Groundwater data: Out of sight, out of mind?

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Mary Kruk

Groundwater is a vitally important resource, one that is often overlooked in freshwater management. Despite its importance, in Canada we know relatively little about how groundwater behaves, its quality, or how the quality and quantity have changed over time.

This is why groundwater quality is the next data type that DataStream is actively working on adding to our open data platform.

What is groundwater and why is it important?

Of all the unfrozen freshwater on earth, 99% is stored as groundwater! We rely on it for drinking water, for agriculture to grow food, and to replenish rivers, lakes and wetlands.

Most fresh surface water begins as groundwater. Groundwater feeds springs, rivers, lakes and wetlands and seeps into the ocean. Groundwater moderates the levels, temperature and quality of these surface water ecosystems, providing critical habitat for fish, bugs, and riparian plants.

How many communities rely on groundwater?

About 70% of the food grown globally relies on groundwater, either directly (roughly 40%) or indirectly, when groundwater contributes base flow to surface water.

In addition to agriculture uses, many people in Canada depend on groundwater as their main water supply. Environment Canada reports that one-third of Canada’s population relies on groundwater for everyday use, ranging from 21% in Alberta to 100% in Prince Edward Island.

The majority of people relying on groundwater for drinking water live in rural areas where private wells are a reliable and affordable water supply. Others live in small communities where groundwater is the main source for municipal water supply systems.

Addressing data gaps

Monitoring and assessment of Canada’s groundwater is imperative now more than ever as reliance on groundwater increases with changes in climate and extended drought periods.

In Canada, groundwater quality data is collected across different monitoring programs, sectors and jurisdictions. However, it can be difficult to aggregate and appropriately interpret water quality data from different sources due to varying methods for collecting, analyzing and reporting water monitoring results.

DataStream has been actively working to address this challenge since it first launched in 2016. To date, more than 17 million unique surface water quality observations have been shared by over 200 different monitoring groups, including governments, communities and research programs.

Now, we are working to adapt DataStream’s open data schema to accommodate the unique needs of groundwater quality data and align with other national groundwater data initiatives, such as the Groundwater Information Network.

A sustainable future

Open sharing of groundwater quality data will help Canada report on important UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators, such as progress on improving ambient water quality in surface water and groundwater (SDG target 6.3.2). To date, tracking on this indicator in Canada has been limited to surface water only.

Header photo by Sreyasvalsan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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About the author
Mary Kruk

Mary is a Data Specialist with DataStream. In her role she provides water science expertise and works to continually grow the user community across the DataStream hubs. She has a background in water quality monitoring and assessment and advocates for the use of open data in science communication and research.

Mary holds a MSc in Aqueous Geochemistry from the University of Calgary and a BSc in Environmental Sciences from the University of Alberta.

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