The volume of water stored underground in the Columbia Basin is largely unknown, yet groundwater provides drinking water to many in the region, is used by agriculture and industry, and contributes to stream and river flows, keeping natural systems working optimally including providing sufficient flows to support fish.
Groundwater is expected to become an even more vital water resource with predicted climatic changes. A 2017 report on water monitoring and climate change in the Columbia Basin suggests that with climate change impacts — such as an increase in landslides — surface water quality may decline and more communities may shift to groundwater as a water supply source. Groundwater that seeps underground into streams and rivers may also become more necessary for maintaining enough water in streams and rivers for them to function properly.
“Groundwater is too important to solely rely on the government stewardship of it,” said Canadian geophysicist/engineer and Living Lakes Canada advisor Paul Bauman. “We must all do what we can to take on the responsibility and ownership of looking after this precious resource.”
Paul Bauman recently spoke at a groundwater workshop in Invermere as part of the Wings Over the Rockies Festival about his experiences working on grassroots groundwater initiatives in regions of the world where it is difficult to access clean drinking water. His presentation focused mainly on his recent travels to Uganda where he helped refugees identify water sources and build wells as they returned to their communities after 20 years of civil war.
In the Upper Columbia Basin, Living Lakes Canada (LLC) is monitoring groundwater in priority aquifers — the geological features underground that store and release water — through its Groundwater Monitoring Program. This is being done by locating already-existing wells and installing water level loggers to measure groundwater levels in the wells. Aquifer selection is based on potential for vulnerability to contamination, potential for user conflict, and high number of users.
Currently, of the 154 aquifers in the Upper Columbia Basin that have been mapped by the Province, 10 are being monitored in the LLC Groundwater Monitoring Program. LLC is looking for additional wells to monitor in the Wardner-Jaffrey, West Arm of Kootenay Lake and Crescent Valley areas and is interested in hearing from communities that would like to monitor aquifers in their region.
Water level data acquired through program is analyzed by a team of experts and shared with stakeholders to support informed decision making for groundwater use, stewardship, and climate adaptation planning. One example demonstrating how the data can be used is the State of Climate Adaptation report for the Regional District of East Kootenay Area F in 2017, which plans to use groundwater as an indicator of water supply for determining climate change resiliency.
“We’re gauging water quantity and comparing aquifer levels to precipitation,” said LLC Groundwater Monitoring Program Manager Carol Luttmer. “But groundwater-surface water interactions, water quality, and aquifer vulnerability to climate change are three areas that we believe will require further exploration.”
Members of the public are also encouraged to contact LLC about their own groundwater source and any related concerns.
For more information and to discuss groundwater monitoring in your community, contact Carol directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The multi-phased pilot program was started thanks to funding from the Columbia Basin Trust and now is moving forward beyond the successful pilot phase into a full project. Living Lakes Canada facilitates a community-driven approach for protecting water resources and recognizes the importance of data to support effective management of our resources.