Evaluation of the Groundwater Geoscience Program

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

Introduction

This report presents the findings of an evaluation of the Groundwater Geoscience Program (GGP) (Program Sub-Activity 2.3.2 in Natural Resources Canada’s [NRCan’s] 2012-13 Program Activity Architecture).Footnote 1 The GGP is administered by the Earth Sciences Sector (ESS) - Central and Northern Canada Branch within the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC).

The GGP assesses Canada’s key aquifer systems and makes the data available through a national groundwater portal (i.e., the Groundwater Information Network [GIN]) to help inform stakeholders (i.e., government private sector – industry, water management agencies and well owners) in their decision-making processes. The aquifer assessment and characterization activities are a combination of geological mapping, regional hydrogeological assessments and groundwater modeling that form an inventory of the main regional aquifers of Canada. They are intended to advance groundwater management across Canada through a list of 30 key regional-scale aquifers based on the nine current hydrogeological regions of Canada which combine broad factors of geology (surficial, bedrock, stratigraphy and structural style), climate, precipitation, permafrost, physiography and topography. The data from the assessment activities are to be made available through the GIN, a portal that aims to provide access to geoscience knowledge of groundwater systems and enhance groundwater management through increased access to groundwater information. The portal also connects water well databases from NRCan’s key aquifer information and several provinces and territories (i.e., British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Québec, Nova Scotia and Yukon).

The Strategic Evaluation Division (SED) carried out this first evaluation of the GGP over the period from April 1, 2012 to December 20, 2012 addressing the relevance and performance of the GGP through multiple lines of evidence. These consisted of a document and literature review, a file review, 25 interviews (11 internal and 14 external), one case study and an online survey. The evaluation covered project activities funded under Phase II and Phase III of the Program, consisting of NRCan’s direct program spending of $14.9 million over the period from 2007-08 to 2011-12

Context

Responsibility for managing Canada’s groundwater resources is shared across several federal departments, provinces and territories. Provinces have direct responsibility for managing groundwater. However, under the Canada Water Act [1985], the federal government has co-management responsibilities with the provinces for waters where there is a “significant national interest in the water resource management”, which includes international (with the United States) or provincial boundary waters. NRCan has a legal obligation, through the federal Resources and Technical Surveys Act [1985] to “make a full and scientific examination and survey of the geological structure and mineralogy of Canada’’, hence to implement federal commitments to understand the physical components of groundwater systems. NRCan also supports the Minister of Environment Canada (EC) in the fulfillment of the Canada Water Act [1985 Section 5] mandate, which includes theestablishment and maintenance of an inventory of waters of significant national interest, as well as the collection, processing, and provision of data on the quality, quantity, distribution and use of those waters.

NRCan’s Groundwater Program was created in 2002 to address the need for information to support groundwater resource management by filling the knowledge gaps on groundwater supply as well as on the sustainable use of the resource. Phase I (2002-2006) had the goal of understanding the quantity and quality of Canada’s groundwater resources (i.e., aquifers in certain regions across Canada and the United States border). Subsequently, in 2006, NRCan-GSC launched Phase II of the Program (2006-2009) which was designed to provide decision-makers with access to sound scientific advice. In 2009, the GGP entered Phase III (2009 to 2014) to provide defensible and useful scientific data for authorities and stakeholders responsible for managing groundwater resources.

The goal of the GGP was to characterize the main aquifer systems in Canada, assess its groundwater resources, and make the data available through a national groundwater portal to help inform stakeholders (i.e., government and private sector, water management agencies and well owners) in their decision-making processes.

Key Evaluation Findings

Relevance

There is a clear and ongoing need for the Program. Generally, there is a need for geoscience data to support the sustainable management of Canada’s groundwater resources, particularly given the importance of groundwater as a source of drinking water and the increasing stressors to groundwater from resource development projects and climate change.

There is a specific need for the two activities of the GGP. It is generally recognized by stakeholders and in a 2011 report by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) that information on groundwater supplies is largely absent and is needed because of its link to many of Canada’s surface water sources. A national groundwater information system, such as the GIN, to link individual distributed groundwater databases held by the groundwater stakeholders across Canada is needed for the sustainable management of Canada’s water resources.

A national groundwater inventory is also required. A 2005 report of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources recommended that all of Canada’s major aquifers be mapped by 2010. All stakeholders agreed that aquifer assessment and characterization activities should be prioritized. They did however suggest that while the list of 30 key aquifers that form the national groundwater inventory is still a relevant concept, it needs to be reviewed to consider new emerging issues. Finally, information from both the GIN and aquifer assessment and characterization activities is needed to support the management of transboundary aquifers among provinces and between Canada and the United States.

The GGP is fully aligned with NRCan’s strategic objective on environmental responsibility. Its objectives clearly support the sustainable management of Canada’s groundwater. In addition, the GGP clearly links to the federal priority of protection of water resources that was confirmed as a priority in Federal Budget 2012.

NRCan’s role in the GGP is legitimate, appropriate and necessary, although some adjustments are needed. Provinces have direct responsibility for managing and regulating groundwater. However, federal government responsibilities for water fall under several Acts, the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act; the International River Improvements Act; the Fisheries Act; the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Act; the Navigable Waters Protection Act; the Canada Water Act; and certain aspects of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. NRCan, through the Resources and Technical Surveys Act, has a legal obligation to provide groundwater geoscience expertise to sustainably manage Canada’s groundwater resources, and to support the management of aquifers that are known to cross provincial and international boundaries, for which the federal government has co-management responsibilities with the provinces.

NRCan-GSC is the only organization that has the technical expertise and national mandate required to understand groundwater in Canada, fill in information gaps in a neutral way, and produce high-quality research products. However, a couple of challenges relating to the complex structure of shared roles and responsibilities were highlighted. While NRCan has responsibilities relating to groundwater quantity, Environment Canada has responsibility for water quality. Almost all interviewees noted that coordination between the two departments could be better. As well, provinces generally do not have the capacity or resources to adequately play their role. While they appreciate the work that NRCan-GSC conducts to assess and characterize aquifers, some provinces indicated that the complexity of the models left behind and the expense of the software used have made it difficult to use these tools without NRCan-GSC help. While a key objective of the Program is to harmonize data/approaches in different jurisdictions and to develop and promote methods and standards, provincial stakeholders would like NRCan-GSC to play an enhanced knowledge transfer role.

Performance – Effectiveness

Overall, the GGP has made significant progress on achieving its intended outcomes that relate to its two main activities: aquifer assessments/characterization and the GIN.

Good progress has been made on assessing and characterizing aquifers. The GGP is on track to assessing 19 of the 30 aquifers by the end of 2013-14, as planned. Based on this pace, GSC expects the inventory of 30 aquifers to be complete by 2025. The GGP aquifer assessment work is of high quality, and the scientific data has been used by stakeholders to assess impacts of economic, social and climatic stressors on groundwater resources. Documents, files and interviewees described examples of groundwater models developed by NRCan-GSC and used by local decision-makers, other federal departments, and universities. The data have been used to influence policy and regulatory issues (e.g. oil sands, water protection), model climate change impacts, improve groundwater management and protection, and make land use decisions in the context of increased urbanization. The depth of knowledge and expertise of NRCan-GSC staff, which is widely acknowledged, has resulted in both credible and quality groundwater research studies and has facilitated the progress made.

The partnerships, collaborations and scientific cooperation with stakeholders involved in Canada’s groundwater resources have also facilitated progress. This has also raised the profile of groundwater issues in the provinces. Many provincial partners indicated that there is a need for a mechanism to transfer the knowledge from these studies to decision-makers in order to increase their use in groundwater management. There is a great variation in maturity of provincial groundwater programs and the relative capabilities (resources and expertise) of provincial partners, which lead to differing needs with respect to collaborative efforts between NRCan and provincial partners. Responding to these diverse and sometimes divergent needs represents a challenge for program management. There is a need to realign the efforts and scientific knowledge to respond to new emerging issues that were not on the horizon when the first phase of the Program was planned (e.g., limited knowledge of the impact of shale gas development on groundwater resources). Many stakeholders within NRCan-GSC and the provinces indicated that the list of 30 aquifers needed to be updated in light of current priorities such as new regulatory regimes in provinces, interest in resource development (e.g. shale gas, oil sands) and the changing information needs of provinces.

There has been good progress made on the use of common standards and approaches to aquifer assessments by provincial agencies through projects with the GGP. A key benefit of the Program is the innovative hydrogeology approaches to conducting aquifer assessments developed by NRCan-GSC. These approaches were highly valued by partners, particularly those with limited hydrogeological expertise, and referred to as cutting edge in most instances. While this emphasis on research and creating innovative approaches allowed the Program to create a critical mass of information, it also overshadowed the need for the collection of a minimum level of common mandatory data from each aquifer assessed. In addition, over the last ten years of conducting regional aquifer assessments and characterizations, the considerable advances in the development of 3D mapping, Geographic Information System (GIS) and data base management technologies and software packages have resulted in inconsistent approaches to data collection. The inconsistent formats and data collected meant that NRCan-GSC has not made all of the data from aquifer assessments available through the GIN as originally intended (the GIN is meant to capture consistent data).

The GIN is fully operational and seen as an important technical achievement by all stakeholders. There has been good progress on the common standards for the GIN which NRCan-GSC developed in collaboration with provinces. These standards have contributed to interoperability of GIN among federal and provincial governments and even internationally. The Ground Water Mark-up Language standard allows the provinces to feed their water monitoring data into the GIN without having to change how their legacy systems work. Several instances were found in which the GIN is being used by provincial partners and United States stakeholders for sustainable groundwater resource management.

The Program has made good progress on informing decision-makers on groundwater management issues through provision of expert advice and data. Nearly all interviewees agree thatNRCan-GGP experts are very active in helping provinces and local authorities make decisions on groundwater issues through data centralization and standardization and providing technical tools and aquifer assessment products. The GIN has also been used to inform decision-makers and is seen as an important step toward a national water strategy. Having said that, the GIN portal is not yet widely used and use varies considerably by province (over half of the survey respondents were from Ontario, and only 18 percent were from Canadian government organizations).

Some interviewees in the provinces indicated that limited awareness among partners and uncertainty about NRCan’s intention to maintain the GIN over an extended period of time have made it difficult for stakeholders to promote the project. In addition, while the GIN is seen as having high potential, interviewees indicated that it needs to incorporate data beyond water well records, as it was intended to do, to inform discussions by resource managers on groundwater sustainability.

Performance – Efficiency and Economy

The GGP has been highly efficient in its use of resources. It has done remarkably well at pursuing its objectives with limited funding. Stakeholders of the national groundwater inventory point to examples where highly efficient processes and practices have been used. For instance, scientific staff has been brought together across geology disciplines, common standards across jurisdictions have been pursued, and an expanded repertoire of tools with which to assess aquifers in more complex geological situations has been created. The GIN portal is also seen by the survey respondents to be an efficient means of accessing groundwater data. The use of open source software has significantly leveraged the skills and expertise of other organizations in developing and refining the GIN. Most stakeholders suggested that without being able to leverage these resources, the cost of implementing the GIN, or even getting it started, would have been much more than NRCan-GSC could have done. Collaborations and partnerships with stakeholders involved in groundwater resources are key factors that have contributed to the efficiency and the economy of both activities of the GGP.

Almost all provinces have engaged to some extent in the Program. Several provinces have augmented their groundwater assessment efforts based in part on NRCan-GSC’s approach to groundwater mapping (e.g., Alberta, Québec), although funding and capacity are still relatively low and vary greatly among provinces. As interest in groundwater has increased over the last ten years, also did the expectations on the GGP. The modesty of the budgets of both NRCan and partners in groundwater – as well as the relatively low number of hydrogeology experts within NRCan-GSC to meet the GGP goals – were identified as factors hindering the Program. Specifically, attention was drawn to the competing requests in providing time sensitive hydrogeology expertise for NRCan’s mandated responsibilities under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) which poses a challenge for the management of the GGP and project scheduling.

While the GGP is seen by most stakeholders as complementary to other efforts in Canada, some pointed to opportunities to better coordinate with other programs requiring geological expertise as well as with provincial groundwater programs. Interviewees saw that efficiencies could be achieved by having provincial groundwater programs that make use of NRCan-GSC expertise, not through examples of aquifer studies, but through well-defined work plans. Some interviewees suggested that NRCan-GSC should recast its role as a provider of expertise in methodology and leave more of the aquifer assessments to the provinces.

Conclusions

Overall, the evaluation found that the GGP is relevant, has been quite successful at achieving progress towards its intended outcomes and is well managed. With few resources, the GGP has accomplished a significant amount of work which has had a positive impact on groundwater management in Canada.

The Program’s two main components – aquifer assessments/characterization and the GIN – have made good progress towards informing the sustainable management of groundwater in Canada. Key successes of the GGP have been the assessment and characterization of 19 regional Canadian aquifers, the development of innovative hydrogeology approaches to conducting aquifer assessments, and the achievement of a functioning inter-jurisdictional groundwater data portal (i.e., GIN).

The evaluation also identified opportunities for improving program performance so that it may continue to make good progress. These, described in detail below, include clarifying and communicating NRCan and provincial roles and expectations, reviewing the list of 30 aquifers to ensure alignment with provincial data needs as water managers, and development of minimum common data to be collected for each aquifer assessed to incorporate into the GIN portal.

Recommendations

Recommendation 1: In the face of both rising and increasingly diverse expectations, NRCan-GSC should take steps to ensure that the respective federal and provincial roles are clearly defined and understood by all stakeholders. NRCan-GSC should continue to play a national leadership role, prioritize GGP activities in light of this role, and work with the provinces to communicate this role to stakeholders, including raising awareness of the GIN portal among all levels of groundwater decision-makers (e.g., municipalities and water management boards).

There is confusion amongst the provincial stakeholders as to the exact role of NRCan-GSC and the extent to which the GGP is in place to serve their needs. While provincial interest in, and resources devoted to groundwater issues appear to be increasing, their expectations and needs appear to be increasing as well. They are therefore expecting NRCan-GSC to play a role that does not necessarily fit within its mandate. There is a need for NRCan-GSC to clearly define its role, communicate it to the stakeholders, and ensure that it is understood. The evaluation noted that only one formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a province has been signed (British Columbia). A suggested strategy might be to draft formal MOUs with the remaining provinces so that respective roles are defined and understood.

Areas where the evaluation found that a national role was appropriate include, but are not limited to: development of aquifer assessment and characterization methods in various geological contexts; ensuring the creation of consistent data; providing expertise to support provincial activities relating to regional aquifers and transboundary issues (mandated); and making groundwater data available through a national portal (i.e., GIN).

NRCan-GSC should work with the provinces to raise awareness of the GIN among groundwater decision-makers including municipalities and water-management boards. The progress made on the GIN is considerable. It is a strong technical structure and contributes to increased knowledge and informs decision-makers. However, the GIN is not well known yet by water managers in the provinces and has not been widely promoted to the provinces. The effectiveness of the GIN would be enhanced if it were better known, more widely used and became a true national portal.

