Ecology Ottawa the day before the election, wanting his position on the environment to be posted on their web site unfortunately went down to defeat. The winner did have excellent environmental answers on the survey. In fact 17 of the 23 councillors provided great in depth survey answers.

Clean water is now on the table

From an article in Water Canada May/ June 2015, Emotional Connections by Stu Campana.



Hydraulic Fracturing in Canada

Fracturing1The development of unconventional oil and gas reserves through hydraulic fracturing has brought increased debate and discussion on this matter. Some  support  the shale gas revolution, while others want to ban it’s practice, and some are not so sure one way or the other.  The discussion at the government level  is equally divided across Canada as to how to manage the industry, while addressing public concerns.

At the heart of the issue is water…it’s use, management. protection, and it’s ecological and socio-economic importance.Fracturing2

To maximize the harvesting of underground resources water is used. The concern over the risks associated with this practice  are relatively new to the decision makers.  Risks can include the water use, induced seismicity, and contamination. Sometimes little water is required , sometimes quite a bit, depending on the circumstances. The waste water whether returned to the watershed or becomes a consumptive use is a concern. Hydraulic fracturing requires injecting water into a geologic formation, sometimes with chemical additives. some of the water returns to the surface, some leaches into the formation. We have to understand the risks associated with it’s use, handling, storage, and eventual disposal of this flow back water. What will be the effect, if and when this “used” water ,with it’s contaminants reaches waste streams?Fracturing3

Looking further into the issue there are concerns with surface spills of highly saline water, truck or pipeline spills, and a lack of information about what is being transported. Environment Canada and Health Canada have a list of some 800 known or suspected substances used in hydraulic fracturing, 33 of which are considered toxic. there is a potential for surface water contamination from leaks or spills at or near the surface.Industry has moved ahead at a rapid pace..with the understanding of potential blow back’s not entirely understood at this point.Fracturing4

Falling oil and gas prices have slowed the industry at this time, continued development of our resources is a given. Perhaps this breathing room can allow  research to understand it’s impact on the environment and human health.

This blog inspired by the article, Fractured Knowledge, by Kathryn Ross in Water Canada, Nov/Dec 2015.

Fracking..the good, the bad, and the ugly by 60 minutes.

Concerns with Canada’s Ocean Policy

Canada's OceansIncreasing acidity, thinning of sea ice in the Far North, depletion of life supporting oxygen in waterways, and the shifts in coastal wildlife populations are real concerns laid out in Canada’s State of the Oceans Report,2012. The causes of these issues range from natural cycles to industrial development and warn of trouble ahead. Oceans around the world are under pressure and face similar why should Canada be concerned. Importantly we have more coastline than anyone else..some 240,000 km of coastline, including a vast arctic region. This complex web of life contributes $38billion to our GDP, from gas , oil, fishing, and tourism . What supports this is under stress. Research and initiatives seem substantial, but there is much to do.

In 2002 Fisheries and Oceans drafted a national oceans strategy, which was inspired by the world leading 1996 Canada Oceans Act. This Act was the first piece of national legislation in the world that focused solely on ocean management. This was seen as a chance to approach ocean management as a whole instead of piecemeal attempts. It called for an integrated approach to address economic, environmental, and social issues. 5 marine protection areas were promised.  More than a decade later the strategy is drifting. Some work has been done , but the focus has been lost in the myriad of federal and provincial departments that have input.  There is a real lack of follow through and a need for actual, measurable protection…and the stress on the oceans continues to grow.

Consider that carbon dioxide emissions are a major cause of acidification. Acidification disolves calcium ,and so it should be no surprise when the commercial shell fish industries report reduced harvests. Canada withdrew from the Kyoto protocol a year earlier, and has not yet agreed to international emissions reduction targets. Rising sea levels threaten low lying communities, wetlands, and salt marshes. Warming waters have sent some species looking for cooler waters. Nature is trying to adjust to these new realities and not always with the best results . Pacific salmon stocks have dwindled.  Hypoxia (areas of depleted oxygen levels) has produced dead zones in some areas of the world, with pockets noted around Vancouver Island and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Cod stocks were hit badly by over fishing have been replaced by crab and shrimp as primary species. Masses of floating plastic prove deadly to fish becoming entangled or mistaking the plastic for food


In particular with the warming waters of the Far North and the possabilty of year round shipping, is Canada ready to handle an oil spill in the Arctic. Questions like where would we allow aquaculture, wind farms, or where we might not allow certain types of shipping will become relevant.

Shipping in the Arctic in 2050.

Canada’s National Conservation Plan(2014) includes $252 million in funding over 5 yrs for a variety of conservation issues. $37 million is directed at marine and coastal conservation. With that Fisheries and Oceans Canada will continue to establish marine protected areas(MPA’s) addressing ecological needs and socio-economic needs. A national network of MPA’s  sounds nice but Canada has protected only 3% of ocean territory , while Australia has a national network of some 30%.

Australia’s Marine Reserves

Let’s keep pushing for reducing the reasons for climate change…reduce green house gases, and speed up the setting aside of Marine Protected Areas.



Water, Food…Climate.


The production of food requires a reliable source of quality water. We in Canada are more blessed with this resource than others on this planet., but let’s not take this for granted. Water availability is reliant on such factors as human development, climate variables, and climate change. The factors influence or control where, when, and how water exists in the hydrological cycle.

