Understanding the aquifer

Rousing the Rabble column, by Roy Ronaghan, July 15 Grand Forks Gazette.

A brief mention of the Grand Forks aquifer during a presentation at the Committee of the Whole (COTW) meeting of city council in Grand Forks last month (June 15) reminded me that my knowledge of the aquifer and how it functions was lacking and I chose to become better informed.

I made a list of questions and started a search for answers. What is an aquifer and how does it function? What are the special characteristics of the Grand Forks aquifer? How large is it? What are its boundaries? How does the aquifer recharge and from what sources? What should residents know about the aquifer to enable them to do the right things to preserve and protect it?

Several studies of the aquifer have been done over the past 40 years and I selected two as sources of information: State of Understanding of the Hydrogeology of the Grand Forks Aquifer jointly published by the BC Ministry of Environment (MOE) and Simon Fraser University (SFU) published in 2010, and The City of Grand Forks Well and Aquifer Protection Plan prepared by Piteau Associates Engineering Limited published in 2013. Both reports are long and detailed but enlightening.

I can now add the following to my information bank:

• The MOE classifies the Grand Forks aquifer as an “unconfined sand and gravel aquifer.” The terms “basin fill” or “valley-fill” may also be used to describe it.

• The Grand Forks aquifer has been identified as one of the most important in British Columbia by the MOE. It is an “IA” aquifer, a “heavily developed, highly vulnerable to contamination aquifer.”

• The aquifer extends from the base of Hardy Mountain on the west to the Kettle River oxbows on the east, a distance of approximately 15 kilometres. It is four kilometres wide at a point running through the city at Second Street.

• 95 per cent of the aquifer is located in British Columbia; the remaining five per cent is located in the State of Washington.

• Water flows from west to east in the aquifer.

• The Kettle and Granby rivers are the main sources of recharge water for the aquifer. (The wetland that still exists within the city is a part of the recharge system.)

• A provincial water well database lists over 550 shallow or drilled wells, some as deep as 300 metres.

• There were 23 wells operating in the Grand Forks area supplying water to its residents in 2005. Five of the wells serve residents of the city.

• It is known that several hundred private wells throughout the area have been abandoned but not properly closed. They are of concern because they could be entry points for contamination.

• In 1997 the rural water supply systems, Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB), local health unit and interested residents formed the Grand Forks Aquifer Protection Society. The purpose of the society was to develop and implement a groundwater protection plan to safeguard water quality of the aquifer. A plan was never developed and the society was eventually disbanded.

• The aquifer has limited capacity to accommodate future growth in the area without adverse impacts.

The aquifer has been a source of potable water for valley dwellers since the gold rush days of the late 19th century and with proper care, it will meet everyone’s needs well into the future as long as there is sufficient snow and rain to keep the rivers and streams flowing.

In the event that the effects of a changing climate become so severe in the Boundary region that there is insufficient water to fully recharge the aquifer, residents will be forced to learn that brown lawns are okay in summer; that vehicles and driveways don’t need regular washing; that three-minute showers work; that less than full loads of laundry are taboo; and that hand watering a small garden works.