Recommendation 2: In light of the national focus of the GGP, NRCan-GSC should develop a list of common mandatory data that, at a minimum, must be collected for each aquifer assessed. This list should be communicated broadly within NRCan-GSC and to stakeholders to ensure that aquifer assessment projects result in these minimum data being entered into the GIN so that they are available to water managers.

While the GGP has been extremely successful in creating information at a modest cost, the approach used has meant that the national objective of having common data on aquifers to populate a national portal has not been achieved. The current approach might have been an appropriate strategy in the early years of the Program to generate interest and a critical mass of data, however in the current context, it is no longer a viable strategy to achieve the Program’s national objectives. NRCan-GSC should ensure that there is a balance between the key data that needs to be available for each aquifer assessed, and the information needs of the provinces to allow NRCan-GSC researchers to continue innovative work to answer particular questions that the provinces cannot.

Recommendation 3: NRCan-GSC should review the list of 30 aquifers to enhance its alignment with the information needs of the provinces which are responsible for groundwater management within their jurisdictions, while still ensuring that the list is based on the nine hydrogeological regions of Canada it was meant to represent.

While the GGP’s aquifer assessment and characterization of 30 aquifers was never intended to be inflexible, there is a perception within the provinces that the approach to the list has been inflexible. NRCan-GSC should ensure that progress is achieved on completing the assessment of the 30 key regional-scale aquifers. This would allow NRCan-GSC researchers to continue to develop innovative methods for assessing and understanding groundwater. However, it is clear that the actual list of 30 aquifers needs to be updated. While this list served its purpose in that it helped organize the work and gave NRCan-GSC a method for reporting progress, the context has changed since the inception of the GGP in 2002. It is important to note that this list was developed based on discussions that took place ten years ago. Since then new factors have emerged such as new regulatory groundwater management regimes in provinces, increasing interest in resource development (e.g. shale gas, oil sands), and changing information needs of the provinces. In reviewing the list, it will be important that NRCan-GSC engage with the provinces and territories as they are responsible for groundwater management in their jurisdictions. The success of the GGP is dependent on generating useful information in areas that matter to provinces and territories for decision-making.

Recommendations and Management Response and Action Plan Table
Recommendations Management Responses and Action Plans Responsible
(Target Date)
1. In the face of both rising and increasingly diverse expectations, NRCan-GSC should take steps to ensure that respective federal and provincial roles are clearly defined and understood by all stakeholders. NRCan-GSC should continue to play a national leadership role, prioritize GGP activities in light of this role, and work with the provinces to communicate this role to stakeholders, including raising awareness of the GIN portal among all levels of groundwater decision-makers (e.g., municipalities and water management boards). Accepted. While responsibility for managing Canada’s groundwater resources is shared across provinces, territories and several federal departments, the GSC has a well defined role under several pieces of legislation including the Resources and Technical Surveys Act and the Canadian Water Act. Going forward, ESS will continue to play a strong national leadership role and ensure that program activities are aligned within the framework of the Department’s mandate.

ESS will ensure that its role in groundwater is clearly communicated to provinces and territories, as well as other federal departments during meetings and other fora. ESS is a member of national tables and forums such as the National Geological Surveys Committee (NGSC), the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) through its sub-committee, the Water Management Committee (WMC), and the International Joint Commission (IJC), where strategic planning and priorities of each participating member is discussed. ESS will reinforce and ensure that all stakeholders understand the roles of the different water-related agencies.
ADM Earth Sciences Sector
Annual updates on the Groundwater Geosciences Program achievements to NGSC, CCME/WMC and IJC managers sub-committees.
More specifically, ESS will work towards planning and organizing a National Workshop on Emerging Groundwater Issues, similar to the workshops held in 2001 that laid the groundwork for the current phases of the Groundwater Program. ESS will also investigate the possibility of having a virtual workshop to allow broader participation of stakeholders across Canada. The outcome from the workshop would be to update the Canadian Framework for Collaboration on Groundwater with federal/provincial/territorial governments and stakeholders. This would include a discussion on national approaches to groundwater data collection and dissemination. ADM Earth Sciences Sector
December 31st , 2014
2. In light of the national focus of the GGP, NRCan-GSC should develop a list of common mandatory data that, at a minimum, must be collected for each aquifer assessed. This list should be communicated broadly within NRCan-GSC and with stakeholders to ensure that aquifer assessment projects result in these minimum data being entered into the GIN so that it is available to water managers. Accepted. The Groundwater Program has developed a list of common mandatory data that must be collected for each aquifer, including:
  • A standard suite of aquifer inventory data products, including 13 standard spatial layers, has been established and the GSC is in the process of testing them.
ADM Earth Sciences Sector
Completed in fiscal year 2012-13
  • Data from existing and past projects will be migrated to this standard for web delivery in GIN.
ADM Earth Sciences Sector
March 31st, 2014
  • As part of this process, an e-newsletter, or other electronic forum, will be developed to alert current users to new developments in standards and data. While the GSC cannot impose data collection standards on stakeholders, it will inform them of its internal developments to influence their directions in this regard, particularly in joint projects.
ADM Earth Sciences Sector
March 31st, 2014
In addition, the Groundwater Program will continue to work to convert all data into a standard format that will ensure consistent, accurate and authoritative data. Also, the Program will work with its federal and provincial partners and stakeholders to set up an ad hoc committee to share groundwater data collection and dissemination best practices and promote awareness of GIN. ADM Earth Sciences Sector
March 31st, 2014
Discussions will be held to ensure that the GIN portal is a key component of the Federal Geospatial Platform or any other national water portal. ADM Earth Sciences Sector
March 31st, 2014
3. NRCan-GSC should review the list of 30 aquifers to enhance its alignment with the information needs of the provinces which are responsible for groundwater management in their jurisdictions, while still ensuring that the list is based on the nine hydrogeological regions of Canada it was meant to represent. Accepted. The list of 30 aquifers provides a framework to help focus the current and potential future work of the Program. The list of 30 aquifers could be revisited in light of emerging priorities that were not considered ten years ago, such as the water/energy nexus and environmental issues. The list of aquifers should evolve in consultation with provinces and should continue to allow the development of methodologies to improve aquifer characterization. Going forward, in line with the direction outlined in the GSC Strategic Plan and the ESS Strategic Water Framework, the 30 aquifers will provide a framework for discussion with stakeholders on the proposed projects areas. This approach to groundwater mapping and assessment has been endorsed by the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (2005) as well as the Council of Canadian Academies, which published a report on May 11, 2009 that recommended a more rapid pace to assessing the key regional aquifers. The issue of geographic location of key regional aquifers and information needs on aquifer assessments will be one of the main agenda items at the proposed National Workshop on Emerging Groundwater Issues. ADM Earth Sciences Sector
December 31st, 2014

1.0 Introduction and Background

This report presents the findings of an evaluation of the Groundwater Geoscience Program (GGP) (Program Sub-Activity 2.3.2 in Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan’s) 2012-13 Program Activity ArchitectureFootnote 2). The GGP is managed by NRCan’s Earth Science Sector (ESS) - Central and Northern Canada Branch within the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC). It has never been evaluated. The evaluation covers project activities funded under Phase II and Phase III of the GGP, consisting of NRCan’s direct program spending of $14.9 million over the period from 2007-08 to 2011-12.

The GGP has two main activities consisting of aquifer assessments/characterization and the Groundwater Information Network (GIN). The GGP assesses and characterizes Canada’s key aquifers, including transboundary aquifers crossing the Canada-United States border, and makes the data available through the GIN. The GGP is intentionally designed to establish a defensible and useful scientific data which can be used by provincial authorities responsible for managing groundwater resources.

The objective of the evaluation is to assess the relevance and performance of the GGP in accordance with the requirement of the Treasury Board of Canada Policy on Evaluation (2009) which states that all direct program spending is to be evaluated every five years.

1.1 Context

Responsibility for managing Canada’s groundwater resources is shared across several federal departments, provinces and territories. Provinces have direct responsibility for managing groundwater. However, the federal government is responsible for aquifers that cross provincial and national boundaries, including transboundary aquifers crossing the Canada-United States border. By the authority of the federal Resources and Technical Surveys Act [1985 Section 3 (c)], “the Minister [of NRCan] shall (c) make a full and scientific examination and survey of the geological structure and mineralogy of Canada”, which includes aquifers.

NRCan also supports the Minister of Environment Canada (EC) in the fulfillment of the Canada Water Act [1985 Section 5] mandate, which includes theestablishment and maintenance of an inventory of waters of significant national interest, as well as the collection, processing, and provision of data on the quality, quantity, distribution and use of those waters. In 2001, NRCan and EC had signed a five year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that defined the complementary roles of groundwater studies in both departments. NRCan-GSC has several written agreements and only one MOU with the provinces that are responsible for groundwater management. NRCan-GSC and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) cooperate on scientific work related to transborder aquifers between Canada-United-States.

1.2 Overview

Exhibit 1 presents the GGP as part of the Responsible Natural Resource Management Program Activity (PA 2.3) that feeds into Strategic Outcome 2: Natural Resource Sectors and Consumers are Environmentally Responsible.

Exhibit 1: Groundwater Geoscience Program (2012-13 PAA 2.3.2)

Exhibit 1

Larger image

Text Version - Exhibit 1

Exhibit 1: Groundwater Geoscience Program (2012-13 PAA 2.3.2)

Exhibit 1 shows the Groundwater Geoscience Program (Program Sub-Activity 2.3.2) in NRCan’s 2012-13 Program Activity Architecture (PAA), for which the expected result is Groundwater management in Canada is based on common approaches to geoscience for key regional aquifers.

The program has used a phased approach.  Phase I: Groundwater (2002-2006) had the goal of understanding the quantity and quality of Canada’s groundwater resources.  Phase II:  Groundwater Mapping (2006-2009) was designed to provide decision-makers with access to sound scientific advice.  Phase III: Groundwater Geoscience (2009 to 2014) was intended to provide a defensible and useful scientific data for authorities and stakeholders responsible for managing groundwater resources.  

The program is under NRCan’s Strategic Outcome 2: Natural Resource Sectors and Consumers are Environmentally Responsible.

Within this strategic outcome, the program is part of the Responsible Natural Resource Management Program Activity (PA 2.3), whose expected result is Natural resource sectors manage impacts to the environment.  

The GGP was established in 2002. Phase I (2002-2006) had the goal of understanding the quantity and quality of Canada’s groundwater resources (i.e., aquifers in certain regions across Canada and the United States border).

Prior to establishing Phase I of the Program, NRCan-GSC led two workshops on groundwater held in Québec (2000) and Calgary (2001). According to the Canadian Framework for Collaboration on Groundwater (2003), some issues that affect groundwater as a resource include its sustainability with respect to human use and ecosystems, climate change and contamination. Representatives attending the workshops agreed on the importance of understanding the country’s groundwater quantity and quality. This included doing an inventory of Canada’s groundwater resources, sharing information, and generating a national portal on groundwater that are all easily accessible, and filling in the gaps in groundwater knowledge. The workshops were attended by representatives from the departments responsible for groundwater management in most provinces and territories, and federal departments that have or share mandates in groundwater resources (e.g., EC, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada [AAFC], Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada [AANDC], Health Canada [HC]). Also, representatives from academia, industry, and scientific associations, including universities, as well as groundwater associations and international associations attended the workshops.Footnote 3

Subsequently, in 2006, NRCan-GSC launched Phase II of the Program (2006-2009) that was designed to provide decision-makers with access to sound scientific advice. In 2009, the Program entered Phase III (2009 to 2014) to provide a defensible and useful scientific data for authorities and stakeholders responsible for managing groundwater resources.

1.3 Objectives

Exhibit 2 shows the specific objectives of Phase II and Phase III of the GGP. Overall, the goal of the GGP was to characterize the main aquifer systems in Canada, assess its groundwater resources, and make the data available through a national groundwater portal to help inform stakeholders (i.e., government and private sector, water management agencies, and well owners) in their decision-making processes. By 2014, the GGP will have assessed and characterized 19 of 30 key Canadian regional aquifers, which were established in 1967 and updated between 1995 and 2002 as a priority objective.

Exhibit 2: Groundwater Geoscience Program Phases and Objectives
Program Phase Objectives
Phase III: 2009-2014 Groundwater Geoscience Program
  • To establish a defensible and useful scientific data which can be used by provincial or local authorities responsible for managing groundwater on a regular basis, including scientific cooperation and shared management in the case of transboundary aquifers crossing the Canada/United States border.
  • To assess and characterize seven additional aquifers by 2014 making the data available through the GIN (up to 2009, 12 of 30 key regional aquifers had been assessed and characterized).
  • To increase the cooperation with the provinces, territories, and universities, as well as with the United States federal and state agencies in developing groundwater knowledge.
Phase II: 2006-2009 Groundwater Mapping Program
  • To establish a conceptual framework of national, regional and watershed-scale groundwater flow systems.
  • To advance the National Groundwater Inventory to the point where decision-makers have access to sound science advice in the form of a robust information base by 2010.
  • To enhance Canada's capacity for informed groundwater resource decision-making to reduce risks and costs by:
  • building capacity to use Groundwater geoscience through developing highly qualified professionals with partners;
  • conducting partnered projects and joint activity planning;
  • reporting and communicating progress and knowledge; and
  • providing key expertise on-demand.

Source: Synthesis of information from NRCan’s ESS web site. Available online at http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/earth-sciences/about/current-program/groundwater-geoscience/4106.

The logic model for the GGP found under Appendix A demonstrates the expected causal relationship between the Program’s activities, outputs, and intended immediate, intermediate and final outcomes.

1.4 Activities

The main activities of the GGP focus on assessing and characterizing Canada’s key regional aquifers, and making available the groundwater data through the GIN portal. As stated in the logic model, the GGP consists of the following activities:

  • aquifer assessments and characterization:
    • assessment of key Canadian aquifers: national inventory of key Canadian aquifers
    • understanding groundwater dynamics; and
    • development of groundwater models to assess the resource.
  • Groundwater Information Network:
    • development of a comprehensive and accessible GIN including ESS aquifer data, knowledge and models; and
    • promotion of the GIN and coordination of the contribution of aquifer information from all available sources.

The aquifer assessment and characterization activities are a combination of geological mapping, regional hydrogeological assessments and groundwater modeling that form an inventory of the main regional aquifers of Canada. They are intended to advance groundwater management across Canada through assessing and characterizing a list of 30 key regional-scale aquifers based on the nine current hydrogeological regions of Canada. The current list is based on a combination of broad factors of geology (surficial, bedrock, stratigraphy and structural style), climate, precipitation, permafrost, physiography and topography. The data from the assessment and characterization activities are made available through the GIN portal.

The GIN portal aims to improve knowledge of groundwater systems and enhance groundwater management through increased access to groundwater information. It connects water well databases from NRCan’s key aquifer information and several provinces and territories (i.e., British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Québec, Nova-Scotia and Yukon).

