Underground Intelligence: Mapping Canada's Groundwater

New report, expert panels and NASA satellite photos show need to map, monitor and manage supplies in an era of drought and climate change

TORONTO, June 25, 2013 /CNW/ - Millions of Canadians depend on groundwater for their supplies, yet we know little about this underground supply or how it's changing over time, says the author of a new policy paper presented here today.

Ed Struzik, award-winning environment writer, told leading Canadian and international experts that it's important to do more to map, monitor and manage groundwater supplies because our reliance on this resource is bound to increase.

Mapping tells us where groundwater is, how it moves and how it is replenished over time. Monitoring tells us how much groundwater we have, what its quality is, and how the quantity and quality are changing. But mapping and monitoring water far below the earth's surface is not easy or cheap.

"There are technologies for making groundwater visible and options for internalizing costs. We need to embrace these tools," Struzik said in his paper and presentation, Underground Intelligence: The need to map, monitor and manage Canada's groundwater resources in an era of drought and climate change.

"If we continue to treat groundwater with a lack of respect, we do so at our peril."

The frequency and intensity of droughts since the 1990s and effects of climate change make it all the more important to treat groundwater more seriously, he noted.

"We already face groundwater problems, and they will likely get worse as agricultural activities intensify, as demands on water from cities and industry, mining and energy developments grow, as pollutants migrate from historical and current sources into groundwater and as the impacts of climate change alter precipitation patterns and the storage of water in glaciers, snowpack and reservoirs."

Struzik's presentation took place at a day-long session hosted by the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs Program on Water Issues. His presentation was webcast and the session included panel discussions and questions by participating experts and the live and Internet audience.

The event included a presentation of striking NASA photos showing changes in groundwater levels across North America. In both his paper and presentation, Struzik noted that better mapping and monitoring — which can assist in better management — are possible thanks to these kinds of advances in research and technology.

"Groundwater mapping and modeling can help farmers, industry, municipalities, and even managers of natural areas plan on how much groundwater can be pumped from an aquifer without running it dry. Mapping and modeling can help scientists predict how groundwater will respond to stresses such as over-pumping, seawater intrusion, urbanization, drought and climate change," said Struzik.

The solutions are costly and will require more inter-governmental cooperation and new financing — including taxes in some cases, Struzik added. At the same time, better mapping, monitoring and management are possible, and critically important, because up to one-third of Canadians depend on groundwater.

Struzik made 10 recommendations including putting a more realistic price on water use for Canadians.

"Water is one of Canada's most important natural assets, one that contributes between $7.8 and $22.9 billion to the economy each year. It's time for more jurisdictions to start putting a price on groundwater and on surface water," he said.

Underground Intelligence and the proceedings of today's panel can be found at http://powi.ca/

SOURCE: Program on Water Issues, Munk School, University of Toronto

For further information:

Adèle Hurley
Program on Water Issues 

David Israelson

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Program on Water Issues, Munk School, University of Toronto

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