Alberta Groundwater Program

Alberta Groundwater Program
The Alberta Groundwater Program is a large-scale pilot project that will serve as a template to develop a province-wide framework for monitoring priority groundwater aquifers.

PROGRAM GOAL

The goal of the Alberta Groundwater Program is to build a large-scale pilot project that will serve as a template to develop a provincial framework for monitoring priority groundwater aquifers, identified by the private sector and the Provincial Government.

The objectives of the Program are to:

  1. Apply innovative Canadian technology to rapidly and cost-effectively detect groundwater in both the Alberta flat agricultural lands as well as in more mountainous terrain of the headwaters for Alberta and parts of Eastern BC
  2. Monitor priority groundwater aquifers and share data publicly 
  3. Engage local communities in data collection and increase knowledge and awareness about groundwater

Once mapping is complete and monitoring begins, it is hoped the data collected through this program can be made easily accessible to the public on an open data portal.


WHERE ARE WE MAPPING AND MONITORING?

The pilot will take place in the Oldman Watershed located in southern Alberta. The Oldman Watershed is one of three drought-stricken sub-basins participating in Alberta’s recently announced water-sharing agreements in an effort to reduce water consumption in the face of prolonged drought conditions. 

In partnership with the Piikani Nations Lands Department, the mapping technology will be piloted on a portion of Piikani Nation lands.  


HOW ARE WE MAPPING?

This project employs an innovative Canadian technology, co-developed by Calgary-based engineering firm BGC Engineering in partnership with the Danish Government, to rapidly map groundwater. 

The Towed Time Domain Electromagnetics (tTEM) system captures the electrical resistivity of the subsurface. It collects ~50,000 sounding points per day, resulting in a cross-section of electrical resistivity to a depth of approximately 100 metres and a distance of up to ~60 kilometres (or as far as a quad or snowmobile can drive in a day). 

This system is cost-effective for scanning large areas on the ground, providing detailed images similar to airborne surveys, but with much higher image resolution. In regions with electrically resistive sand and gravel aquifers (characteristic of most aquifers in Alberta), tTEM will serve as a rapid aquifer locator and mapper.

This proven technology has already been used to map the entire state of California and has also been referenced in a large number of peer-reviewed scientific papers.


WHY MONITOR GROUNDWATER?

In Alberta, groundwater serves as a vital pillar supporting agricultural production, supplying drinking water supply for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and upholding ecosystem functions, which in turn support communities’ well-being. Many communities are moving to groundwater supply as surface water sources become increasingly unreliable and even disappear. 

Increasing water security concerns from climate scientists, watershed groups, and communities about declining groundwater levels amidst prolonged drought conditions highlight the need to understand this freshwater source. 

As water scarcity escalates in Western Canada, there’s a critical need for adaptive management planning. Unfortunately, adequate data to inform this approach is lacking, resulting in water allocation decisions based on inaccurate models using outdated data. Addressing this issue is paramount, especially as climate change accelerates.

The tTEM data collected through the Alberta Groundwater Monitoring and Mapping Program will provide a missing layer of information to decision makers faced with water allocation choices. 


MAJOR PARTIES INVOLVED

Living Lakes Canada: This collaborative effort is founded on the success of Living Lakes Canada’s seven-year community-based Columbia Basin Groundwater Monitoring Program and 30 years of expertise in community engagement. 

BGC Engineering: BGC Engineering has co-developed the Towed Time Domain Electromagnetics (tTEM) system to rapidly detect groundwater. BGC Engineering will conduct the tTEM survey.

Piikani Nation Lands Department: The Piikani Nation Lands Department will coordinate with BGC Engineering to allow for an aquifer mapping survey using the tTem technology. 

Oldman Watershed Council: The Oldman Watershed Council (OWC) will facilitate collaborations with First Nation groups, private landowners, government, and other stakeholders in order to carry out the scope of this project in Southern Alberta. The OWC will coordinate on-the-ground monitoring as well as facilitate connections between the partnering organizations.

Other Project Partners

The University of Calgary
The Bow River Basin Council
Canada 1 Water
Aqua-hackers
Alberta Innovates
Calgary Foundation
MacHydro
Livingstone Landowners Group
Land Stewardship Center
Alberta EcoTrust Foundation


CONTACT

Kat Hartwig, Executive Director
Living Lakes Canada
kat@livinglakescanada.ca

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