Given that the evaluation covers funding over the period from 2007-08 to 2011-12, only projects from Phase II (2006-2009) and Phase III (2009-2014) are evaluated (see Appendix B for a list of projects under each phase).

1.5 Resources

Exhibit 3 shows the allocated funds for the GGP consisting primarily of A-base funding for salaries, and operating and maintenance (O&M) funds. The GGP has also received funding from other government departments, including provinces and territories. The GGP does not have grants and contributions funding, nor a results-based management and accountability framework or Treasury Board submission associated with it. The GGP expenditures totaled approximately $15.5 million from 2007-08 to 2011-12, 96.5 percent of which were from NRCan and 3.5 percent were from other government departments.

Exhibit 3: GGP Resource Profile 2007-08 to 2011-12 ($000)
2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 Total (%)
NRCan A-base (O&M) 626.0 537.5 1,142.0 1,208.0 850.0 4,363.5 28.1%
A-base ( Salary)Footnote 4 2,276.4 2,865.1 1,355.4 1,988.2 1,530.0 10,015.1 64.5%
C-base 50.0 105.0 - - - 155.0 1.0%
SPAFootnote 5 194.2 144.2 114.2 - - 452.6 2.9%
sub-total 3,146.6 3,651.8 2,611.6 3,196.2 2,380.0 14,986.2 96.5%
OGDFootnote 6 143.5 260.0 33.0 31.9 72.5 540.9 3.5%
Total 3,290.1 3,911.8 2,644.6 3,228.1 2,452.5 15,527.1 100%

In fiscal years 2007-08 and 2008-09, the GGP received funding from NRCan GeoConnections Program as C-base money.

A-base O&M funding for the GGP was increased during Phase III. However, interview and document evidence indicated that the full-time equivalents (FTEs) where reduced in Phase III by 26 percent from 23 to 17.

2.0 Evaluation Scope and Methodology

2.1 Evaluation Scope and Objectives

The evaluation focused efforts on Phases II and III and covered NRCan’s $14.9 million on the GGP over the period from 2007-08 to 2011-12.

The Strategic Evaluation Division (SED) conducted the evaluation over the period from April 1, 2012 to December 20, 2012 using in-house resources. The evaluation was designed to assess the issues of relevance and performance of the GGP in accordance with the requirements of the 2009 Treasury Board Policy on Evaluation,Footnote 7 and was part of NRCan’s approved Departmental Evaluation Plan 2012-13 to 2016-17.

2.2 Evaluation Methodology

As described below, the evaluation of the GGP employed multiple lines of evidence, which included a document and literature review, a file review, 25 interviews, one case study and an intercept survey. At the design stage, the evaluation team developed the methodology report and the data collection instruments/tools. Regular consultations with program management and the reporting relationships within the evaluation team assured the quality of the evaluation report.

Document and Literature Review

The document and literature review consisted of an examination of over 30 documents provided by program management and others identified during the evaluation planning stage. It was conducted early in the evaluation study. Examples of documents and literature reviewed included: NRCan’s Departmental Performance Reports; NRCan’s Reports on Plans and Priorities; NRCan’s Integrated Business Plans; NRCan’s ESS Year-End and Mid-Year Reports; applicable federal legislation; the 2005 Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources: Water in the West: Under Pressure; the 2011 Report of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy: Charting a Course - Sustainable Water Use by Canada’s Natural Resource Sectors; the 2009 Report of the Canadian Council of Academies: The Sustainable Management of Groundwater in Canada; and the 2010 Report of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment: Review and Assessment of Canadian Groundwater Resources, Management, Current Research Mechanisms and Priorities.

File Review

The file review included a detailed look at all eight projects in Phases II and III of the GGP, as well as statements on related individual projects provided by program management. The eight projects reviewed are listed in Appendix B to this report. The project files reviewed provided information on the partners, processes, scope of work undertaken by the Program, and the achievement of outputs and outcomes.

Key Informant Interviews

A total of 25 individuals (11 internal and 14 external) were interviewed from June through December 2012. Interviewees were identified and selected by SED in consultation with the NRCan-GSC to ensure knowledgeable informants in each of the stakeholder groups. Exhibit 4 shows the distribution of interviews conducted across the GGP.

Exhibit 4: GGP - Interview Distribution by Stakeholder Group and Category
Category Stakeholder groups Total
Internal NRCan / ESS management 2
NRCan / ESS geoscientists 9
Sub-total 11
External Federal government partners/users (OGDs) 2
Provincial, territorial and municipal governments 6
US government 1
Academic partners 3
Private sector (water management associations) 2
Sub-total 14
Total 25

Case Study

One case study on the implementation of the National Groundwater Inventory (NGI) was completed for this evaluation. It consisted of a review of NGI documents, one additional interview conducted with the project lead, and statements of evidence claims made in the 25 interviews done for the evaluation related to the NGI.

On-line Survey

The on-line survey was conducted with users of the GIN portal for approximately five weeks from October to early November 2012. It was intended to capture some key characteristics about the user groups, as well as their satisfaction with the use of the GIN data. It was programmed on-line using NRCan’s departmental license from Fluidsurveys.comFootnote 8 and administered by NRCan’s Shared Services Office. An interstitial page – not a pop-up – was set up to invite users to complete the survey in the official language of their choice once they had finished their use of the GIN site. The survey content was pre-tested with a small group of known GIN users to ensure it accurately reflected their understanding of the site and asked questions in a manner that would resonate with them. Also, prior to going “live”, the programming was tested by SED staff to ensure proper functioning. Exhibit 5 below describes the response rate to the survey.

Exhibit 5: GIN Intercept Survey Completion Rate
Total responses 53
Valid responses (at least ¾ complete) 42
Completion rate 79%
Average time taken 13.5 minutes

Only responses from Canada (n=36) and the United States border states (n=3) were analyzed. Responses from three international users (Australia, Brazil and Poland) were excluded from the core analysis but considered in the unintended outcome section of the evaluation.

2.3 Limitations and Mitigation Strategies

The overall evaluation methodology was developed using calibration based on a risk assessment. It provides the basis for addressing all evaluation issues through multiple lines of evidence. However, there are some limitations that should be considered when interpreting the findings. These are outlined below:

  • Convenience sampling and unknown margin of error: According to NRCan-GSC web-metrics, the GIN attracts between 100 and 200 unique visits a month. While the survey respondents are in fact users of the GIN, the actual size and characteristics of the population is not known. Therefore, no margin of error or confidence interval can be calculated for these results. The reader should therefore use caution when interpreting these results as they do give an indication of the views of the target group, but are not statistically generalizable.
  • Interview sample was identified by SED in consultation with NRCan-GSC: Contact information for potential interview respondents was compiled by SED through documents provided by GGP management and staff. It was also identified by SED in consultation with NRCan-GSC. While interviews were ultimately the decision of the evaluation team (subject to willingness and availability of interviewees), this may have resulted in a selection bias.
  • Performance and project reporting issues: The document review is limited to the summary of evidence claims made in GGP performance reports which the evaluation team was able to access for 2009-10 and 2010-11. These reports were at varying stages of completeness. The file review is limited to some extent by the absence of project status reports for the current phase, and the fact that more comprehensive and detailed information was not available in performance reports or did not exist.

The limitations identified above with respect to individual lines of evidence are mitigated through the use of a multiple lines of evidence approach.

3.0 Evaluation Findings

3.1 Relevance

3.1.1 Continued Need for the Program

Evaluation Question

Lines of evidence

Assessment

1. Is there an ongoing need for the Program and its activities? How are target groups served by the Program?

  • Document review
  • Interviews
  • File review
  • Case study
  • Survey

There is a clear ongoing need for the Program.

Summary: There is a clear and ongoing need for the Program and its activities. All lines of evidence point to the need for geoscience data and information to sustainably manage Canada’s groundwater resources. This information is valuable given the importance of groundwater as a source of drinking water for Canadians and the fact that it is increasingly being stressed by urbanization, economic expansion and growing energy demands. Also, there are a number of factors related to resource development (e.g., shale gas) and climate change that are making the need to manage Canada’s groundwater resources sustainably even more important.

Evidence:
  • There is a need for geoscience data to support the sustainable management of Canada’s groundwater resources: Documents from sources that are both internal and external to NRCan all point to an increasing need for governments to have scientific advice and information to better manage Canada’s groundwater resources. This is particularly important because groundwater is the principal source of drinking water for about one third of all Canadians and up to 80 percent of the rural population. Documents raise concerns about the ongoing pressures on these resources from increasing urbanization, economic expansion and growing energy demands. In addition, all types of interviewees agreed that surface water sources are stressed (over allocated) raising the importance of groundwater, particularly in some areas of southern Ontario and Alberta where people are shifting to groundwater for their water needs.
  • There is a need for a national groundwater information system that links individual distributed groundwater databases held by groundwater stakeholders across Canada, including those held by NRCan:The document, literature and file reviews and the case study indicated that there is a need for a national groundwater information system that links key distributed databases held by the provinces, other agencies and NRCan. Several external reports on groundwater also outlined the need to fill the gaps in the data and information needed by water managers to sustainably administer Canada’s water resources. In 2011, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) found that data and information on groundwater supplies necessary for the sustainable management of Canada’s water resources was largely absent and concluded that there is a need for improved data and information on Canada’s groundwater resources because of their link to many of Canada’s surface water sources.Footnote 9
  • There is also a need for a national groundwater inventory: Evidence from the case study indicated that all stakeholders agree that a national groundwater inventory is an important task and that NRCan-GSC should continue with this work. NRTEE recommended that governments continue to prioritize the mapping of Canada’s aquifers to better understand groundwater supplies and the withdrawals from these sources.Footnote 10 In addition, the Fourth Interim Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (November 2005) recommended that “the Government of Canada should take the necessary steps to ensure that all of Canada’s major aquifers are mapped by 2010, and make the data available in the national groundwater portal supported by a summary document assessing the risks to groundwater quality and quantity.” Footnote 11
  • While the list of 30 key Canadian aquifers that form the national groundwater inventory is still necessary for managing program activities, it is time for the list to be reviewed:Most interviewees felt that having a list of key Canadian aquifers is still necessary because it allows NRCan-GSC to plan activities for the GGP. The list of aquifers to be assessed also brings geoscience research scientists together to allow them to develop innovative methods for conducting regional aquifer assessments through geophysics.

    However, almost all stakeholder groups expressed the need to review and reprioritize the list of key Canadian aquifers based on the information needs of the provinces, the progress of provincial groundwater programs, and cross-border aquifer issues among the provinces, Canada and the United States. Similarly, interviewees involved in the development of the national groundwater inventory suggest that the list of key regional aquifers was not intended to be used as a metric for how well the federal government has performed on understanding and assessing regional aquifers. The list reflects discussions from a formal exercise in 2003 emanating from the ad-hoc Groundwater Program Task Group in which NRCan-GSC researchers used information provided by colleagues in the provinces to determine what they thought were the most important regional aquifers in their provinces. This list included aquifers of different geological contexts in the country and a representation of cross boundary aquifers either interprovincially or internationally with the United States.
  • There is a need for geoscience data necessary for sustainably managing cross border aquifers between the provinces and Canada-United States: Documents and many interviewees also referred to the need to have accurate information in order to participate in discussions with the United States on transboundary aquifers.
  • Resource development projects and climate change are emerging factors that will increase the need for the GGP: Many interviewees pointed to the growth in resource development and climate change as emerging factors that further increase the need for the GGP. Interviewees noted that the GGP will have to generate new data necessary to understand the impact of new resource development projects (e.g., shale gas) on Canada’s groundwater resources. Some interviewees suggested that climate change will have impacts on sustainable water yield, again meaning that there is a need for the GGP to provide data (including time-series) on the health of the aquifers.
  • GGP is responsive to the need for geoscience expertise in order to improve the knowledge and understanding of key Canadian aquifers, both quantitatively and qualitatively: The files and documents reviewed, as well as the interviews indicated that the GGP helps provide geoscience data and information that the water managers need to sustainably manage Canada’s groundwater resources. It provides data and products (e.g., maps, water budget and models) through characterizing Canadian key aquifers. It also makes available methods and tools to use the data for augmented decision support. In addition, it gives a classification system through characterizing key aquifer systems across Canada. This ensures that decision-makers have access to sound scientific data that they need for the sustainable use and protection of Canada’s groundwater resources.
  • GIN survey respondents suggest that the GIN is needed and valuable to them: GIN survey respondents showed that it is being used across the country with the heaviest concentration in Ontario (62 percent). The majority of the survey respondents are from (private) industry (51 percent), with the next largest group being Canadian governments (18 percent), academia (13 percent) and at the USGS (8 percent). Most perform scientific or technical roles (57 percent), though some work as water managers (10 percent). Most respondents had been to the site multiple times (67 percent). In fact, nearly all (97 percent) indicated that they would return to use the GIN again and recommend it to colleagues (97 percent). The majority of the survey respondents considered the GIN to be valuable for themselves and their organizations (74 percent).

3.1.2 Alignment with Government Priorities

Evaluation Issues Lines of evidence Assessment
2. Are the Program and its activities consistent with government priorities and NRCan’s strategic objective?
  • Document review
  • File review
  • Interviews
The GGP is fully aligned with NRCan’s strategic objective and federal priorities.

Summary: The GGP is fully aligned with NRCan’s strategic objective on environmental responsibility and federal priorities on environmental sustainability. Findings from the documents and files reviewed and from the interviews confirmed that the GGP is consistent with NRCan’s Strategic Outcome 2: Natural Resource Sectors and Consumers are Environmentally Responsible. According to NRCan’s 2012-13 Report on Plans and Priorities, NRCan-GSC remains committed to working with provincial and territorial partners to develop common standards and approaches needed to support standardization of methodologies required to assess and characterize Canada’s key aquifers (underground water). This ensures that the management of Canada’s groundwater is sustainable and based on science. Federal Budget 2012 does confirm that the protection of water resources remains a priority for the federal government. Since the GGP fully supports the protection of water resources, a case for the link between this priority and the GGP can be made.

Evidence:
  • GGP’s mandate and objectives are consistent with NRCan’s strategic priorities: Evidence from the documents and files reviewed indicated that the GGP was designed to assess and characterize aquifers, and make the data available through the GIN in order to sustainably manage Canada’s groundwater resources. This is consistent with NRCan’s Strategic Outcome 2: Natural Resource Sectors and Consumers are Environmentally Responsible.Footnote 12While few interviewees provided a direct statement about how the GGP was consistent with NRCan’s strategic objective, most spoke more generally about the need for NRCan to be involved in the sustainable management of water as one of Canada’s natural resources which links to that same strategic outcome. According to NRCan’s 2012-13 Report on Plans and Priorities, NRCan-GSC remains committed to working with provincial and territorial partners to develop common standards and approaches needed to support standardization of methodologies required to assess and characterize Canada’s key aquifers. This ensures that the management of Canada’s groundwater is sustainable and based on science. Footnote 13

    Specifically, the documents reviewed indicate that NRCan-GSC collaborates with its partners to complete the aquifer assessments for an additional seven interprovincial Canadian aquifers by March 2014. Footnote 14 Again, this shows an alignment of the GGP to NRCan’s priorities related to the protection of this important resource.
  • GGP is generally aligned with federal government priorities on environmental sustainability and protection of water resources:Federal Budget 2012 talked about enhancing water quality and protecting water resources, which the GGP is aligned with.Footnote 15 In addition, some interviewees referred to the fact that responsible resource development is a priority of the federal government. The GGP was also examined as part of NRCan internal review, which concluded that the priorities and activities of the GGP were relevant for the federal government.

