Science and Knowledge

monitoring equipment in a field
researchers examining data in a field
researcher in winter field
nitrate distribution map
capped ground pipe

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) is committed to improving our knowledge of groundwater resources in Alberta. This knowledge provides the foundation for developing policies to effectively manage groundwater resources in a sustainable manner.

Many initiatives and information sources outside the department also contribute to our collective knowledge about groundwater in the province.

The Government of Alberta's Water for Life strategy sets the direction and agenda for water management in the province, including groundwater. A description of various groundwater knowledge and research initiatives, including groundwater reports by AEP, can be found at:

The department manages a network of monitoring wells called the Groundwater Observation Well Network to track groundwater quality and quantity trends. Information from the network is used to update important groundwater indicators for our State of the Environment reporting.

The first step in managing groundwater effectively is to understand where and how this resource exists in Alberta. The Provincial Groundwater Inventory Program was launched in 2008 to better understand groundwater systems in Alberta.

Every time a water well is drilled in Alberta, a record is submitted to AEP and held in the Alberta Water Well Information Database (AWWID). The valuable information in these records has provided the foundation for countless scientific studies over the past few decades and will continue to do so into the future.

Data is used to identify potential pressures on Alberta’s aquifers. The graph below shows the number of reported water wells per decade since 1901. Implementation of water well drilling regulations in the mid-1970s made submission of drilling reports mandatory. This is reflected in the graph.

The decline in the number of reports received since the 1990s could be attributed to a number of factors, including an increase in the portion of rural residents accessing other water sources (cisterns, municipal supplies), declining economies and improved water well rehabilitation techniques, resulting in longer lifespan of wells.

Water well density maps have been created using this data to identify where potential impacts to groundwater quality and quantity are expected to be greatest. The maps below, for 1950, 1980 and 2016, show the number of water wells drilled per township and illustrate the distribution of wells across the province.

The highest density of wells is concentrated within and around the Edmonton–Calgary corridor and the Grande Prairie area, where most of the province’s population and associated development occurs. Knowing the density and distribution of water wells is a key first step in identifying potential pressures on Alberta’s aquifers.

The Base of Groundwater Protection defines the depth of non-saline (or fresh) groundwater in Alberta. Alberta has established a number of regulatory measures to protect and manage groundwater within this zone.

Scientific studies conducted by the Government of Alberta on the potential impacts of coalbed methane development activity on groundwater have been conducted in recent years, including:

The Oil Sand Information Portal is a source of environmental information and data for the oil sands region.

The Alberta Geological Survey has conducted numerous studies and assessments of groundwater resources in Alberta over the past fifty years, and has made these publications available on their website.

Geological maps often used for groundwater studies are available on the Alberta Geological Survey website:

Improved groundwater knowledge and management has been identified as a key issue not only in Alberta, but all across Canada. Below are recent reports that identify and assess the issue:

For information on groundwater in other government organizations across North America:

For information on groundwater in non-government organizations across North America:

 

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Updated: Sep 30, 2016