Get to know groundwater


Hi, I’m groundwater. You might not realize it but you and me – we spend a lot of time together. You drink me, cook and wash with me and so much more.

When you turn on the tap do you ever wonder how I get there? It’s a bit of a journey for me. I get a lot of help along the way to make sure I’m clean and safe for you to drink.

Join me on my adventures! Learn about me – your drinking water. Find out where I live, how I get to your tap and what you can do to help keep me healthy. You can also find more on the Region of Waterloo website.

I want to hear from you. Share your ideas or ask me a question and I’ll do my best to answer it.

Cheers, Groundwater.

6 mistruths about winter salt

Groundwater here. Let’s talk salt. I’m not talking beaches or seasoning but the stuff spread on the roads, parking lots, sidewalks, driveways, stairs – pretty much anywhere outside you walk, bike or drive in the winter.

Don’t get me wrong, salt has its benefits. It’s easy to find, relatively cheap and for the most part does a good job of melting ice so it’s safer for you to get around.

But if you are me – groundwater – salt isn’t so great. Unfortunately, what is put on the ground can end up where I am and overtime that same salt and ice melter will make me – your drinking water – taste salty.

2018 Chloride levels at Region of Waterloo municipal well sites

Here are my top six mistruths about salt that I think contribute to it being a water quality concern for me and my cousins in lakes and streams.

  1. Salt doesn’t harm the environment. FACT: Salt is a toxic substance and is a pollutant to water quality. Salt is a chemical but because it is found naturally and it’s used in your food, salt isn’t treated as such. Like many things it is about moderation and only using the right amount when needed.
  2. You can use an environmentally-friendly ice melter. FACT: Most ice melter and de-icing products including ones labelled “100 per cent natural”, and “pet, plant and environmentally friendly” use salt as their main ingredient. Even when you think you are using something environmentally friendly, it probably isn’t water friendly. Take a close look at the product labelling. If it melts ice it most likely lists chloride (Cl) as one of its ingredients and is damaging to water.
  3. Salt works in all temperatures. FACT: Salt (sodium chloride) works best between 0 and -10 Celsius. When it’s colder, it is best to switch to sand for traction or use an ice melter that works at colder temperatures. That ice melter is still damaging to water so make sure to follow product instructions and only use on icy areas only after you have cleared the snow.
  4. Salt goes away. FACT: Salt doesn’t leave the environment. It’s actually the chloride in salt that’s the problem. Chloride is highly soluble, meaning it gets inside me and won’t get out. Have you ever had a house guest who overstays their welcome? For me, that’s chloride.
  5. Water and wastewater treatment removes salt. FACT: Current water and wastewater treatment does not remove chloride in salt and ice melter products from water. Removing salt requires desalination which is extremely expensive and energy intensive, and greatly increases greenhouse gases.
  6. Salt is regulated and you must take training to use it. FACT: Anyone can spread salt. If the person spreading the salt hasn’t been educated on proper techniques and how harmful salt is to water, they often spread way too much or assume salt is the best tool when conditions say otherwise.

So there you have it. My six mistruths about salt. I’m sure there are others so I’d love to hear from you.

9 actions you can take as a water protector

Imagine a day without me – groundwater. Not a day goes by you don’t use me. You drink me, clean and wash with me, and so much more.

Keeping me clean and making sure there is always enough of me to go around is an important job. One that everyone can help with.

Want to be a water protector? Here are my top nine ways to get started.

  1. Take shorter showers. Cutting back on your shower by even a few minutes can mean less water down the drain and more money you can save on your next water utility bill.
  2. Check your toilet for leaks. Paying for water you aren’t using isn’t fun. Did you know a leaky toilet can silently lose 300 litres or more a day? That’s like filling up three bath tubs! An easy way to detect a leak is to place a few drops of food colouring in the tank, wait 20 to 30 minutes and then check the water in the bowl. If the water has changed colour you have a leak. For where else to check for leaks visit the Region of Waterloo water conservation web page.
  3. Limit the use of salt and ice melter. Chloride in salt and ice melter soaks into the ground and mixes with groundwater once it has melted the ice. Over time this will make drinking water taste salty. The Region of Waterloo has snow and ice clearing tips that can help keep salt out of water.
  4. Support water education. The Waterloo Wellington Children’s Groundwater Festival provides fun, hands-on activities to 5,000 grade 2 to 5 students each May. You can help the Festival continue educating future water protectors by making a financial donation and/or volunteering during the event.
  5. Use a rain barrel. Save on your water utility bill by watering your plants with rain courtesy of Mother Nature. Using native plants in your garden can also help reduce how much you need to water and create a pollinator-friendly space.
  6. Set your water softener to the correct water hardness. Save on salt costs and help reduce the amount of salt going into the Grand River. Water hardness differs throughout Waterloo Region. Use the Water Softener Facts website water hardness maps to find the water hardness for your area.
  7. Return unused medication to your local pharmacy. Help keep medication out of waterways. Never flush it down the toilet or pour down the sink.
  8. Only rain down the storm drain. Storm drains connect directly with the local waterway. It is important only rain and melted snow enter the storm drains to keep streams and creeks clean.
  9. Report a spill immediately if you witness or suspect a spill has occurred or is about to occur. A spill is the release of a substance that is harmful to the environment, such as oil, fuel, chemicals or pesticides into a sewer or the environment. Quick actions can reduce the clean-up time and protect the local environment.

I’d love to hear from you. Why is protecting water important to you? Do you have tips to help others be water protectors?

How the heck do you even get groundwater?

Hopefully you now know that I spend a lot of time deep underground moving through sand grains, rocks and gravel in what I like to call an aquifer.