3.1.3 Alignment with Federal Roles and Responsibilities

Evaluation Issues Lines of evidence Assessment
3. Is there a legitimate, appropriate and necessary role for the federal government in this program and its activities? Is NRCan’s role appropriate in the context of the role of others?
  • Document review
  • File review
  • Interviews
  • Case study
Yes, there is a legitimate, appropriate and necessary role for NRCan and the federal government.

Summary: While responsibility for managing Canada’s groundwater resources is shared across provinces and territories, and several federal departments, there is a legitimate role for NRCan-GSC in this programunder several pieces of legislation. These include the federal Resources and Technical Surveys Act (1985, section 3-c), and the Canada Water Act (1985, section 5). Also, while provinces and territories have direct responsibility for managing groundwater, it is appropriate for NRCan-GSC to operate this program because it has the unique expertise required to conduct research necessary to understand the groundwater issues in Canada. In addition, NRCan-GSC has the jurisdictional authority for conducting assessments of aquifers crossing provincial and international boundaries (i.e., United States). NRCan-GSC supports other federal departments (e.g., EC, AAFC) and provincial, municipal and conservation authorities that have direct mandates for managing water resources in their provinces, as well as with universities carrying out web protocol and tool development under a GeoConnections-funded partnership project. While NRCan appropriately assesses and characterizes aquifer systems through the GGP, it has been suggested that the level of coordination between EC and NRCan be reinforced.

Evidence:
  • Responsibility for managing Canada’s groundwater resources is shared across provinces and territories and several federal departments: Documents reviewed indicated that provincial and territorial governments play a major role in groundwater management, given their responsibility for regulating the industry and setting municipal effluent guidelines and standards. While the responsibility for regulating some industries is shared between federal and provincial governments, direct responsibility for managing groundwater resides with the provinces, except in aquifers that are known to cross provincial and international boundaries.

    According to CCME’s 2010 Review and Assessment of Canadian Groundwater Resources: Management, Current Research Mechanisms and Priorities, NRCan is responsible for implementing federal commitments to understand the physical components of groundwater systems (i.e., groundwater quantity and characterization), together with the assessment of ambient groundwater quality.

    EC is the lead federal department on water (including groundwater) and it is responsible for preserving and enhancing the quality of the natural environment, which includes water.Footnote 16 Evidence from the documents reviewed indicated that the GGP is designed to establish a defensible and useful scientific data that can be used by provinces or local authorities responsible for managing groundwater resources on a regular basis.
  • NRCan has exclusive jurisdiction for managing transboundary aquifers on behalf of Canada: Canada shares the management of transboundary waters with the United States through the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty. This treaty governs the sharing of waters of international streams between Canada and the United States and establishes an International Joint Commission to monitor compliance and resolve disputes.Footnote 17 Documents show that NRCan-GSC and USGS only cooperate on scientific matters related to transborder aquifers between Canada and the United States. With regard to cross-border aquifers, all stakeholder groups agreed that NRCan – as a federal department – has the jurisdictional authority for conducting assessments and characterization of aquifers crossing provincial and international boundaries (i.e., United States).
  • NRCan has a legal obligation, under several pieces of legislations, to provide groundwater geoscience expertise to sustainably manage Canada’s groundwater resources: Section 3-c of the federal Resources and Technical Surveys Act (1985) indicates that“the Minister [of NRCan] shall (c) make a full and scientific examination and survey of the geological structure and mineralogy of Canada”, which includes aquifers. Also, NRCan-GSC supports EC’s Minister in the fulfillment of the Canada Water Act [1985 Section 5] mandate, which includes theestablishment and maintenance of an inventory of waters of significant national interest, as well as the collection, processing, and provision of data on the quality, quantity, distribution and use of those waters.Footnote 19 NRCan-GSC provides the geoscience expertise (e.g., hydrogeology and geology) needed for sustainably managing Canada’s groundwater resources.
  • NRCan-GSC is the only organization that has the technical expertise and national mandate required to understand groundwater in Canada including cross-border aquifers:Almost all stakeholders agreed that it is appropriate for NRCan-GSC to operate this program because it has the specialized expertise required to conduct the research necessary to understand groundwater issues in Canada. Interviewees noted that NRCan-GSC has the capacity to fill in the information gaps in an unbiased way because it does not have a stake in the use of the information. Also, NRCan-GSC produces high quality geological science for the benefit of Canadians. No other organizations at the federal or provincial level and none of Canada’s leading universities possess the unique skills, capacity and impartiality of NRCan-GSC. Evidence from the case study suggests that prior to the commencement of the NGI, there was no coordinated effort at assessing key Canadian aquifers, and that NRCan-GSC is the only entity with the expertise and mandate to coordinate this.
  • NRCan-GSC supports other federal departments that have shared mandates in surface water; however, concerns have been raised over how water well quality and groundwater aquifer information are coordinated:Although NRCan-GSC does not have responsibilities for water quality, it supports other federal departments that have mandates for surface water quality (i.e., EC, and AAFC). NRCan-GSC research on groundwater systems is important for surface water as the two are linked through the water cycle. However, almost all types of interviewees noted that it has been a challenge to link the work done on water quality monitoring and the aquifer assessments and characterization because of the separation of the mandates between NRCan and EC. NRCan appropriately assesses and characterizes key aquifer systems in Canada through the GGP; however, it has been suggested that the level of coordination between EC and NRCan could be improved. For example, water quality is not currently part of the GIN because EC monitoring data are not linked to the GIN.
  • NRCan-GSC role generally complements the provinces in their efforts with the national groundwater inventory; however, since many provinces do not have the capacity to assume a role in line with their direct responsibility for managing groundwater, provinces expect NRCan-GSC to play a knowledge transfer role:All types of interviewees stated that provincial organizations generally do not have the internal capacity to do groundwater research at the level it is done by NRCan-GSC. In fact, some noted that NRCan-GSC plays a leadership role, promoting the development of groundwater programs in Canada, and coordinates provincial efforts through collaboration with groundwater stakeholders. This is a key and complementary role – one that supports the provinces that have management responsibilities for water issues. Interviewees at NRCan-GSC indicated that the Program provides data needed to help the provinces and municipalities make decisions about groundwater resources, develops protocols, methods and classifications and shares its best practices for doing sound groundwater geoscience with the provinces, by showing them how to use the models developed. Some provincial interviewees indicated that, while the work done by NRCan-GSC through the GGP has been of high quality, the complexity of the models left behind (and the expense of the software used) have made it difficult to use these tools without NRCan-GSC help. This is due in part to the use of a variety of techniques and evolving technologies in the area of mapping and database management software over the life of the Program.

3.2 Performance (effectiveness, efficiency and economy)

3.2.1 Achievement of Expected Outcomes

Sub-section 3.2.1 assesses the program effectiveness, consisting of both the intended and unintended outcomes achieved, and the factors that influenced the achievement of outcomes. These match up to evaluation questions 4, 5 and 6.

It should be noted that an overall summary of the findings relating to question 4 “to what extent have intended outcomes been achieved as a result of the GGP” is presented first. Additional details on each of the GGP’s outcomes then follow as sub-evaluation questions 4a to 4g.

Evaluation Question Lines of evidence Assessment
4. To what extent have intended outcomes been achieved as a result of the GGP?
  • Document review
  • File review
  • Interviews
  • Case study
  • Survey
Overall, significant progress has been made.

Summary: Overall, the GGP has made significant progress on achieving its intended outcomes that relate to its two main activities – aquifer assessments and the GIN.

With respect to aquifer assessments, the GGP has completed assessments of 15 aquifers and is on track to completing 19 of the 30 aquifers by the end of 2013-14. The GGP aquifer assessment work is of very high quality, which has contributed to robust groundwater scientific data being used to assess impacts of economic, social and climatic stressors on groundwater resources. Documents, files and interviewees described examples of groundwater models developed by NRCan-GSC and used by local decision-makers, other federal departments and universities. The data have been used to influence policy and regulatory issues (e.g. oil sands, water protection), model climate change impacts, improve groundwater management and protection, and make land use decisions in the context of increased urbanization.

However, provincial partners felt that there is a need for a mechanism to transfer the knowledge from these studies to decision-makers. As well, there is a lack of scientific knowledge concerning new emerging issues that were not on the horizon when the GGP started (e.g., limited knowledge of the impact of shale gas development on groundwater resources). Stakeholders within NRCan-GSC and provinces indicated that the list of 30 aquifers needs to be updated in light of current priorities such as new regulatory regimes in provinces, interest in resource development (e.g. shale gas, oil sands) and the changing information needs of provinces.

There has been good progress made on the use of common standards and approaches to aquifer assessments by provincial agencies through projects with the GGP. A key benefit of the Program is the innovative hydrogeology aquifer assessments and characterization approaches developed by NRCan-GSC. These approaches were highly valued by partners, particularly those with limited hydrogeological expertise. However, the Program’s emphasis on research and creating innovative approaches meant that no minimum level of common mandatory data was collected for each aquifer assessed. Over the time span of the three phases of the Program, the use of a variety of techniques and evolving technologies in the area of mapping and database management software packages has resulted in inconsistent approaches to data collection. In turn, this had a negative effect on the data and information accessible through the GIN which is meant to capture consistent data.

In terms of the GIN, there has been good progress on the common standards which NRCan-GSC developed in collaboration with provinces. The common standards in the GIN have been adopted by federal and provincial governments, and have contributed to interoperability between federal, provincial and international organizations. The GIN is fully operational and seen as an important technical achievement. The Ground Water Mark-up Language standard allows the provinces to feed their water monitoring data, often based on decades old systems, into the GIN without having to change how their systems work. In addition, the GIN has successfully concluded a cross-border data interoperability experiment with USGS, Ontario, and Alberta, demonstrating the viability of the GIN framework to host a multi-jurisdictional network for monitoring data, such as water levels, rates and quality.

The GIN is also being used by partners and stakeholders for sustainable groundwater resource management. The majority of survey respondents typically visited the GIN to access data to inform sustainable management of groundwater resources in their region. The evaluation found several instances in which the GIN is being used for sustainable groundwater management in Ontario, Alberta, Québec, with EC, and by the USGS. While the GIN is being used and helps increase knowledge, its use is not yet widespread and varies by province. Over half of the survey respondents were from Ontario. Similarly, half of survey respondents were from private industry, with only 18 percent from Canadian government organizations. Some interviewees in the provinces indicated that limited awareness among partners and uncertainty about the sustainability of the GIN effort have made it difficult for stakeholders to promote the project. In addition, while the GIN is seen as having high potential, interviewees indicated that it needs to incorporate data beyond water well records, as it was intended to do, to inform discussions by resource managers on groundwater sustainability.

The evaluation found that the Program has made good progress on informing decision-makers on groundwater management issues through the provision of expert advice and data. Nearly all interviewees agree thatNRCan-GGP experts are very active in helping provinces and local authorities make decisions on groundwater issues through data centralization and standardization and providing technical tools and aquifer assessment products. The GIN has also been used to inform decision-makers and is seen as an important step towards a national water strategy. While no evidence was found of national strategies being developed, this is outside of the Program’s control and interviewees questioned whether it is a realistic expectation since no organization in Canada has such a mandate.

When assessing whether Canadians are able to manage groundwater resources sustainably, there are examples of data being used to enhance the sustainable management of groundwater resources as a result of data from NRCan-GSC studies. These include the Oak Ridges Moraine Protection Act in Ontario, and legislation in Prince-Edward-Island. In addition, over half (56 percent) of the survey respondents indicated that they had used the GIN data to develop water management strategies.

The GGP does generate scientific data needed for enhancing knowledge and understanding of transboundary aquifers. However, continued progress is needed for Canada to have a comprehensive scientific base of aquifer knowledge when resolving transboundary issues due in part to the absence of a systematic standard in the assessments of aquifers.

Sub-Evaluation Question Lines of evidence Assessment
4(a). To what extent has the Program contributed to robust scientific data being used to assess impacts of economic, social and climatic stressors on groundwater resources?
  • Document review
  • File review
  • Interviews
  • Case study
  • Survey
Good progress has been made.

Summary: The GGP has made good progress on this outcome. The Program has completed assessments of 15 aquifers and is on track to completing 19 of the 30 aquifers by the end of 2013-14, as planned. Based on this pace, NRCan-GSC expects the inventory of 30 aquifers to be complete by 2025. The aquifer assessment work is of very high quality, which has contributed to robust groundwater scientific data being used to assess impacts of economic, social and climatic stressors on groundwater resources. Documents and files reviewed, and interviewees described examples of groundwater models developed by NRCan-GSC and used by local decision-makers, other federal departments and universities. The data have been used to influence policy and regulatory issues (e.g. oil sands, water protection), model climate change impacts, improve groundwater management and protection, and make land use decisions in the context of increased urbanization.

However, the case study and interviews indicate that the aquifer assessments, while of high quality, have left much to revisit in many cases. In addition, many provincial partners felt that while NRCan-GSC studies are of high quality, there is a need for mechanisms and approaches for transferring the knowledge from these studies to decision-makers. Furthermore, the actual list of aquifers is a concern to many stakeholders within and external to NRCan-GSC. They felt that it needed to be updated to respond to known or emerging data needs and the status of current data (e.g., new information on non-assessed aquifers) which has evolved considerably since 2002.

