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Geoscience: Groundwater and aquifers

Groundwater provides drinking water to about one third of all Canadians and up to 80% of the rural population. Some Canadian aquifers (stores of groundwater) are under threat and vulnerable to climate change and human interference. At the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), we use our research results to create tools that can help you understand and protect this freshwater resource.

Why it matters

Groundwater in Canada is plentiful, but its availability varies across the country. Overpumping it can detrimentally affect water users and ecosystems that depend on groundwater. This includes most rivers, streams and wetlands, which are fed by groundwater during dry seasons. Groundwater also provides cool water to temperature-sensitive ecosystems such as fish hatcheries.

Aquifer contamination poses a significant risk to this freshwater supply. When precipitation carries contaminants into underground aquifers, it can render them deficient or unfit for human use, putting communities and economies at risk. Understanding how groundwater moves in the ground is key to managing its availability, and clarifying how contaminants are transported. Poor land-management practices and faulty infrastructure contribute to the risk of contamination in numerous ways:

  • Spreading excessive amounts of manure
  • Overusing chemical fertilizers and pesticides
  • Using poorly designed septic tanks
  • Municipal sewage system leaks
  • Poorly controlled or managed landfill sites
  • Hydrocarbon reservoir or pipeline leaks
  • Spills
  • Excessive use of road salt
  • Bodily waste from livestock
  • Mining residue
  • Liquid waste disposal well
  • Overpumping
  • Saltwater intrusion

What we’re doing

At the GSC, four programs help us better understand Canada’s groundwater supply so stakeholders at all levels of government can take steps to protect aquifers:

  1. Groundwater Geoscience Program (GGP)
  2. Climate Change Geoscience Program (CCGP)
  3. Public Safety Geoscience Program (PSGP)
  4. Environmental Geoscience Program (EGP)

They are critical in helping us protect Canada’s aquifers and assess the sustainable use of groundwater through the activities described below.

Characterizing aquifers

  • Assessing Canada’s main aquifer systems through geological mapping, regional hydrogeological assessments and groundwater modelling
  • Gathering Earth observation information
  • Using a wide range of innovative technology, remote sensing technology, satellite signals and data methodologies to conduct this work
  • Retrieving hydrology-related parameters of vegetation and soil at different scales
  • Assessing the seasonal changes in groundwater, freshwater and wetlands on a regional and national scale
  • Characterizing aquifer vulnerability
  • Identifying contaminant sources in water and air using geochemistry methods
  • Studying the potential impacts of land-based infrastructure, coastal infrastructure and essential climate variables (glacier mass, permafrost and snow cover)

Disseminating groundwater-related information

  • Improving access to groundwater-related data and information that links databases nationwide
  • Supporting evidence-based infrastructure decisions, particularly in Canada’s North, where resource development and climate change intersect and jeopardize groundwater resources
  • Providing land-use planners, industry and regulators with research that can help them mitigate risks to aquifers through better infrastructure and groundwater management

Assessing and addressing hazards

  • Assessing the risks posed by space weather, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and landslides on groundwater reservoirs
  • Creating risk-assessment tools and guidelines to support decision makers at various levels of government and in the private sector
  • Supporting engineers, municipalities and emergency preparedness groups who are working to mitigate risks
  • Helping municipalities increase the resilience of their built structures to prevent contamination by informing the location, design and operations of new structures
  • Providing geoscientific advice and expertise on major resource development projects and their potential environmental effects, as required for federally mandated environmental impact assessments

Featured tools and data

Groundwater Information Network (GIN)

GIN connects a variety of groundwater information including water well databases, water monitoring data, aquifer and geology maps, and related publications. Use it to improve your knowledge of groundwater systems and enhance your groundwater management practices.

You can also browse these pre-filtered topic results on Canada’s open data portal:

Featured publications

Canada’s groundwater resources

This is the most comprehensive synthesis of knowledge published about Canada’s groundwater in 47 years. It offers readers a science-based overview and a collective understanding of Canada’s groundwater resources that can be used to protect groundwater and foster its sustainable use.

Groundwater Geoscience Program videos

Find out what we’ve discovered in the course of our research and through collaborations with scientists at other organizations. You’ll learn about national synthesis, regional-scale groundwater geoscience, aquifer characterization methods and more.

Conduct your own GEOSCAN search, or browse pre-filtered results by topic:

Related maps

Hydrogeological Regions / Régions hydrogéologiques

This interactive map, which was originally published online more than a decade ago, shows Canada’s nine hydrogeological regions. It has been converted to a raster, and is available as a PDF or a JPEG.

Browse pre-filtered maps by topic:

Related topics

Climate change

Our research monitors the effects of climate change on Canada’s permafrost, glaciers and sea levels. Use our tools to inform adaptation strategies for coastal infrastructure and communities, permafrost regions, and transportation routes and northern resource development.

Hazards and public safety

Learn about space weather, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and landslides, and their related risks. Use our information to help you guide land-use decisions, develop emergency plans and inform the location and design of new structures to make them more resilient.

Contact us

Eric Boisvert

Gilles Cotteret

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