I do a lot for you. You drink me, cook and wash with me, and so much more.

But have you ever asked yourself “if groundwater is deep underground, how the heck do we get it to where I am?” Well, we use…wells.

Perhaps a wishing well comes to mind. As a child maybe you tossed a coin over your shoulder and made a wish. Bring back memories? What did you wish for? Did your wishes come true?

Have you ever tossed a coin in a wishing well?

Today’s wells don’t typically look like wishing wells. And even though the Region of Waterloo has hundreds scattered throughout Waterloo Region, you probably have never noticed them in your travels.

So what is a well? A well is a metal pipe put into the ground to extract groundwater. Think of it like a big drinking straw.

First, a deep hole is drilled into the ground. How deep depends on how far down I’m hiding. Region of Waterloo municipal wells usually start around 30 metres (100 feet) deep and can reach depths of over 100 metres (330 feet). Once the hole is drilled, a metal pipe is placed inside. At the bottom of the pipe are slits covered with a screen allowing me to enter the pipe.

Drilling a hole for the well.

The Region of Waterloo uses two types of wells – supply wells and monitoring wells.

Supply wells move the groundwater from underground to above ground for you to use. A pump pushes me up the well. It’s probably like you spending the day on the rides at the fall fair. Once I get to the top of the well I go through a treatment process and tested to make sure I am good to go for you to drink. After that I hitch a ride through underground pipes to your home.

The supply well is located inside or beside a pump house. Operation of the well is monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from a central location. From this location the operator can control how much of me is pumped through the well. The Region of Waterloo manages over 120 supply wells throughout Waterloo Region.

Region of Waterloo manages over 120 wells that supply groundwater to homes and businesses.

The other type of well is a monitoring well. Monitoring wells collect information on the health of the groundwater. This includes collecting samples to test for water quality and to measure groundwater levels in the aquifer. Monitoring wells are placed near supply wells or along the path groundwater takes underground to reach the supply well. For each supply well, monitoring wells are drilled at different depths to provide information on the aquifer from different layers or locations. The Region of Waterloo manages over 400 monitoring wells throughout Waterloo Region.

Region of Waterloo manages over 400 monitoring wells that collect information on the health of groundwater.

4 cool facts you might not know about me.

Groundwater here. Unlike my friends in lakes and streams, I don’t always get the attention I deserve. Now that I have my own blog, I’d like to share some interesting facts about me.

Illustration of aquifer where you find groundwater
  1. I live underground. I am the rain and the melted snow that soaks into the ground. You live in a home above ground – I live in an aquifer underground. An aquifer is the layers of sand grains, rocks and gravel found underground. When I soak into the ground, I fill up the spaces between the sand grains, rocks and gravel. It’s like a big apartment building for water droplets, except it’s underground.
  2. I am always moving. I might not move as fast as my cousins above ground in streams and rivers but I am always moving. Moving underground between the sand grains, rocks and gravel is hard work. Think of it like going through a maze in the dark. How long I stay underground is hard to say, could be days or years. But at some point I rejoin my cousins above ground in a stream, river or lake and go through the water cycle once again.
  3. You have a doctor, I have a hydrogeologist. Hydrogeologists study me and keep me healthy. To do this, they use the geology of the land to understand how I move underground. Knowing how groundwater interacts with the materials underground helps the hydrogeologist figure out the path I take underground and how long that journey might take.
  4. Sand cleans me. When you are dirty you probably take a shower or a bath. And if you live in Waterloo Region I most likely dropped by for a visit. Sand is my shower. When I am travelling underground, I move through sand grains that help clean me.

There you go – four cool facts about me. I’d love to hear from you. Share your cool facts about groundwater. And if you learned something new today that you found interesting I’d love to hear about that as well.

Water: it’s what connects us


Our planet earth has always had the same amount of water. The water we use today was also there for the dinosaurs to drink. And through the water cycle, water can be found everywhere. It is always moving and changing states as a liquid, solid or gas.

Illustration of the water cycle

Water can be found in streams, rivers and lakes. It’s in the air and underground. It is the glaciers, rain and snow. And it’s in our food, plants and bodies.

Earth, also known as the blue planet, has a lot of water – about 71 per cent of our planet is covered in water. But how much of it is drinkable fresh water? First look at the oceans – that’s a lot of water. In fact 97 per cent of all water is salt water – water we can’t drink without desalinating or removing the salt. That leaves three per cent remaining as fresh water. About two per cent of all fresh water on our planet can be found underground as groundwater. Water is always travelling, even if it has to take the slow route, underground through rocks and dirt.

Video: NASA | Earth Science Week: Water, Water Everywhere!

Locally Waterloo Region is part of the Grand River watershed managed by the Grand River Conservation Authority. But what is a watershed? Is it a shed made out of water? Nope. A watershed is an area of land that drains into the same body of water. Think of it like a tree branch. In Waterloo Region groundwater seeps into small waterways such as Schneider’s Creek, Laurel Creek and Mill Creek that drain into the larger Grand River. The Grand River and many other watersheds drain into Lake Erie and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.

Video: What is a watershed

Have you ever watched the National Film Board movie “Paddle to the Sea”? The movie reminds me of a watershed. It is about a child who carves out a man in a canoe and sets it on a frozen stream waiting for the spring thaw. The movie follows the canoe as it travels from the stream to larger waterways and finally to the ocean.

The water cycle and the fact we all live in a watershed are reminders we all share the same water and we all live downstream from someone else. And why we all have a role to play when it comes to protecting water.

What do you think are the biggest issues for water? What steps should our community take to protect water? Do you have tips to share that can help others be water protectors?