Citizen Science: Groundwater Monitoring in Upper Columbia Region

CHALLENGE

Lake Windermere on world mapEducate local communities about groundwater management through citizen science. Empower and engage community members to practice sustainable resource management through education about groundwater dynamics and increase the available data on groundwater within the region.

SOLUTION

Divers were installed in 3 wells within the Invermere area, located in the Upper Columbia region of the Columbia Basin. These wells were selected for monitoring based on a specific list of criteria to obtain reliable data about the aquifers of the region and not well use specifically. The Divers collected groundwater level data to observe how aquifer level changed over time and seasonally.

RESULTS

The project achieved success by engaging and training community volunteers to regularly collect water level data. A baseline of nine months of groundwater data was collected in aquifer #603, which is identified as important to the District of Invermere’s water supply, and the project has continued to collect data over the last 4 years.


 

Columbia Basin Groundwater Monitoring Project

The Columbia Basin, in the Pacific Northwest, is the eighth largest river basin in North America. It covers about 671,000 square kilometers. Fifteen percent of this trans-boundary watershed lies within Canada.

Groundwater stewardship is integral to water sustainability in the Columbia Basin. In British Columbia, more than 750,000 people use groundwater as their primary drinking water source. Irrigation and industry compete with domestic users for this limited resource, making careful management and allocation of groundwater increasingly important as populations continue to grow, demand increases, and pressures intensify.

Living Lakes Canada educates communities about groundwater management through citizen science. Citizen science actively involves the communities and citizens in baseline groundwater collection. Living Lakes Canada works with the Province, and they have identified an important role for communities in monitoring, outreach, and education while collaborating with government, communities, First Nations, and academia.

Columbia Valley Groundwater Aquifer #603

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations maintains a network of groundwater monitoring wells in BC. However, this network is extremely limited in the Canadian Columbia Basin.

Aquifer #603 is classified by the Ministry of Environment and the need for a long-term monitoring well in this aquifer was identified by The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations because of its vulnerability and characteristics. The aquifer is mostly unconfined and consists of fluvial or glaciofluvial sand and gravel material. The vulnerability is listed as high because it is unconfined, shallow in most areas, and likely hydraulically linked to the Columbia River. The recharge is documented to occur from direct precipitation as well as lateral recharge from other aquifers in the area. Groundwater is listed to be the main source for domestic needs in the area. Groundwater well depths within this aquifer range from 16 ft (19.2 m) to 215 ft (65.5 m).

Monitoring Wells

The initial wells used in the pilot project were found by searching online government well databases, contacting Provincial government ministries, local and regional governments, environmental groups, well drillers, consultants, and area residents. The aim was to identify wells that had been drilled for providing drinking water, but which were not in use. The reason for selecting unused wells is because used wells can be drawn down by pumping daily, which would require the pumping drawdown to be accounted for to correctly assess the aquifer groundwater levels. Also, actively used wells provide the additional complication of having pumping apparatus that can interfere with monitoring equipment.

Volunteers from the local area were provided with training in well monitoring and were given support through frequent communication with the Program Coordinator. Volunteers visited their well monthly to take a manual water level measurement and collect the data from the logger. The data was uploaded by the Program Coordinator and maintained in a central database.

data logger installation at lake windermere

Groundwater Level and Quality Control

Analyzing the groundwater level data from the pilot study, and continued monitoring showed seasonal trends and variations, yearly trends and variations, changes between years, and correlations to precipitation. Groundwater levels were calculated based on the equipment records and well measurements. 

water level data in lake windermere case study

The quality of the monitoring data collected by citizen scientists will depend on several factors including but not limited to the: 

  • Ease of the method of data collection
  • Availability of required equipment
  • Consistent access to project lead or expert guidance

There have been two data gaps during this project: between February 28, 2014, to June 23, 2014, and December 21, 2014, to April 7, 2015 due to a variety of factors. Care is being taken to prevent data gaps in the future by implementing the following actions: 

  • Continuing training and support of the volunteers
  • Conducting checks on the wells and equipment installation by the program manager
  • Expanding the groundwater monitoring kits to make data collection simpler and straight-forward
  • Creation of standardized field forms
  • Conducting data uploads and analysis on a more frequent basis to identify any potential data collection issues.

The continued success of this project, including the recent expansion of the citizen science groundwater well monitoring network is an indication of rise of legitimacy of citizen science in helping us understand our groundwater resources so that we can make better allocation and conservation decisions. 

 

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