Evidence:
  • The GGP has made good progress towards assessing and characterizing key Canadian aquifers and is on track to completing all 30:Documents and files reviewed, as well as the case study indicate that the assessments of the 19 of 30 aquifers have been progressing well and the GGP is on track to completing all 19 by the end of 2013-14, as planned. Appendix C to this report shows the status of the current list of 30 aquifers and was confirmed by the GGP management in February 2013.
  • The GGP’s assessment of aquifers has produced robust groundwater scientific data:A review of project documentation and interviews with those involved in the aquifer assessments demonstrated that a number of deliverables have been produced for these aquifers. For example, the Richelieu-Yamaska aquifer assessment included a database of hydrogeological, geological and chemical data; a conceptual model; a groundwater flow 3-D model; and surficial geology maps at the 1:50,000 scale. The Saint-Maurice project produced 3D hydrostratigraphic models; a conceptual model of the groundwater flow system; and a standardized groundwater database. Nearly all interviewees felt that the GGP aquifer assessment work was of very high quality. They pointed to models that were developed, maps produced and questions that were specifically answered by the research.
  • There are many specific examples where NRCan-GSC applications have been used to assess impacts from stressors: Several partners (federal and provincial) pointed to the fact that NRCan-GSC researchers in this program are routinely sought out by provinces for their expertise on groundwater when dealing with policy and regulatory issues (e.g., oil sands, water protection policies). Through partnerships developed, NRCan-GSC has also responded to requests from universities for work on climate change issues (e.g., University of Waterloo to use data in national-scale modeling of climate impacts and groundwater). In addition, the Program reported that pathways vulnerability modeling continued to impact water policy strategies on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

    Many interviewees also cited examples of local decision-makers using the work that has been done by NRCan-GSC researchers. Work done on nitrates in groundwater in PEI related to climate change issues have been used to improve groundwater management and protection in the province. Local decision-makers in Alberta benefitted from increased knowledge on regional vulnerability of the Milk River regional aquifer (Alberta). The GGP models were used in Nova Scotia to do follow-up studies and make decisions on water management. As well, the Oak Ridges Moraine assessment was applied to planning land use in the Greater Toronto Area as urbanization intensifies. Files reviewed indicate that the Central Okanagan District had announced that they would use the maps and models of the Okanagan Basin aquifer system project to decide how much water can be pumped without depleting the aquifer(s). Also, EC found helpful the contribution of hydrogeology and the application of geological science to improve understanding of groundwater in Canada in the case of the assessment of the complex Paskapoo aquifer system. In addition, some respondents to the survey access the GIN to assess impacts. In total, 36 percent of survey respondents indicated that they typically visited the GIN to access data to help assess impacts of economic, social or climate stressors on groundwater.
  • Aquifer assessments, while of high quality, have left much to revisit in many cases: Both internal and external interviewees generally agreed that completing these aquifers will not mean that NRCan-GSC has fully studied them, nor will it mean that all of the data needs have been answered. For example, the Okanagan Basin Aquifer was completed in the first wave of assessments between 2006 and 2009. However, the original work done did not include the recharge rates, which is now an important need for BC to understand because of incoming licensing requirements for groundwater. Similarly, Ontario Conservation Authority needs to have a good understanding of aquifer vulnerability to understand the relationship to drinking water vulnerability to fulfill its provincial mandate. This would include assessments of the Great Lakes aquifers, which have so far not been completed.
  • Many provincial partners felt that while NRCan-GSC studies are of high quality, there is a need for mechanisms and approaches for transferring the knowledge from these studies to decision-makers:While the GGP projects have developed models and data needed by decision-makers to assess impacts on groundwater, a number of interviewees in the provinces felt that thereis a lack of mechanisms and approaches for decision-makers to use the geoscience data to assess the impact on groundwater resources. To explain this, interviewees noted the difficulty in translating findings from scientific papers and Open File reports to policy makers and water managers at local levels. They also mentioned that the complexity of NRCan-GSC models made them difficult for others with less technical knowledge to adopt and use them.
  • The actual contents of the list of aquifers are a concern to many within and external to NRCan-GSC: Significant stakeholders within NRCan-GSC and the provinces have expressed concerns that the list of 30 aquifers is becoming too much of a “check the box” exercise. Interviewees within NRCan-GSC and the provinces all suggested that the current list of aquifers should be revisited, including those who were instrumental in its development. Stakeholders expressed a clear need to revisit and reprioritize the list of 30 aquifers for pursuing the NGI. They articulated a need for a flexible list that can respond to known or emerging data needs and the status of current data (e.g., new information on non-assessed aquifers) which has evolved considerably since 2002.
  • According to NRCan-GSC, the Program will complete the inventory of 30 key regional aquifers by 2025:As noted earlier, the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (November 2005) recommended that “the Government of Canada should take the necessary steps to ensure that all of Canada’s major aquifers are mapped by 2010.” Footnote 20 According to internal documents, with the available program resources NRCan-GSC expected to complete the aquifer inventory by 2030. However, at the beginning of Phase III in 2009-10, ESS increased the Program budget to accelerate the mapping of the key aquifers in collaboration with provincial and regional agencies. The current time estimate for completing these assessments is 2025, if internal resources are maintained at the current level. When Phase III ends in 2013-14, ESS will have completed 19 of 30 aquifers. Work plans for completing the remaining 11 aquifers are still in development and will be further advanced during the scoping of the next phase of the Program which begins in 2014-15.
Sub-Evaluation Question Lines of evidence Assessment
4(b). To what extent has the Program contributed to provincial agencies using common standards and approaches to generate information needed for groundwater management?
  • Document review
  • Interviews
  • Case study
  • Survey
Overall, good progress has been made.

Summary: Overall, good progress has been made. Several provinces are now using common standards and approaches developed through the GGP aquifer assessment projects. In addition, some of these approaches are being used by international agencies and Canadian university partners.

A key benefit of the Program is the innovative hydrogeology aquifer assessment and characterization approaches developed by NRCan-GSC. These approaches were highly-valued by partners, particularly those with limited hydrogeological expertise. However, the Program’s emphasis on the research aspects of these innovative approaches resulted in no minimum level of common mandatory data being collected for each aquifer assessed. The use of a wide variety of techniques and the evolution of data management tools and software meant that inconsistent data was collected from each aquifer and that there is a lack of interoperability between data contained in the completed assessments. The NGI is meant to feed into the GIN. In order for the GIN to realize its full potential, there needs to be an agreement on the data which should be consistently collected and uploaded. There is also some evidence that standardization of approaches and techniques has been a challenge because of the disparate capabilities (budgets, internal knowledge, and capacity of consultants) of the provincial surveys.

Evidence:
  • Progress has been made on the use of common standards and approaches by provincial agencies:According to interviews with provincial and academic stakeholders, and NRCan documents, several provinces are now using common standards and approaches developed through the aquifer assessment projects with the GGP. Interviewees at NRCan-GSC and the provinces, and documents and files showed that the GIN demonstrated the use of common data standards between federal and provincial levels for water well databases from seven provinces and one territory (i.e., Yukon). Also, NRCan-GSC’s analysis approach to regional groundwater studies has been applied in other areas of provinces having adopted and used some of the approaches, tools and techniques developed by NRCan-GSC in the development or implementation of their groundwater programs or water management initiatives.
  • The GIN groundwater information standards are also being used by international organizations and Canadian university partners:NRCan documents pointed to international data standards for water observation being developed by the World Meteorological Organization and the Open Geospatial Consortium that were influenced by GIN standards and technologies. Files reviewed indicated that the Richelieu aquifer, fieldwork forms (templates), geological legends, as well as the database structure that NRCan-GSC developed were adopted by all other regional hydrogeological projects (Université du Québec members) charged with assessing the aquifers along the St-Lawrence corridor. Université du Québec staff also expressed interest in having Seismic Reflection surveys completed by NRCan-GSC’s shallow seismic group in their region.
  • The GGP developed innovative hydrogeology approaches – a key benefit of having the list of 30 aquifers; however, the use of a wide variety of techniques meant inconsistent approaches to data collection:Interviews with federal and provincial partners as well as NRCan-GSC staff indicated that the techniques used by the Program were newly developed during these assessments. As a result, many believe that leaving behind these tools after having completed aquifer assessments in all provinces has led to a certain level of standardization of approaches to aquifer assessments. NRCan-GSC researchers cited several examples of tools and techniques left behind including hydrostratigraphy, ground-hole data applications, and base flow study models.

    The development of these innovative approaches appears to be a key benefit of the list of 30 aquifers as it allows NRCan-GSC to develop the methods for doing regional aquifer assessments and characterization through geophysics. Both internal and external participants in the aquifer assessments indicated that this is a natural area of strength for the NRCan-GSC and a significant impact of its work. This work helped understand and demonstrate how aquifers work. It also helped develop the regional geology methods necessary for doing such assessments. This was highly-valued among NRCan-GSC’s partners in regions where they had completed aquifer assessments, particularly regions with limited or absent hydrogeological expertise (e.g., Ontario, British Columbia, and New Brunswick).
  • Over the past 12 years, the evolution of a wide variety of techniques, tools/software have led to inconsistent approaches to data collection and lack of interoperability between aquifer assessment data:Consistency of aquifer assessments has been hard to achieve because researchers do their work from different perspectives, core competencies and research interests, as well as using newer techniques and software as they become available. The approach emphasizes the research aspect of the work (development of new approaches), over the collection of a minimum level of common mandatory data from each aquifer assessed. Since each science team does their assessment differently – aquifers are assessed with sometimes very different lenses and therefore very different types of data are captured. The national groundwater inventory is meant to feed the GIN, which currently only has provincial water well data, but has so far not been able to do that.

    The main reason is the lack of standardization in approaches to data collection and the focus of what is studied and how it is studied by various research teams. In order for the GIN to realize its full potential, there needs to be an agreement on the data which should be consistently collected and uploaded.
  • Interviewees noted that the standardization of approaches and techniques has been a challenge because of the disparate capabilities of the provincial surveys: Almost all types of interviewees noted that not all provinces are able to do their own data collection. As a result, the quality of data and approaches used will vary based on budgets, internal knowledge, and the capacity of consultants.
Sub-Evaluation Question Lines of evidence Assessment
4(c). To what extent has the existence of common standards contributed to the use and interoperability of the GIN between federal and provincial levels?
  • Document review
  • File review
  • Interviews
Good progress has been made.

Summary: Good progress has been made on common standards that NRCan-GSC developed in collaboration with provinces to facilitate their use and interoperability through the GIN. The common standards in the GIN have been adopted by federal and provincial governments, and have contributed to interoperability between federal, provincial, and United States governments. Evidence from the documents and files reviewed, and interviews shows that common standards were widely adopted nationally by the provinces/territories, CCME, as well as internationally by USGS, Australia and European Union.

Evidence:
  • The GGP has developed common standards in collaboration with the provinces and the United States to facilitate their use and interoperability through the GIN: Interviewees within NRCan-GSC and the provinces indicated that GGP collaborates with the provinces on the GIN and has developed common data techniques and standards that have been employed by the provinces to facilitate the GIN online connectivity to provincial water well records. According to interviews with program management, the idea of creating the GIN was to fill national gaps in information by using common terminology by all stakeholders in the regions and provinces. Interviews with the provinces and NRCan-GSC showed that one of the biggest impacts of the GIN is that it has encouraged the use of common standards by the provinces, and other stakeholders.

    Interviewees within the provinces, academia, water management associations, and international stakeholders provided several examples of what has been standardized through GGP. These included: the technology (i.e., the sensor observations service), the script option for the GIN, and common standards on nomenclature (i.e., the rock names) which have facilitated use and interoperability of the GIN between federal and provincial governments. Furthermore, in transboundary aquifers, the GGP developed common standards which facilitate understanding between Alberta and Montana in the Milk River transboundary aquifer assessment.
  • The GIN common standards are being adopted nationally and internationally:Documents internal to NRCan suggest that common groundwater information standards are being adopted across the federal government and in several provincial information systems and being used between federal and provincial governments allowing for interoperability of the GIN. For example, CCME adapted a framework for groundwater resources sustainability inspired by the GGP standards and approach. CCME’s 2011-12 Work Plan confirms that it developed a framework for sustainable groundwater management in support of its outcomes: “Canadians have information on the quality and quantity of water across the country”. Footnote 21 Also, GGP management reported instances where the GIN standards are being used by the USGS and are being considered by Australia and the European Union.
  • The GIN is fully operational and seen as an important technical achievement: Interviewees in the provinces and at NRCan-GSC agreed that the creation of the Ground Water Mark-up Language (GWML) standard that facilitates the GIN has been a significant achievement. They stated that GWML script has made it easy for the provinces to feed their water monitoring data, often based on decades old systems, into the GIN without having to change how their legacy systems work. They widely saw it as leading edge technology in distributed database management.
  • Partners increased the GIN use and interoperability across Canadian, provincial and United States groundwater information systems: Documents and files reviewed indicated that new partners and the integration of their water well databases achieved interoperability between federal and provincial levels. For example, national partners (i.e., Saskatchewan and Yukon) integrated their water well databases, and demonstrated increased network interoperability between federal and provincial. Similarly, the interoperability of groundwater observation data systems was expanded between the GIN and USGS where the GIN has successfully concluded a cross-border data interoperability experiment with USGS, Ontario, and Alberta, demonstrating the viability of the GIN to host a multi-jurisdictional network for monitoring data, such as water levels, rates and quality. NRCan documents suggested that the results from the cross-border experiment caused changes in several international standards for geospatial data. Therefore, data from several sources were updated – most notably water wells from Alberta and key aquifer information from NRCan – which now represents the most complete information available.
Sub-Evaluation Question Lines of evidence Assessment
4(d). To what extent has the GIN been used by partners and stakeholders for sustainable groundwater resource management?
  • Document review
  • File review
  • Interviews
  • Survey
Good progress has been made.

Summary: There has been good progress towards the GIN being used for sustainable groundwater resource management. Results of the survey indicate that those who use the GIN believe it has increased their knowledge. The majority of survey respondents typically visit the GIN to access data to inform sustainable management of groundwater resources in their region. In addition, findings from interviews, documents and files reviewed and the survey, showed several instances in which the GIN is being used by provincial partners, and United States stakeholders for sustainable groundwater resource management (Ontario, Alberta, Québec, EC, and internationally).

While the GIN is being used, its use is not yet widespread and varies by province. Over half of the survey respondents were from Ontario. Similarly, half of survey respondents were from private industry, with only 18 percent from Canadian government. One reason for the lack of widespread use of the GIN was identified in the interviews. Some interviewees in the provinces indicated that limited awareness among partners and uncertainty about the sustainability of the GIN effort have made it difficult for them (i.e., provinces and territories) to promote the project. In addition, while the GIN is seen as having high potential, interviewees indicated that it needs to incorporate data beyond water well records, as it was intended to do, to inform discussions by resource managers on groundwater sustainability.

Evidence:
  • The GIN is being used for sustainable groundwater management: A strong majority (91 percent) of survey respondents believes that the GIN has improved their clients’ knowledge of groundwater systems. In addition, when asked why they typically visit the GIN, the top reason given by survey respondents was to access data to inform the sustainable management of groundwater resources in their region (54 percent). Also, many survey respondents (66 percent) indicated that the GIN has helped them/their organization to sustainably manage groundwater resources.

    Findings from interviews, documents, files, and the survey showed several instances in which the GIN is being used by provincial partners, and United States stakeholders for sustainable groundwater resource management. At the provincial level, specific uses of the GIN were reported in Ontario, Alberta and in Québec. NRCan documents and interviewees indicated that the GIN data has been used by the Ontario Conservation Authority to respond to municipalities making water management decisions, and by the Ontario Oil Gas and Salt Library that was contracted by an industry association to build a tool that works on top of the GIN to get the data that they need for their work. Alberta Environment also has just given the GIN data pipeline access to each of their regional offices so that their regional geologists can use GIN tools to do their jobs as resource managers. In Québec, the GIN has contributed to their Programme d'acquisition de connaissances sur les eaux souterraines du Québec (PACES). As well, several interviewees pointed out that the consultants are using the GIN portal for their work.