On one side we cFloodCan have water in abundance..perhaps too abundant, which can lead to flooding. Large scale flooding is not just something that occurs in distant lands, Canada has these events as well. The Red River Valley in Manitoba can battle flooding on an annual basis. Calgary flooded in 2013, and southern Saskatchewan in 2014.



The other side of flooding is drought. These are the far more costly of the climate related events in terms of GDP generated by the food industry. Droughts are sneaky in that you don’t realize you are in one, until it is too late. If you have successive years of moisture deficits, soil water storage  can deplete affecting food production. The severe drought that has hit California is partially blamed on climate change, former full reservoirs have been severely depleted. It is possible that things will return to normal, only time will tell..but the North American food system has been impacted. Canada imports over a $1 billion of food from we need to be aware of changes, the increased costs, and what we can do locally to offset the new supply and demand forces.



Our food systems are quite interconnected, adverse effects in one area can result in adverse effects in another area. A recent article by the Calgary Herald noted that cattle production is being threatened by moisture deficits. leading to a decrease in pasturing, and an increase in feed prices. Meanwhile the wettest May on record in Texas boosted pasture conditions, and ranchers added to their herds… increasing beef production. We can see how climate conditions in parts of the USA can directly affect Canada’s position on the world stage of food production, whether positive or negative. The availability of a high volume of good water is extremely important.




What can we do to address the issue of drought..over which we have little or no control?  We have to look at what water we have, how it changes over time, its environmental, social, and economic power, and how best to use it. By studying these issues we can develop strategies  to possibly negate the effects of drought. Water reservoirs store large volumes of water, but over time these water banks can be depleted, as has happened in California. The use of ground water supplies is also important ,and must be managed with strategies deployed to use surface and ground water in a balanced manner lest sustainability of the resource  is called into question.

Drought on the Canadian Prairies:

In the coming years as the world’s population grows, and the need to feed that growth increases, we must look at Canada’s place in the global food production system. We have the chance to be a leader in the food do this we need  good volume of quality water.

Drought in Brazil may affect Canadian coffee prices:


Polluted to Healthy Ecosystem..Hamilton’s Waterfront Recovers


hamilton-smokestacks Industrial waste used to be poured directly into the harbour. Three waste water treatment plants discharged into the harbour, and runoff from urban areas flowed freely. Contaminated sediment settled into the harbour. The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between Canada and the US named Hamilton Harbour as one of the 43 Areas of Concern. A document called the Remedial Action Plan was produced in 1992 laying out a plan to undo years of abuse to the harbour. Community involvement came from the Bay Area Restoration Council, who promoted clean up projects, monitored and assessed the implementation of the RAP.

Developing Hamilton’s Waterfront.

Major accomplishments to date, include upgrades to 2 of the waste water treatment plants, and a $20 million rehab of the Windemere Basin. In 2013 a 25 hectare chunk of industrial land was reclaimed, restoring a local ecosystem and providing natural wildlife areas and park lands. By 2020 the harbour is expected to be delisted as an area of concern.Haliton3

Where once Hamilton’s shorelines were an ecological disaster, featuring dirty smelling water and dead fish..they are now attracting tourists, residents , and business.

Hamilton’s Royal Botanical Gardens jumped into the picture to add their skill to the Cootes Paradise Marsh. Their work is bringing life back to the marsh. Once an area teaming with life , it descended into a dark brown polluted pond. The causes were sewage, invasive carp, and land use changes leading to erosion. With the help of volunteers some 50,000 aquatic plants were introduced in the 90’s. Formerly barren…something started to happen. The quality of the water had started to improve. Canoes can now be seen regularly , as the residents get out and enjoy these areas. There was a big biodiversity festival and a birding festival. The Hamilton waterfront is becoming a place to go if you want to enjoy life and the water. Congratulations to Hamilton!

Experience Hamilton’s Waterfront..

One city’s battle with frozen pipes

In February of 2015, Ontario got hit with a record cold snap. Water services staff at the city of Guelph were over run by calls from people who had no water …pipes were freezing all over the city. With water main breaks, and an increasing volume of customer calls, staff were working around the clock.

An emergency operations center kicked in and the city went to work. By seasons end , and costing $545,000 in direct freeze expenses..and $80,000  in lost revenue from those who were instructed to run their water.

Staff at Guelph Water Services reviewed what was done and how the situation was handled. Some 50 recommendations  came of the review and a policy developed. Policies were approved by the City of Guelph in November 2015, including programs to prevent frozen pipes, and support those with frozen pipes. Education and outreach programs were enacted, with a more formal preventative program aimed at homes and businesses with a history of freezing.


Guelph relies on a finite source of ground water for it’s water supply. The residents cannot all run the water or there might be a shortage of water for everyday use or putting out fires. The program has had great success with those enrolled, and the numbers have continued to grow.

One change that was identified through working the program is that those  being provided with a temporary water source ( like a neighbors garden hose), will most likely be able to use that water for potable and non potable needs. With testing, most temporary water lines will provide water for all requirements . Those with water that does not pass the standards for potability, will be giving vouchers for bottled water.

Formal cost recovery programs are also in place. For instance, those running water as part of the prevention program and customers on temporary lines have some consideration. Protocols are in place that are consistent with industry practice and reinforces the value of water as a resource, and of the service provided.