U of Guelph ground water studies receive funding from government, industry
Groundwater research led by U of G’s Prof. Beth Parker receives nearly $11 million in federal funding.
Guelph, Ont. – University of Guelph researchers will receive almost $11 million from the federal government and local government and industry partners for ground water studies focused on Wellington County in Ontario.
The new funding will enable investigators monitoring local bedrock aquifer wells to learn more about ground water and its interaction with surface water – information that will ultimately help the City of Guelph and nearby municipalities manage resources more sustainably, engineering professor Beth Parker said in a news release.
The project will be supported by research chair and project funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
The federal granting agency will provide $3.125 million for renewal of an NSERC Industrial Research Chair held by Parker since 2007. Her chair renewal will be supported by matching industry funding.
A separate NSERC grant worth just over $2 million will support the ground water monitoring project. That funding will also be matched by industry and municipal support, including $400,000 from the City of Guelph and $460,000 from Nestlé Waters Canada.
“I am thrilled to see that funding is being applied for groundwater research, given that Guelph’s water supply originates from ground water,” said Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield. “It will be helpful to further this research, including cold geothermal heating and cooling of buildings in our downtown, and apply these studies to other communities in Canada, including our First Nations.”
“This generous funding in support of a research superstar and her team will fuel important discoveries and catalyze impactful innovations aimed at underpinning the safety of our local drinking water supply," Malcolm Campbell, Univeristy of Guelph vice-president (research), said Malcolm Campbell, Univeristy of Guelph vice-president (research).
Fractured bedrock aquifers provide drinking water for more than one million people living in some of southern Ontario’s fastest-growing communities, including Guelph, which is projected to grow to almost 170,000 people by 2031, the release said.
Over the past decade, a U of G team led by Parker, who last year received the National Ground Water Association's M. King Hubbert Award, has installed high-resolution monitoring systems in bedrock aquifer wells around Guelph and southern Wellington County.
She directs the U of G-based G360 Institute for Groundwater Research, which studies complex local aquifers, including how natural features protect this water resource and how wells affect groundwater.
“The sustainability of groundwater as source water for communities ultimately depends on the quality and quantity of local ground water,” she said, adding that “municipalities need more and better-resolution information to understand the status and vulnerability of our water resources so that good science can underpin water protection and management.”
Under provincial law, Ontario communities are required to develop source water protection plans to protect and sustain municipal sources of drinking water from potential threats.
The institute has worked with site owners and the City of Guelph on ground water system characterization and monitoring of contaminated sites since 2003. Besides helping to improve local decision-making for sustainable water management, the project has involved many students training for careers in consulting, industry, and government agencies.
Nestlé Waters Canada has provided funding to G360 for several years, including $460,000 in 2016 to examine ground water sustainability in southern Wellington County. The company also provided $200,000 in 2018 for drilling work in Puslinch Township.
“Both the City and Nestlé maintain their own well networks for permitting requirements, but the university project provides more detailed and integrated information,” said Andreanne Simard, natural resource manager with the company in Puslinch.
According to the release, ground water is replenished by water that may be intercepted or contaminated by underground infrastructure and by land uses, including road salt and runoff from farms, industry and homes. Under the project, U of G researchers will study effects on ground water of changing rainfall frequency and intensity as well as soil freeze-thaw cycles, all connected to climate change.
“People are concerned about different weather patterns,” said engineering professor Jana Levison. “Changes in temperature and rainfall intensity can impact how much water gets to ground water or streams. We need to understand more about water resources in a changing climate.”
Engineering professor Bahram Gharabaghi plans to study “smart” winter road salting practices. He hopes to help improve information systems to ensure that road salt is applied where and when it’s needed to ensure traffic safety and protect the environment.
“Unless we proactively take measures to protect our precious and vital groundwater resource, it will not be available for future generations to enjoy,” Gharabaghi said.
Environmental sciences professor Emmanuelle Arnaud will study groundwater geology. “While contaminants come from specific sources, understanding of the subsurface geology will inform how and when those contaminants might reach specific receptors and how best to mitigate those impacts,” she said.
Project funding will also come from the Town of Erin and local geophysical company Paterson Grant and Watson.