    At the federal level, documents and files indicated that EC’s Water Availability Indicators initiative had designed one of their indicators from the data and information produced in the GGP. At the international level, the GIN technology and Groundwater Markup Language standards were also being re-used in a pilot by USGS and several state agencies in the United States to integrate their groundwater information.
  • The GIN is being used, but its use is not yet widespread:Interviewees involved in the development of the GIN indicated that its use, so far, has varied widely by and within provinces. This is corroborated by the survey which showed that users of the GIN were located primarily in Ontario (62 percent), followed by western Canada (15 percent), Québec (8 percent), eastern Canada (8 percent) and American states sharing a border with Canada (8 percent). The survey also showed that the majority of users are from private industry (51 percent), followed by Canadian governments (18 percent), academia (13 percent) and the USGS (8 percent). Users tended to fill scientific or technical roles and only 10 percent identified themselves as water managers.
  • Limited awareness among partners and uncertainty about the sustainability of the GIN effort have made it difficult for stakeholders to promote the project, perhaps contributing to its lack of widespread use: Awareness of the GIN appears fairly low. By far, the most common method through which users discovered the GIN were via word of mouth from colleagues (56 percent), followed by searching the Internet (23 percent). Concerns were raised among some interviewees that the GIN has not been well marketed to the provinces and that they have not generally adopted it as their web information portal because of this. Some provincial interviewees indicated that the GIN is less known among their stakeholders in the municipalities because they have been reticent to promote it to their colleagues because of uncertainty that it will remain viable if funding for the project is reduced over the long term. As well, some provinces have a preference for using their internal systems because of their interoperability with other provincial departments in their jurisdictions. They also stated that exposing the environmental consulting industry to this tool could be quite useful. NRCan-GSC interviewees close to the project did indicate that they intend to market the GIN to the provinces in the future and that it is too early to assess how widely the GIN is being used.
  • The GIN is seen as having high potential, but it needs to incorporate data beyond well records, as it was intended to do, to inform discussions by resource managers on groundwater sustainability: The GIN is seen by both internal and external stakeholders interviewed as having high potential to be used for informing groundwater management decisions. That said, most indicated that there was still work to be done. Some provincial interviewees noted that their own provincial databases are well known and used by the municipalities for water well data, so they would only promote using the GIN if it were to go beyond water well data, as it was intended to do. Similarly, the GGP staff indicated that the GIN has not advanced beyond capturing well log data at this time and that the GGP will need a mechanism for capturing common mandatory data from its aquifer assessment and characterization inventory. Some noted that data on water quality and recharge rates is particularly important for decision-makers and is not contained in well logs.
Sub-Evaluation Question Lines of evidence Assessment
4(e). To what extent has the Program informed decision-makers and been used for the development of national water strategies?
  • Document review
  • File review
  • Interviews
  • Survey
Good progress has been made.

Summary: The Program has made good progress on informing decision-makers on groundwater management issues through the provision of expert advice and data. Nearly all interviewees agree thatNRCan-GGP experts are very active in helping provinces and local authorities make decisions on groundwater issues through data centralization and standardization and providing technical tools and aquifer assessment products. The GIN has also been used to inform decision-makers and is seen as an important step towards a national water strategy.

No evidence was found on national strategies being developed, though this is outside of the Program’s control. There is some question as to whether it is a realistic expectation of the Program since no organization in Canada has such a mandate.

Evidence:
  • GGP experts are active in helping to inform decision-makers on groundwater issues in their jurisdictions: Nearly all interviewees agree thatNRCan-GGP experts are very active in helping provinces and local authorities make decisions on groundwater issues through data centralization and standardization and providing technical tools and aquifer assessment products.
  • The GIN is used to inform decision-makers:Interviewees noted that those who use the GIN tend to inform local and provincial decision-makers with that data. Several characterized the GIN’s role as a data management tool that facilitates access for users at a working level that can inform discussions. In addition, a strong majority of survey respondents (84 percent) indicated that the GIN has allowed them and their organization to make decisions about groundwater or inform those who do.
  • The GIN is seen as an important step for national water strategies by some Canadian bodies:Documents internal to NRCan reported that the GIN was identified and recognized as integral to national groundwater strategies by the Canadian Council of Academies report. Also, the GIN principles are recommended for endorsement by CCME. Interviewees noted that those who use the GIN tend to inform local and provincial decision-makers with that data. The availability of this national portal is widely seen as having great potential to inform the development of a national water strategy. However, most pointed out that the Constitution gives the responsibility forwater management to the provinces, and that outside of CCME discussions, no other organization is in a position to develop a national strategy. While some questioned the need for such a national strategy, others pointed out that the interprovincial and international aspects of transborder aquifers crossing the provinces, as well as the Great Lakes make a case for the need for a national strategy.
Sub-Evaluation Question Lines of evidence Assessment
4(f). To what extent has the Program contributed to Canadians being able to manage groundwater resources sustainably?
  • Document review
  • Interviews
  • Case study
  • Survey
Good progress has been made.

Summary: Good progress has been made. There are examples of NRCan-GSC supporting the provinces in their role as water managers. GGP data and expertise resulting from NRCan-GSC studies have been used to enhance the sustainable management of groundwater resources through informing legislation, and models that will be used for water licensing in specific regions. As well, over half (56 percent) of survey respondents indicated that they had used GIN data to develop local water management strategies.

While there has been good progress, there are challenges in terms of knowledge transfer and the need for further data collection. As well, there is a lack of scientific knowledge concerning new emerging issues that were not on the horizon when the GGP started (e.g., limited knowledge of the impact of shale gas development on groundwater resources).

Evidence:
  • The Program has contributed to Canadians being able to manage groundwater resources sustainably: Interviewees noted several examples in which new legislation intended to ensure sustainable management of groundwater has been enacted as a result of data from NRCan-GSC studies (e.g., Oak Ridges Moraine Protection Act in Ontario, and legislation in Prince-Edward-Island). Others indicated that NRCan-GSC aquifer studies have provided data and models that will eventually be used for water licensing in specific regions.

    In addition, the GIN data is being used by some to inform local water management strategies.While 39 percent of survey respondents said that they typically access the GIN to access data for the purpose of developing groundwater strategies,just over half (56 percent) indicated that they had used the GIN data to develop local water management strategies.
  • General agreement that while there has been good progress, there are challenges in terms of knowledge transfer to the decision-makers and the need for further data collection: Most interviewees indicated that while progress has been good, there is still much to accomplish. Some interviewees within academia and in the provinces indicated that there have been issues with transferring data and aquifer knowledge to the local authorities in provinces, noting that once a project was completed, that there were no effective mechanisms or tools to translate the data into information that could be used by water managers.

    Other interviewees indicated that only a fraction of Canada’s aquifers have been assessed and characterized, and that progress will require a sustained effort (provinces and NRCan-GSC) over an extended period of time to achieve baseline data needed for all aquifers. Several interviewees from NRCan-GSC and academia saw this long-term outcome as being a moving target due to the lack of scientific knowledge of new emerging issues that were not on the horizon when the GGP started. For example, they cited the lack of knowledge with respect to the impact of shale gas development on groundwater resources.
Sub-Evaluation Question Lines of evidence Assessment
4(g). To what extent has the Program contributed to Canada having a comprehensive defensible scientific base of aquifer knowledge when resolving transboundary water issues?
  • Document review
  • Interviews
  • Case study
  • Survey
Moderate progress has been made.

Summary: Moderate progress has been made regarding acquiring scientific baseline data on aquifer knowledge for the transboundary aquifers identified so far between Canada and the United States. Through intergovernmental collaborations with provinces and the United States, the GGP has generated scientific data needed for enhancing knowledge and understanding of transboundary aquifers. This data is available to inform discussions on transboundary water issues between provinces and between Canada and the United States. However, continued progress is needed for Canada to have a comprehensive scientific base for resolving transboundary issues due in part to the absence of a systematic standard in the assessments of aquifers.

Evidence:
  • The GGP generated scientific data needed for enhancing knowledge and understanding of transboundary which can be used to assist in resolving transboundary water issues: Over three quarters (79 percent) of survey respondents agree that the GIN provides a comprehensive and defensible scientific base of groundwater knowledge. Documents reviewed and almost all types of interviewees indicated that Canada is progressing towards a comprehensive defensible scientific base of aquifer knowledge when resolving transboundary water issues between the provinces and the United States. NRCan documents pointed to intergovernmental collaborations with provinces, such as British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Québec that have improved the exchanges of groundwater data and management information with NRCan-GSC. This also includes an airborne Electro Magnetic (EM) survey of the Spiritwood transboundary aquifer that has opened the door to possible collaboration with the United States, and a companion survey to be undertaken in North Dakota.

    In addition, almost all types of interviewees agreed that NRCan-GSC makes significant contributions to this area and saw the GIN as a good tool because of the interoperability between provincial databases and neighboring US states’ databases. Interviewees from the water management associations cited the Milk River Aquifer as an example where methods developed by NRCan-GSC have been accepted by the United States as credible science, and will inform discussions between the province of Alberta and the State of Montana when resolving transboundary water issues.
  • Continued progress is needed for Canada to have a comprehensive scientific base for resolving transboundary issues:Some interviewees from NRCan-GSC mentioned the absence of a systematic standard in the assessments and characterization of aquifers, providing the Châteauguay Aquifer as an example where Canada has no information on the United States side because the United States did not use that water and has therefore not collected data. While interviewees, including those at USGS, indicated that there has been good collaboration between USGS, state surveys, and the NRCan-GSC, some reported projects where agreements could not be reached to do the work so far (e.g., Great Lakes Regional Aquifer). The GIN intercept survey results appear to support the concept of continued progress being needed. Few GIN survey respondents indicated that they typically visit the GIN to access data to help address transboundary Canada-United States water issues, while only one typically accessed the GIN for transboundary issues within Canada.
Evaluation Question Lines of evidence Assessment
5. Have there been any unintended (positive or negative) outcomes?
  • Interviews
  • Survey
There have been positive unintended outcomes.

Summary: There have been several positive unintended outcomes resulting from the GGP. There is a wide international recognition of NRCan-GSC on groundwater science and on data management. A number of countries are copying Canada’s groundwater data approach and assessment methods. In addition, NRCan’s involvement in groundwater has helped to increase the awareness of groundwater issues in Canada where four provinces (i.e., Alberta, Nova Scotia, Québec and Saskatchewan) have developed or augmented their own groundwater programs based on NRCan-ESS expertise. Furthermore, NRCan-GSC has helped to train highly-qualified professionals in hydrogeology at the masters and PhD levels.

Evidence:
  • International recognition of NRCan-GSC on groundwater science and on data management:By promoting the importance of groundwater resources and encouraging other countries to be involved in studying groundwater, the GGP has helped other countries to develop electronic systems for linking their regional data at a national and international level. For example, interviewees close to the GIN noted that the open source design has led to collaborations with USGS, Australia and European Union, all of whom have used systems patterned on the GIN. In 2012, USGS committed funds to a National Groundwater Portal for all 50 states based very closely on Canada’s GIN. In Australia, the state of Victoria is currently applying some GIN technologies and strategies for its groundwater data management. In addition to the North American respondents analyzed in the GIN survey, there were three international respondents from Australia, Brazil and Poland. Each held favorable perceptions of the GIN and two had indicated that their reason for visiting was to explore a similar application in their home country or their research work. They indicated that they had heard about the GIN through a presentation given by NRCan-GSC and word of mouth. Furthermore, it has been suggested that some of the hydrogeologists involved in the GGP have played a leadership role internationally, and their attendance at international conferences has led to better connections and credibility of geoscience expertise in groundwater, therefore advancing quality and methodology issues in groundwater.
  • NRCan-GSC’s involvement in groundwater has helped to increase awareness of groundwater issues in Canada: Some interviewees within NRCan-GSC have suggested that their involvement in this area has increased awareness of the long term nature of sustainable management of groundwater resources and issues related to transboundary aquifers in Canada, and in the world. They suggest that the GGP has improved public and political recognition of the importance of groundwater. As a result, at least four provinces (i.e., Alberta, Nova Scotia, Québec and Saskatchewan) have implemented their own groundwater programs since 2002 based, in part, on the model developed by NRCan-GSC for the GGP. This is seen as adding resources to the overall task of assessing and characterizing Canada’s groundwater resources.
  • The GGP has helped to train students in hydrogeology:Several interviewees mentioned that because of their partnerships on GGP projects, universities are now carrying out groundwater research in a number of scientific areas that did not previously exist. NRCan-GSC’s staff have been coaching and mentoring highly-qualified professionals at the masters and PhD levels on these projects.
Evaluation Question Lines of evidence Assessment
6. What are the factors (both internal and external) that have facilitated or hindered the achievement of expected results?
  • Document review
  • File review
  • Interviews
  • Case study
  • Survey
Facilitating and hindering factors were identified.

Summary: The GGP achievement of expected results is facilitated by a number of factors. The depth of knowledge and expertise of NRCan-GSC staff – which is widely acknowledged – has resulted in both credibility and quality groundwater research studies. The partnerships, collaborations and scientific cooperation with stakeholders involved in Canada’s groundwater resources also facilitated progress. The additional A-base O&M funding in Phase III compared to previous phases was used to increase the pace of work.

However, there are several factors that have hindered the achievement of expected results. There are relatively few hydrogeologists to meet the GGP program goals. In addition, there are competing requests for geoscience expertise in groundwater, including responding to ad hoc and time sensitive environmental assessment service requests. In addition, NRCan-GSC and partner budgets relating to groundwater are quite modest. NRCan-GSC has done remarkably well at pursuing the inventory given the small budget that it has to do the work. There is a great variety in maturity of provincial groundwater programs and the relative capabilities (resources and expertise) of provincial partners. This creates different needs for the GGP and limits the GGP results. The split mandate of NRCan for water quantity and EC for water quality appears to be unclear and may need to be clarified.

Evidence:
Factors facilitating the achievement of expected results
  • The GGP was facilitated by the partnerships, collaborations and scientific cooperation with stakeholders involved in groundwater resources, including federal and provincial governments, conservation authorities, universities and research centers, and international organizations such as the USGS and its Organizations: NRCan documents confirm that strong partnerships continue to support the Program’s initiatives. According to the files reviewed, NRCan-GSC partnered through agreementswith several provincial organizations that have the mandate to manage water resources. These organizations are mainly the provincial environmental and geological survey departments, and the conservation authorities. Partners include other federal departments (DND, EC, AANDC, IC), provinces (Québec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Nova Scotia), universities (Institut national de la recherche scientifique, Université Laval, Simon Fraser University, University of Waterloo), industry and international organizations [(United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Global Environment Facility (GEF), Organization of American States (OAS)], resulting in significant leveraged resources. According to the files reviewed, the GGP has signed many written agreements through partnerships and collaborations, including one MOU with British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment.

