Groundwater details to be made public

New layers of detail about Central Alberta’s groundwater systems will be made public this week.

New layers of detail about Central Alberta’s groundwater systems will be made public this week.

Staff with Alberta Environment and Water and the Alberta Geological Survey are putting the final touches on an atlas of groundwater systems through the Edmonton-Calgary corridor, which will be available at no charge to anyone seeking the information it reveals.

Completed over about three years at a cost of about $8 million, the atlas maps out characteristics of water quality, aquifers, water tables, flow directions, precipitation, recharge areas and discharge information, all useful in land-use planning, said Steve Wallace, acting head of Alberta Environment and Water’s groundwater policy section.

The atlas includes results of a recently-completed airborne geophysics survey in which low-flying aircraft collected data on electromagnetic energy pull to map rock formations within the study area.

Less permeable rocks tend to be more conductive, so measuring the conductivity of subsurface rock formations shows which of those formations are capable of bearing water, said Wallace.

Data from the aerial survey were combined with information from other sources, including thousands of reports from water wells as well as oil and gas wells, to create the layers of information used to develop the atlas, which is the first of its kind in Alberta, he said.

The Edmonton-Calgary corridor was chosen as a starting point because of the high number of wells, reflecting the amount of development that has already occurred and also because the large amount of information available allowed the participants to compare the different types of information available.

Those comparisons will show how closely the airborne survey matches what has been proven by well records, with the results to be used for creating similar maps in other regions where there are fewer wells, said Wallace.

Support for groundwater mapping flows from Alberta’s Water For Life Strategy, which calls for higher levels of information about the province’s groundwater resources.

“Certainly, if we want to manage the groundwater resource wisely, we need to understand it,” said Wallace.

Costs were shared between Alberta Environment and Water and the Alberta Geological Survey, which is operated by the Energy Resources Control Board, an arms-length agency of Alberta Energy.

The atlas will not provide enough detail for planning of individual projects such as municipal subdivisions or industrial projects, but it will provide information not previously available that planners can use when seeking locations for various types of projects, he said.

“This is a regional mapping exercise . . . and will be useful for regional-type decisions. You always need the local level detail to make effective land-use decisions. This will point you in the right direction,” said Wallace.

A technical report will follow, going into more detail for people who can understand and use the information, he said.

The atlas will be available on the Alberta Environment and Water web page http://environment.alberta.ca/03586.html

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com

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