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Canadian non-profit finds groundwater in Columbia Basin at lowest levels in years

Living Lakes Canada has been monitoring wells in the basin for six years now
Horsethief Creek wildfire near Invermere, B.C. (Photo by Nicole Trigg).

Living Lakes Canada is a non-profit organization that has been monitoring groundwater in the Columbia Basin for the last six years. Recent data has found that some wells in the basin currently have the lowest water levels since the start of the study.

The non-profit’s program, called Columbia Basin Groundwater Monitoring Program, collects long-term data on groundwater levels to track annual and seasonal changes.

In June, a 160 feet deep well located in Windermere had the lowest water level recorded in the last five years, following a decreasing trend since 2018; its highest levels are usually around October.

Another well, which is approximately 300 feet deep, is located near Silverton and has its highest water levels occurring around April, and the lowest levels around October. Almost the exact opposite as the Windermere well.

Remi Allard is a hydrogeologist at McElhanney in Cranbrook, and advises on the project.

“A good analogy for this is to think of a bank account where you monitor both cash flow and a monthly total,” Allard said in a statement.

“The water level in an aquifer is similar to the net balance in the account, and recharge to and outflow from the aquifer is equivalent to cash flow.”

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An aquifer is the name of a body of rock that holds groundwater, like the wells used in Living Lakes’ project.

In an attempt to better manage groundwater use, the Government of B.C. introduced a new licensing system in 2016 requiring commercial users of groundwater to apply for a licence by March 2022.

Now with this summer’s unprecedented drought, the province has started to cut groundwater access to unlicensed water users and the results are proving precarious for farmers and other commercial operators.

Mike Wei is the former provincial program lead for groundwater and deputy comptroller of water rights; he currently advises on the monitoring program.

“I did not expect this summer’s drought to so quickly shine the spotlight on the water rights issues,” he said in a statement.

Roberta Schnider is the Area G director for the monitoring program, in the Regional District of East Kootenay. She agrees with Wei that the drought is revealing how important the groundwater is.

“I have climate concerns, primarily around how surface water is being impacted and the pressure this puts on communities’ water supply,” said Schnider.

“There’s a real need for improved groundwater monitoring as communities start turning to groundwater for a reliable source of drinking water.”