    Through these agreements, the GGP benefited from partner/collaborator funded web-mapping activities, contract geophysics, sediment logging, report preparation and publication costs, development of geophysical assessments in urban setting, costs of shared field work (geology, geophysics, drilling and monitoring), laboratory and contract costs, preliminary characterization of regional hydrogeology settings, recharge modeling through modern earth observation sensors, and Earth observation data assimilation in recharge modeling, characterize hydrogeology in the military bases of Meaford and Petawawa. NRCan-GSC also carried out web protocol and tool development under a GeoConnections-funded partnership project. The partnership objective was to build a national geospatial end-to-end system for water well data that includes data provision, data translation to common content standards, and data analysis to support decision-making.
    The NGI case study suggests that work completed so far could not have been done without the partnerships developed by key NRCan-GSC personnel with their colleagues at the provincial level, USGS and local water managers (i.e. municipalities). In several cases, external interviewees identified NRCan-GSC personnel as building strong working groups with local partners. As one NRCan-GSC researcher noted, they cannot do this work alone given the Program’s budget and mandate; they cannot engage in work in provinces without the permission of each province. Interviewees within the provinces felt that data exchanges with other countries adopting the GIN have allowed for validation by comparison and has justified the relevancy of the GGP. They added that because of the GGP, more stakeholders are now interested in groundwater resources. Strong collaboration between NRCan-GSC researchers and those in the provinces have leveraged resources and data of others. There has also been solid collaboration between NRCan-GSC and Canada Centre for Remote Sensing within NRCan, which has been key to the assessments as they require remote sensing to obtain significant parts of the data.
  • The depth of knowledge and expertise of NRCan-GSC experts is widely acknowledged resulting in both credibility and quality products: Almost all interviewees reported that the GGP has highly-qualified and motivated geoscientist staff with national and international credibility that bring different scientific skills and approaches required to undertake the groundwater research. Interviewees within the provinces indicated that the availability of NRCan-GSC geoscientists, especially hydrogeologists, coupled with good management support as being the contributing factors to the achievement of the expected results. As indicated earlier, interviewees noted that NRCan-GSC has the capacity to fill in the information gaps in an unbiased way because it does not have a stake in the use of the information.
  • GIN survey respondents also recognized it as a high quality useful tool: Survey results show that 83 percent see GIN as a good quality website, 76 percent indicate that it is easy to understand, 76 percent are satisfied with the currency of GIN data, and 71 percent are satisfied with its completeness. GIN survey respondents also indicated that there was a good selection of tools especially related to water well data. The most widely used GIN tools (56-76 percent) were those related to water well data (i.e., map of water wells, view a water well record, zoom and download water well data), all of which were seen to be useful by nearly all visitors. In fact, regardless of how many times they were used, nearly all tools were seen as useful.
  • Access to additional funding in Phase III compared to previous phases: NRCan documents reported that substantial access to late-year A-base O&M reallocation and revenue for aquifer assessments and the GIN supported high-quality activities that would not have been possible otherwise. Also, the A-base O&M funding for the GGP increased during Phase III relative to previous phases. This helped to mitigate the 26 percent reduction in staff from 23 to 17 FTEs during Phase III.
Factors hindering the achievement of expected results
  • There are relatively few hydrogeologists within ESS, particularly given the competing NRCan-GSC hydrogeology needs: Hydrogeology expertise is among the least common and most in demand at NRCan-GSC at the moment. Overall, there were approximately 48 NRCan-GSC researchers involved in the GGP over the evaluation period. Of these, eight were hydrogeologists. A particular challenge is that hydrogeologists needed for groundwater work are in high demand for other NRCan-ESS programs and activities. Interviews with NRCan-GSC staff indicated that hydrogeology experts currently working in the GGP are often requested to provide their expertise in other NRCan-ESS program areas, and to respond to increased requests for expert review of the environmental assessment service for proposed resource development projects (i.e., environmental assessment service; and energy sector needs). Interviewees reported that these experts are thinly stretched over various NRCan-GSC programs, which has affected their availability to meet demands for participating in or providing resources to complete aquifer assessment projects within the given timelines.
  • The impact of staff reductions on the delivery of the GGP is a concern raised by program management: NRCan documents indicated that program management expressed concern about the impact of staff reduction on the delivery of the GGP noting that allocation of human resources to projects remained the major factor to hinder the achievement of expected results (i.e., the national scale aquifer evaluation and accounting was kept at a minimum level of activity and the expected outputs were not reached). Both the documents and files reviewed reported instances of delays in projects. For example, the Milk River Aquifer has delayed activities due to the lack of staff in ESS. There was a late assignment of staff for the St-Maurice Aquifer. In addition, there were staffing delays for the student who would initiate the building of the hydrogeological model for the Chaudière Aquifer in 2010-11.
  • Limited NRCan-GSC and partner funding: According to the files reviewed, program management reported challenges related to ESS A-base funding for the Program. Despite an increase in the budget for Phase III, management considered the budget insufficient to make full assessments of the aquifers that they had selected to characterize. For example, NRCan documents reported that the pace of the aquifer assessments and characterization was maintained to some extent because of the selection of aquifers that already had extensive existing knowledge. In addition, NRCan documents indicated that NRCan’s contribution to field characterization of the Nanaimo Aquifer project was uncertain. NRCan documents added that the costs related to field equipment mobilization and/or demobilization from Québec/Ottawa to Victoria exceeded the budgetary capacity of this project; moreover, program management was searching for additional external and internal funds without which the complementary works to existing hydrogeological information would not be done, and the characterization and modeling would be based only on existing data. In addition, there is at least one example where the lack of provincial resources limited the Program’s ability to complete a project. NRCan documents indicated that cuts in the Saskatchewan Water Stewardship’s budget might have an effect on the Buried Valley project as they had expected a substantial financial participation from that province for that project. It should be noted that groundwater sources are used to meet the needs of about 75 percent of all communities and most of the farms and ranches in southern SaskatchewanFootnote 22.
  • There is a great variation in maturity of provincial groundwater programs and the relative capabilities (resources and expertise) of provincial partners. This creates different needs for the GGP: NRCan-GSC interviewees indicated that a significant challenge is the disparate engagement levels of the provinces. While Alberta and Québec are relatively advanced with their groundwater programs, many other provinces are not. An analysis of the interview data shows that, as a result, the provinces have different expectations about the GGP depending on their own interest, resources and expertise. Some believe that there is still a need for a national program, not through examples of aquifer studies but through the provision of a well-defined work plan.

    Others interviewees consider that NRCan-GSC should have less emphasis on specific data and more on provision of general expertise. For example, they cited work that NRCan-GSC carried out in Prince-Edward-Island on nitrates in groundwater in relation to climate change that has a major impact on groundwater management and protection in that province. Interviewees also mentioned expertise provided in Alberta on the exploitation of groundwater resources in relation to the heavy oil, and in Québec on the potential impact of the exploitation of shale gas on groundwater resources. Some interviewees suggested that NRCan-GSC should broaden the scope of the GGP to consider the provinces’ needs. These varying opinions are challenges for the GGP.
  • The split mandates of NRCan for water quantity and EC for water quality is seen as unclear and may need to be clarified:Interviewees within the provinces indicated that one of their challenges was that two separate federal departments are responsible for quantity and quality of water resources. They felt that the split mandate of NRCan over water quantity and EC over water quality further impeded the federal approach to collecting scientific data needed to sustainably manage Canada’s groundwater resources. There was also evidence that, while researchers at EC and NRCan have worked well on coordinated projects, the lack of clarity in terms of the responsibility between the two federal departments has posed some coordination challenges. For example, EC and NRCan are not working on the same aquifers together where there may be synergies.

3.2.2 Demonstration of Efficiency and Economy

Evaluation Question Lines of evidence Assessment
7. Are the Program and its activities the most efficient and economic means of making progress towards intended outcomes?
  • Document review
  • File review
  • Interviews
  • Case study
  • Survey
The GGP is highly efficient and economic.

Summary: The GGP and its activities are the most efficient and economic means of making progress towards intended outcomes. Internal and external interviewees point to the thematic research components which bring scientific staff together across geology disciplines, common standards across jurisdictions, the expanded repertoire of tools with which to assess aquifers in more complex geological situations, as being highly efficient processes and practices. The GIN is also seen by survey respondents to be an efficient means of accessing groundwater data. The use of open source software has significantly leveraged the skills and expertise of other organizations in developing and refining the GIN. Most stakeholders suggested that without being able to leverage these resources, the cost of implementing the GIN or even getting it started would have been much more than NRCan-GSC could have committed to. Most survey respondents (90 percent) consider the GIN to be the most efficient means for them to access groundwater data from across the country.

The NGI case study shows that many believe that NRCan-GSC has done remarkably well at pursuing the inventory given the small budget. There is some evidence that although the GGP was highly-efficient in its use of resources, the Program has committed to more than can be reasonably expected with its current resources. Collaborations and partnerships with stakeholders involved in groundwater resources are key factors that have contributed to the efficiency and the economy of the Program. Some interviewees saw that efficiencies could be achieved by having provincial systematic groundwater programs that make use of NRCan-GSC expertise, not through examples of aquifers studies, but through a well-defined work plan. They suggested that NRCan-GSC should recast its role as a provider of expertise in methodology and leave more of the aquifer assessments to the provinces.

Evidence:
  • The GGP is considered to be efficiently managed and operated cost effectively:The case study, documents reviewed, and internal and external stakeholder groups suggest that the GGP is efficiently and cost effectively managed, and brings scientific staff together across geology disciplines and new ideas through thematic research components. According to documents reviewed, the rate of aquifer assessments over the duration of the GGP has remained constant and the funding trend has been relatively stable over the evaluation period. NRCan’s 2009-10 internal review documents indicated that the efficiency of the GGP has increased as the participants have expanded their repertoire of tools with which to assess aquifers, and have taken on more complex geological situations. Also, common standards across jurisdictions were expected to increase efficiency for the overall development of the groundwater inventory, as well as for local management, as it would enable all jurisdictions to contribute their funds and data to benefit from shared information. The GIN is also seen by survey respondents to be an efficient means of accessing groundwater data. Most survey respondents (90 percent) consider the GIN to be the most efficient means for them to access groundwater data from across the country.

    The case study and the interviews within NRCan-GSC and in provinces reported that the GGP is generally under resourced, but highly efficient in its use of resources. The NGI case study shows that many believe that NRCan-GSC has done remarkably well at pursuing the inventory given the small budget that has been allocated to it. To illustrate, some interviewees referenced Denmark with a 15-year groundwater program resourced at $200 million Euros (i.e., $270 million CAD). Denmark has 43 000 square kilometres, whereas Canada has 10 million square kilometres and GGP’s aquifer assessment budget is less than $4 million a year across the country. This necessarily limits the amount of data that can be collected and how sophisticated the analysis can be. While this comparison may not be appropriate given that the responsibility for groundwater management lies at the provincial level, rather than the federal level, and Denmark has a different context (i.e., almost all drinking water is from groundwater and state monitoring includes a cost recovery systemFootnote 23), interviewees suggested that provinces have extremely limited budgets for groundwater management, and they have relied heavily on NRCan-GSC. In fact, a few internal and external interviewees have suggested that NRCan-GSC has committed to doing more than can be reasonably expected with its current resourcing.
  • Collaborations and partnerships with stakeholders involved in groundwater resources are key factors that have contributed to the efficiency and the economy of the GGP: The case study, the files reviewed and all types of interviewees pointed out that the GGP has support from collaborators and partners on advancing groundwater research in Canada and allowing for an effective and efficient use of financial and human resources needed to assess and characterize national, regional and cross-border aquifers. In fact, the GGP develops partnerships and collaborations with federal departments that share responsibilities in water, the provinces (including conservation organizations, municipalities) that have the mandate for water resource management in their province, universities and research centres for work on climate change, and with USGS and State governments for the transboundary aquifers issues.

    According to NRCan documents, common standards across jurisdictions were expected to increase efficiency for the overall development of a Canadian groundwater inventory, as well as for local management, as it would enable all jurisdictions to contribute their funds and data to benefit from shared information. The files reviewed reported that, through partnerships and collaborations with stakeholders involved in groundwater resources, NRCan-GSC has signed 33 written agreements with provinces, local authorities, universities and the USGS, and one MOU with the British Columbia Ministry of Environment.
  • Use of open source software to develop the GIN has significantly leveraged the skills and expertise of other organizations in developing and refining the GIN: Interviewees stated that developing the GIN using open source software platforms – through collaborations at specific international organizations related to data management – were key factors in developing the GWML that makes the GIN possible. NRCan-GSC membership in the Open Geospatial Consortium and their role in establishing the hydrology domain working group on global water standards, and applying existing geospatial standards allowed them to leverage the technical skills of the world’s top thinkers on geospatial information technology. Most stakeholders suggested that without being able to leverage these resources, the cost of implementing the GIN or even getting it started would have been much more than NRCan-GSC could have committed to doing. Interviews with GIN staff suggest that the GIN has been extremely cost effective. NRCan-GSC has helped establish this technology, and been able to benefit from other developers’ applications of it. For example, applications of the GIN have been trialed in Australia and in the United States, which made refinements based on their needs that were shared back with NRCan-GSC.
  • The GGP is seen by most stakeholders as complementary to other efforts in Canada: Most interviewees felt that the GGP compliments the efforts of others in Canada, and in most cases is the only organization able to accomplish this work, so duplication is minimized because of that unique expertise and mandate. A few interviewees noted that there were opportunities to better coordinate with other programs requiring geological expertise as well as with provincial groundwater programs.

4.0 Conclusions and Recommendations

4.1 Conclusions

Overall, the evaluation found that the GGP is relevant, well managed and has been quite successful. However, the context has changed since its inception in 2002, putting the GGP at a crossroads in terms of its role. In particular, the provinces now generally have a greater level of awareness and knowledge of groundwater issues and of their own related data and information needs. There is therefore a need to adjust the Program to allow NRCan-GSC to balance the needs of a national program with the information needs of the provinces that have the mandate for groundwater management.

A national groundwater geoscience program is needed and NRCan-GSC is the only organization with the unique expertise and national mandate to deliver it. However, there is confusion amongst the provincial stakeholders as to the exact role of NRCan-GSC and the extent to which the GGP is in place to serve their needs. Provinces have direct responsibility for managing groundwater, although the federal government is responsible for aquifers that cross provincial and national boundaries, including transboundary aquifers crossing the Canada-United States border.

Since provinces generally did not have the knowledge or capacity, NRCan-GSC assumed a more hands-on role in creating information to support decision-making relating to groundwater management. This created expectations in the provinces that NRCan-GSC existed to serve their needs. On the other hand, NRCan-GSC believes that it must focus on national considerations. While a national focus for the GGP is necessary, it must balance national considerations with the information needs of the provinces, in recognition that it can only be successful if useful information ends up in the hands of those who directly manage groundwater.

The GGP has two main areas of activity: aquifer assessments and characterizations to create a national groundwater inventory, and the GIN. Over the past 10 years, NRCan-GSC created a successful Canadian aquifer assessment program. At the inception of the GGP, despite the provincial mandate for managing water, there was very little provincial interest and activity in the area of groundwater. NRCan-GSC took the lead on priority setting in the absence of provincial expertise and resourcing. It established the list of 30 key aquifers to be assessed and began to work in cooperation with the provinces. Since the provinces had not allocated resources themselves and did not have the expertise to know what information they needed, they valued the information provided by NRCan-GSC.

