Many people take their tap water for granted, leaving it running while brushing their teeth, taking excessively long showers or allowing the sink to run non-stop while doing the dishes. The truth is water is a limited resource. But just how limited is it? Some people rely on lakes, rivers and other sources of fresh water in their everyday lives, but a large percentage of people in Canada rely on groundwater for their daily use. Groundwater holds greater importance than allowing people to drink and bathe; it also determines the landscape and the likelihood of earthquakes. So how much groundwater is there, how do we use it and what can we do to protect it? Here’s the info you need to make informed decisions about your water use .
How Much Groundwater is Available?
Determining how much groundwater is located on earth is a difficult problem, and most estimates range wildly. Scientists do know the percentage of available groundwater compared to saline (the oceans), snow and ice and fresh (rivers and lakes). As it stands, only 2.5% of all water, including lakes, ice caps and groundwater, is fresh, leaving 97.5% saline. Of that 2.5%, groundwater that isn’t encased in ice makes up just shy of 31%.
This can be misleading. It sounds like there is hardly any groundwater at all, even though in Canada there is more water below ground than above it. However, many estimates suggest that if all the groundwater were released upon the planet it would cover the earth to a depth of 120 metres!
How Many People Use Groundwater?
Every province has different proportions of the population that rely on groundwater for their needs. In total, almost nine million Canadians depend on groundwater for their daily use, which is over 30% of the total population. Alberta has the fewest number of residents relying on groundwater, approximately 23%, and Prince Edward Island has the largest, with 100% of its population reliant upon it. Ultimately, this is an issue that affects all of Canada’s citizens, whether using fresh or groundwater.
How Do People Use Groundwater?
It’s not all showering and doing dishes; many people who rely on groundwater also use it for watering their livestock and fields. Most individuals who use groundwater live in rural areas where wells are a cheaper and more reliable method of procuring fresh water than acquiring it from lakes and rivers.
Groundwater can also be used as a source of energy, namely heat. Geothermal heating systems can be a bit pricey to install, but once they’re in they are far more efficient than typical air source systems, making them an increasingly popular option.
How Can People Protect Groundwater?
The greatest threat to groundwater is contamination, something that could occur easily if, for instance, a landfill leaches its hazardous materials into the ground or there’s a chemical spill. Protecting the groundwater from contamination isn’t just about ensuring safe drinking water for human use; it’s also about keeping contaminants out of the fresh water lakes, wetlands and other bodies of water that are home to countless species of wildlife. Groundwater doesn’t have to be polluted to cause problems. Poor planning of dams, sewers and wells can lead to landscape settling, which can damage property or cause water shortages. Designing neighbourhoods that use water efficiently is essential.
Most people don’t think about groundwater on a day-to-day basis, but understanding its importance to the planet should be a requirement for everyone. Appreciating what’s available, using only what is necessary and protecting it from contamination will ensure that Canada’s groundwater lasts as long as Canadians do.