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Sustainablity through ground water monitoring.

April 16, 2012  By Tricia Lane

According to a 2008 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), fresh water usage has risen by more than double the rate of population growth over the last hundred years.

According to a 2008 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), fresh water usage has risen by more than double the rate of population growth over the last hundred years.

A telemetry system connected to ground water monitoring wells in the field.
Photo credit: Solinst Canada



With two-thirds of the world’s population dependent on ground water for fresh water supplies, the increasing population is putting stress on our resources.

Ground water is threatened by many related factors. Not only by overuse caused by population growth and increased development, but by uncertainty over climate change, pollution, and saltwater intrusion, which are among the issues that bring concern over our future ground water supplies.

The need for sustainable management is growing as these issues are being recognized more often. There is greater awareness that the ability to manage our resources successfully depends on the collection and organization of high-resolution ground water data. 

The urgent need for monitoring networks
Ground water monitoring networks are being set up in watersheds worldwide to obtain the high-resolution data required to combat sustainability issues. Some countries are implementing programs on a national scale. For example, the European Union’s Water Framework Directives have led numerous European countries to implement monitoring programs. In addition, there is currently a pilot program underway in the United States for a National Groundwater Monitoring Network.

There are four major objectives of ground water monitoring networks:

  • Obtain baseline groundwater level and quality data,
  • Track the changes in quantity and quality over time,
  • Identify trends and pressing issues, and
  • Predict water levels available for human consumption in the future.

The data provides an understanding between water level fluctuations and the way ground water is being used. Armed with the data obtained from these networks, government agencies, municipalities, watershed professionals and the public can make informed ground water management decisions. Access to detailed data improves land-use planning and allows water-use programs and policies to be developed. In addition real-time data allows quick decisions to be made based on current ground water levels.

Advances in data collection
As the need grows, and more large-scale ground water monitoring networks are being set up worldwide, the technology used to collect ground water level data is also advancing.

Manual water level indicators are being replaced by more accurate automated dataloggers. Dataloggers can be set to record-high frequency readings (even up to every 0.125 seconds), providing high-resolution data, and left in the field unattended for extended periods. They provide a cost-effective option for continuous measurements, and when paired with a telemetry system, can provide real-time data.

Telemetry has the ability to send real-time, or stored, data from field-located dataloggers to a central database. Using flexible communication options, such as radio, landline, and more recently various cellular and satellite options, level data from numerous ground water monitoring wells in network can be linked to a single office computer.

Programs, such as the Ontario Provincial Groundwater Monitoring Network, benefit from the use of telemetry, as it minimizes workforce and travel requirements to the field, reduces inherent error in manual data collection, collects real-time data and organizes and stores data in a convenient manner.

For more vulnerable ground water resources, telemetry also has the added advantage of automated alarm notifications when an unusual level or quality condition is detected. This can enable immediate emergency response or issues of water use advisories and warnings to the public.

Overall, the combination of dataloggers and telemetry technology increases the effectiveness of ground water monitoring networks by allowing continuous, frequent, real-time data collection and reporting; presenting data simply for fast and efficient interpretation; and providing real-time data to allow early warning of changes in water levels.

Monitoring ground water in Canada
A survey by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) identified ground water sustainability as one of the most significant ground water issues facing Canada today. Although there is not a national initiative in Canada, there are local, and larger-scale, ground water monitoring networks set up across the country that are benefiting from advanced water level data collection technology.

At a symposium held by Solinst Canada Ltd, where the theme was Groundwater Monitoring for the 21st Century, many of the symposium presenters discussed how data gained from their ground water level monitoring networks helps them meet their ground water management objectives.

Provincial ground water monitoring: In a presentation from the Ontario Ministry of Environment, the Provincial Groundwater Monitoring Network (PGMN) was discussed. The PGMN is a combined effort between the Ministry and 38 Conservation Authorities to collect continuous ground water level data. It was established in 2001 in order to assess ground water reserves across the province. Today, over 500 wells have been equipped with water level dataloggers, and connected to a self-managed central data management system using telemetry.

Overall, monitoring ground water levels helps the Ministry obtain vital province-wide baseline, annual, and long-term changes in groundwater storage, estimate recharge rates, determine the direction of ground water flow and track long-term drought conditions.

Municipal ground water monitoring: Also at the symposium, Tammy Middleton, senior hydrogeologist with the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, discussed the region’s ground water monitoring program. The program consists of over 400 wells in a ground water level monitoring network, many of which have been equipped with automated water level sensors.

Middleton pointed out the effectiveness of water level measurements because of how much information they provide at such a small cost. Monitoring water levels at a high frequency allowed the region to see connectivity between aquifers that may not have been discovered without a continuous water level monitoring program.

The region’s network helps them comply with legislation, including the Clean Water Act, and meet the monitoring and reporting requirements of their water-taking permit, while providing a safe and sufficient supply of water to the public. It allows them to remain proactive, and ensure sustainable management.

Regional ground water monitoring: Steve Holysh and Rick Gerber of the Oak Ridges Moraine Coalition discussed their unique ground water management program. Rapid development and expansion on the Moraine initiated the program about 20 years ago, with the goal to fully understand the extent, quality and movement of ground water in the region.

Water levels from wells across the region have been collected, many from the PGMN, as well as their own network. They use the water level data for incorporating into numerical and site conceptual models. The more data that is added to these models, the more representative they become, allowing better management decisions to be made.

As many aquifers in Ontario cross regional boundaries and are used by various stakeholders, all the symposium presenters agreed that there needs to be a more co-ordinated effort to share high-resolution data between networks, ensuring data is available on an ongoing basis to all those who need it.

Sustainability through high-resolution data
Overall, as ground water sustainability concerns continue to grow in Canada, and worldwide, the need for high-resolution data is also increasing. More frequent and continuous water level data provides a better understanding of how ground water resources respond to usage and can help predict how they might respond to future variables such as climate change. More data allows the best sustainable management actions to be taken.

The need for larger-scale ground water level monitoring networks will also increase, and for these networks to be effective in sustainable ground water management, there has to be a co-ordinated effort with focus on organizing and sharing high-resolution data more efficiently.

Tricia Lane is a technical writer for Solinst Canada Ltd., based in Georgetown, Ont. Solinst Canada has been providing telemetry technology for numerous years, and has continued to update the technology as clients needs evolve. For more information visit .

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