Good progress has been made on assessing and characterizing aquifers. With very limited resources, NRCan-GSC has accomplished a lot in the past 10 years. It is expected that 19 of 30 key aquifers will be assessed by 2014. By undertaking this work, NRCan-GSC made a considerable contribution to the availability of data that can be used by decision-makers for groundwater resource management, water strategies and the resolution of transboundary water issues. In addition, their research has also made major contributions to regional geology methods development that is highly valued by partners. NRCan-GSC’s innovative approaches in the GGP to studying regional aquifers were seen by the provincial and territorial stakeholders as cutting edge in most instances.

While the approach taken to date was necessary to create a critical mass of information, NRCan-GSC must now enhance the consistency of data collected across the country. To achieve its success, NRCan-GSC attracted researchers and related resources by allowing them to use a wide variety of techniques and approaches to aquifer assessments. This approach, while cost efficient, has detracted from the national objective of developing, at a minimum, a list of common mandatory data on aquifers to populate a national portal (GIN). In order for the GIN to realize its full potential, an approach must be agreed to that will allow the groundwater data to be entered into the GIN so that it is available to water managers.

The GIN is a strong technical achievement, that enhances interoperability among eight provinces/ territories and USGS in three border states that is used by partners-stakeholders for groundwater management. The GIN is not well known yet, which has limited its use to some extent. As it is just being completed, this is an appropriate time for NRCan-GSC to promote it to the provinces and others responsible for water management, in order to help it become a true national portal. Also, the GIN data is primarily water well logs since there has been no integration of aquifer inventory data as yet. More integrated aquifer inventory data, including minimum consistent data from aquifer assessments, is still needed.

The success of NRCan-GSC’s work raised the profile of groundwater issues with policy makers and the provinces. In conducting its work, NRCan-GSC developed significant partnerships across Canada and internationally. Almost all provinces engaged to some extent in the Program. Several provinces have augmented their groundwater assessment efforts based in part on NRCan-GSC’s model (e.g., Alberta, Québec), although funding and capacity is still relatively low and varies greatly among provinces. As interest in groundwater has increased over the last ten years, also did the expectations on the GGP. Provinces are now seeking additional support from NRCan-GSC on individual aquifers beyond the list of 30. They are also looking for enhanced knowledge transfer from NRCan-GSC. They would like to see NRCan-GSC provide data in a manner that is accessible to decision-makers. They would also like NRCan-GSC to leave behind expertise by enhancing the skills with provincial partners.

4.2 Recommendations

With few resources, the GGP has accomplished a significant amount of work which has had a positive impact on groundwater management in Canada. However, the very success of the GGP has created a new set of challenges that need to be addressed.

Recommendation 1: In the face of both rising and increasingly diverse expectations, NRCan-GSC should take steps to ensure that respective federal and provincial roles are clearly defined and understood by all stakeholders. NRCan-GSC should continue to play a national leadership role, prioritize GGP activities in light of this role, and work with the provinces to communicate this role to stakeholders, including raising awareness of the GIN portal among all levels of groundwater decision-makers (e.g., municipalities and water management boards).

There is confusion amongst the provincial stakeholders as to the exact role of NRCan-GSC and the extent to which the GGP is in place to serve their needs. While provincial interest in, and resources devoted to groundwater issues appear to be increasing, their expectations and needs appear to be increasing as well. They are therefore expecting NRCan-GSC to play a role that does not necessarily fit within its mandate. There is a need for NRCan-GSC to clearly define its role, communicate it to the stakeholders and ensure that it is understood. The evaluation noted that only one formal MOU with a province has been signed (British Columbia). A suggested strategy might be to draft formal MOUs with the remaining provinces so that respective roles are defined and understood.

Areas where the evaluation found that a national role was appropriate include, but are not limited to: development of aquifer assessment and characterization methods in various geological contexts; ensuring the creation of consistent data; providing expertise to support provincial activities relating to regional aquifers; transboundary issues (mandated); and making groundwater data available through a national portal (i.e., GIN).

NRCan-GSC should work with the provinces to raise awareness of the GIN among groundwater decision-makers including municipalities and water-management boards. The progress made on the GIN is considerable. It is a strong technical structure and contributes to increased knowledge and informs decision-makers. However, the GIN is not well known yet by water managers in the provinces and has not been widely promoted to the provinces. The effectiveness of the GIN would be enhanced if it were better known, more widely used and became a true national portal.

Recommendation 2: In light of the national focus of the GGP, NRCan-GSC should develop a list of common mandatory data that, at a minimum, must be collected for each aquifer assessed. This list should be communicated broadly within NRCan-GSC and to stakeholders to ensure that aquifer assessment projects result in these minimum data being entered into the GIN so that they are available to water managers.

While the GGP has been extremely successful in creating information at a modest cost, the approach used has meant that the national objective of having common data on aquifers to populate a national portal has not been achieved. The current approach might have been an appropriate strategy in the early years of the Program to generate interest and a critical mass of data, however in the current context, it is no longer a viable strategy to achieve the Program’s national objectives. NRCan-GSC should ensure that there is a balance between the key data that needs to be available for each aquifer assessed, and the information needs of the provinces to allow NRCan-GSC researchers to continue innovative work to answer particular questions that the provinces cannot.

Recommendation 3: NRCan-GSC should review the list of 30 aquifers to enhance its alignment with the information needs of the provinces which are responsible for groundwater management within their jurisdictions, while still ensuring that the list is based on the nine hydrogeological regions of Canada it was meant to represent.

While the GGP’s aquifer assessment and characterization of 30 aquifers was never intended to be inflexible, there is a perception within the provinces that the approach to the list has been inflexible. NRCan-GSC should ensure that progress is achieved on completing the assessment of the 30 key regional-scale aquifers. This will allow NRCan-GSC researchers to continue to develop innovative methods for assessing and understanding groundwater. However, it is clear that the actual list of 30 aquifers needs to be updated. While this list served its purpose in that it helped organize the work and gave NRCan-GSC a method for reporting progress, the context has changed since the inception of the GGP in 2002. It is important to note that this list was developed based on discussions that took place 10 years ago. Since then, new factors have emerged such as new regulatory groundwater management regimes in provinces, increasing interest in resource development (e.g. shale gas, oil sands), and changing information needs of provinces. In reviewing the list, it will be important that NRCan-GSC engage with the provinces and territories as they are responsible for groundwater management in their jurisdictions. The success of the GGP is dependent on generating useful information in areas that matter to provinces and territories for decision-making.

Appendix A: Groundwater Geoscience Program Logic Model

Appendix A

Larger image

Text Version - Appendix A

Appendix A: Groundwater Geoscience Program Logic Model

Appendix A depicts in the logic model the interrelationships among the activities, outputs, short term, medium and long term outcomes of the Groundwater Geoscience Program.  

The contents of each box of the logic model are as follows:

Activities under the Program are:

  • Assessment of key Canadian aquifers: National Inventory of key Canadian aquifers, Understanding groundwater dynamics;
  • Development of groundwater models to assess the resource;
  • Development of a comprehensive and accessible GIN including ESS aquifer data, knowledge and models;
  • Promotion of GIN and coordination of the contribution of aquifer information from all available sources. 

The program outputs are:

  • Increased assessments of unmapped key Canadian aquifers; and
  • Fully operational and web-accessible Groundwater Information Network.

The short term outcomes of the program are:

  • Common standards ensure use and interoperability of GIN between the federal and provincial levels, groundwater models are used to assess impacts of economic, social and climatic stressors on groundwater resources; and
  • GIN is used by partners- stakeholders for sustainable groundwater resource management.

The medium outcomes of the program are:  

  • Provincial agencies use common standards and approaches to general information needed for groundwater management; and
  • GIN informs decision makers and is used for the development of national water strategies.

The long term outcomes of the program are:  

  • Canadians are able to manage GW resources sustainably; and
  • Canada has a comprehensive defensible scientific base of aquifer knowledge when resolving transboundary water issues.

Appendix B: Groundwater Geoscience Program Phases and Activities

Groundwater Geoscience Program - Phases and Activities (2002-2014)
Phases of Groundwater Program Projects Project No. Project Description
Phase III: 2009-2014: Groundwater Geoscience Program Groundwater knowledge synthesis, program management, liaisons and reporting activities with national and international partners AM1 To produce and publish a book synthesizing the current knowledge of groundwater resources in Canada. The purpose of the book is to provide a science-based overview and a collective understanding of the groundwater resources in Canada to support sustainable use and protection.
Aquifer assessments and support to assessing and characterizing – Groundwater inventory AM2 To assess and characterize seven key aquifers.
Groundwater Information Management and Dissemination AM3 This project addresses major barriers on data management and dissemination on the effective use of groundwater data.
National Aquifer Evaluation and Accounting – Estimating the potential groundwater resources of Canada AM4 To develop a national framework for evaluating Canadian groundwater resources; to establish a coordinated approach with provinces to provide national scale accounting; and to summarize the state of knowledge of groundwater resources in Canada.
Phase II: 2006-2009: Groundwater Mapping program Groundwater Inventory: aquifer systems in Canada J06 Assessed several regional key aquifers and add to the national inventory of studied aquifer systems in Canada (~30 percent).
Groundwater Pathways, Portal, Information Transfer J07 The project was designed to directly demonstrate the contribution of groundwater information to sustainable groundwater management at various levels of government (municipal, regional, provincial).
Groundwater Earth Observation and Thematic Research J08 The main goal of this project was to contribute to the short term outcome of the Program whereby the National Groundwater Inventory (NGWI) is recognized as the primary source of information on Canada's groundwater resources; the project supported the detailed assessment of national aquifers.
Groundwater Knowledge synthesis and Program Management J01 Produced a book to be published as a synthesis of the current knowledge of the groundwater resources in Canada.
Phase I: 2002-2006: Groundwater Program National Groundwater Portal, Outreach and Monitoring J02 This project was defined as a series of activities intended to: a) implement collaboration and develop a mechanism to collect groundwater information; b) design and implement data management architecture and standards to store and exchange groundwater information through internal diffusion channels and national initiatives and provide linkage with external and internal partners; and c) deliver information in a usable form to governments, educators, practitioners, and the general public, either as digital data or outreach and education material.
Assessment of Regional Aquifers: Towards a National Inventory J03 Intended to assess 20 percent of key regional aquifers in Canada as recognized by the NRCan- GSC. This goal was addressed through 8 sub-projects that range from complete hydrodynamic characterization of individual aquifers to delineation of regional hydrostratigraphic units. This project supported the production of groundwater quantity and quality maps, and contributed to the establishment of a National Groundwater Portal.
Thematic Groundwater Research J04 The Thematic Groundwater Research Project addressed emerging groundwater issues affecting Canadians through focused scientific investigations in type localities.
Remote sensing in support of groundwater monitoring and vulnerability assessment J05 This project was intended to produce surface parameter maps over 2 regional aquifers; guidelines for further assessing and characterizing provided to provincial agencies; and to improve assessments of water resources in future conditions by using existing groundwater models with recharge estimates from a hydrological model.

Appendix C: Progress on the National Groundwater Inventory (as of Feb 2013)

Aquifer Region Province Size Usage Status
Gulf Islands fractured aquifers Cordillera British Columbia 475 km2 Domestic (D) Completed
Fraser Lowlands Cordillera British Columbia Unknown Domestic (D), Agriculture (A) Completed
Okanagan Valley Cordillera British Columbia 1000 km2 (CAN) Domestic (D) Completed
Paskapoo Western Plains Alberta 70000 km2 Domestic (D), Agriculture (A), Energy (E), Industry (I) Completed
Basal Clastic Unit (Winnipeg) Western Plains Manitoba Unknown Domestic (D), Industry (I) Completed
Sandilands Western Plains Manitoba 400 km2 Domestic (D) Completed
Oak Ridges Moraine Southern Ontario Ontario 2500 km2 Domestic (D), Industry (I) Completed
Annapolis-Cornwallis valleys Maritimes Basin Nova Scotia 2600 km2 Domestic (D), Agriculture (A) Completed
Carboniferous basin Maritimes Basin Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia 11000 km2 Domestic (D), Agriculture (A) Completed
Mirabel St. Lawrence Lowlands and Appalachia Québec 1500 km2 Domestic (D), Agriculture (A), Industry (I) Completed
Châteauguay St. Lawrence Lowlands and Appalachia Québec 1450 km2 (CAN), 1200 km2 (USA) Domestic (D), Agriculture (A), Industry (I) Completed
Portneuf St. Lawrence Lowlands and Appalachia Québec 525 km2 Domestic (D), Agriculture (A) Completed
Nanaimo Lowland Cordillera British Columbia Unknown Domestic (D), Agriculture (A) Underway (estimated complete March 2014)
Buried valley/blanket aquifers Western Plains Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba Unknown Domestic (D), Energy (E), Industry (I) Underway (estimated complete March 2014)
Milk River Western Plains Alberta Unknown Domestic (D), Agriculture (A) Underway (estimated complete March 2014)
Waterloo Moraine Southern Ontario Ontario Unknown Domestic (D) Underway (estimated complete March 2014)
Richelieu St. Lawrence Lowlands and Appalachia Québec Unknown Domestic (D), Agriculture (A) Completed (March 2013)
Chaudière St. Lawrence Lowlands and Appalachia Québec 1450 km2 (CAN), 1200 km2 (USA) Domestic (D), Agriculture (A), Industry (I) Completed (March 2013)
St. Maurice St. Lawrence Lowlands and Appalachia Québec Unknown Domestic (D), Industry (I) Completed (March 2013)
Shushwap Highlands Cordillera British Columbia Unknown Domestic (D) *Not initiated
Upper Cretaceous Western Plains Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba Unknown Domestic (D), Energy (E), Industry (I) *Not initiated
Judith River Western Plains Saskatchewan, Alberta Unknown Domestic (D), Agriculture (A) *Not initiated
Eastend-Ravenscrag Western Plains Saskatchewan Unknown Domestic (D), Agriculture (A) *Not initiated
Inter-till aquifers Western Plains Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba Unknown Domestic (D), Agriculture (A) *Not initiated
Carbonate rock Western Plains Manitoba Unknown Domestic (D) *Not initiated
Odanah shale Western Plains Manitoba Unknown Domestic (D) *Not initiated
Assiniboine delta Western Plains Manitoba Unknown Domestic (D) *Not initiated
Grand River Basin Southern Ontario Ontario Unknown Domestic (D) *Not initiated
Credit River Southern Ontario Ontario Unknown Domestic (D) *Not initiated
Upper Thames Southern Ontario Ontario Unknown Domestic (D) *Not initiated

* GSC expects to complete the inventory of key regional aquifers by 2025 at a rate of five or six aquifers in each five year phase of the Program. The current phase of the Program will end in March 2014, and the new phase will be from 2014-15 to 2019-20.