New report delves into groundwater resources

January 21, 2008

If valley residents use the existing water resources faster than they can be replenished, there will be water shortages here in the valley—and we don’t yet know how much water is available.

The data gap is in the water that’s in the ground, tapped by wells.

Although there is some information available, there’s lots more that isn’t known yet about what quantities of water there are under the ground and how those groundwater resources are recharged or refilled.

A “ground-breaking” report gathering information on the Okanagan Basin’s groundwater resources is now complete, and will set the stage for the next phase of research into the valley’s aquifers.

Written by Laurie Neilson-Welch, a hydrogeology PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University who lives in Kelowna, the draft report, titled Groundwater and Hydrogeological Conditions in the Okanagan Basin: a State-of-the-Basin report, is now in the hands of the Okanagan Basin Water Board.

It is the first part of the second phase of a groundwater supply and demand study for the valley.

Executive-director Anna Warwick-Sears says it is the first time such a report has been completed on this basin.

She believes it will make it easier for local government, consultants and developers to plan ahead.

For Neilson-Welch, gathering the information was a lucky opportunity, since she intends to do her thesis on some aspect of groundwater in the Okanagan, possibly aquifer recharge sources.

Those would include precipitation, irrigation, creeks, percolation from high elevation precipitation, leakage between aquifers and urban runoff, she says.

Some sources are of more concern than others, she noted.

At present, the information she compiled for the 150-page report is available piecemeal in many areas, but she says there is currently quite a lot of research underway which will clarify the situation in the coming decade.

One of the projects underway now is mapping of the vulnerability of the valley’s aquifers, which could help in planning, to ensure they are protected.

Most of the data about the location of valley aquifers concerns those in settled parts of the valley where wells have been drilled, but there are lots of other underground water sources, she said.

That’s a data gap which should be filled so we can better plan for the future.

All our water resources, both below and above ground, are interconnected, so it’s important we gather information about the groundwater resource in order to manage water in the valley, she noted.

Right now, we don’t know just what we have, so it’s hard to predict what is available for future development, she added.

Most importantly, there’s a gap in understanding the role that groundwater movement and migration plays in the basin, and recharge of those aquifers, she said.

The public needs to be more aware of water resources and the importance of conserving water, she said.