Maps aren’t just for roads

Maps are great tools. They can help you find where you are, provide information on nearby landmarks and help guide you to your final destination. Remember the good ole days of paper maps? Now-a-days I’m guessing many of you use a GPS or an APP on your phone to help you get around.

For me – groundwater, I don’t really need a map. Partly because it would be really hard to read down here in the aquifer but mostly because I honestly don’t care where I am or where I end up. For me, there are no borders or boundaries thanks in part to the water cycle.

However, my friends at the Region of Waterloo seem to think otherwise. They like to track my every movement – where I soak into the ground, how long I’m underground and the different paths I take to reach the 120+ municipal supply wells in Waterloo Region.

Each municipal supply well is in a Wellhead Protection Area made up of four zones: 100-metres, 2 years, 5 years and 25 years. The 100-metre zone is the closest to the supply well, with the remaining zones marking the time it takes for me to reach the well.

illustration shows time of travel for groundwater from different points underground to the well. Image credit: Conservation Ontario.
Wellhead Protection Areas surround each municipal supply well in Waterloo Region
Image credit: Conservation Ontario

Understanding the geology of the land

With the help of computer modeling, hydrogeologists can track my movement and use this information to create Wellhead Protection Area maps.

To understand how I move underground you first need to know what materials I’m moving through. Aquifers, where you can find me, are made of different layers of materials such as sand, gravel, clay and bedrock. No two aquifers are the same. The layers in one aquifer can be very different from another. And in fact, the types of materials and how they are layered can change in a single aquifer.

As I slowly move through the spaces between these materials I travel at different rates of speed. Sand is like a sponge, slowing me down as well as acting as a natural filter. Rocks and gravel with larger spaces or cracks provide me with more room so I can travel at a quicker pace compared to sand. Clay is like a big ole stop sign for me. Its hard-packed and dense material acts as a barrier forcing me to change my route.

map showing wellhead protection areas for municipal wells in Waterloo Region.
Wellhead Protection Area map for Waterloo Region. Area in red is closest to the supply well.

Why Wellhead Protection Area maps are important

One reason Wellhead Protection Areas are important is they help bring attention to me. When you look around it’s easy to see the lakes and streams. But I hide underground so I don’t always get the attention I deserve. You know the saying – out of sight – out of mind.

The maps help make groundwater real and hopefully more valued. They provide important information on my whereabouts and the journey I take to each municipal supply well.

And finally, the Wellhead Protection Area maps are an important groundwater protection tool supporting actions using the Source Water Protection Plan to reduce risks from pollution to groundwater.

And as the official drinking water for Waterloo Region, I’d like to think I’m worth protecting.

Cheers, Groundwater

Wellhead Protection Area maps show how groundwater moves to each of the @RegionWaterloo 120 supply wells. An important Source Protection tool for reducing risks of pollutants to groundwater. #iamgroundwaterblog

Related posts:

No. R.S.V.P. required. Your exclusive tour of groundwater’s home.

It might not be Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous but for me it’s home. Entering my home might not be obvious. For you, a knock on a door or a turn of a key, and you’re in. For me it’s a bit trickier. It starts with me as a raindrop. After parachuting in from the clouds I soak into the ground to recharge my home, the aquifer.

Groundwater’s word of the day: Recharge, also called infiltration, is when water is added back into the aquifer. This can happen through precipitation such as rain fall or when snow melts or from water seeping into the aquifer from surface water such as a pond or stream.

So what is an aquifer? First, to find an aquifer you have to look down. Believe it or not, where you are standing right now, there could be an aquifer underneath you. It might take some work digging down to get to it, but it’s there.

Child with magnifying glass looking down at the ground.
Believe it or not, where you are standing right now, there could be an aquifer beneath you.

When you dig into the ground, what do you find? Dirt, sand, rocks. Theses are all materials that can be found in an aquifer. What materials are in the aquifer depend on the geology of the land and how it was formed a long, long time ago. Glaciers played an important role carving out the land. The materials left behind when the glaciers retreated or melted helped form the aquifers, including the Waterloo Moraine where recharge for some of the aquifers begins in Waterloo Region.

The Waterloo Moraine consists of thick deposits of sand and gravel, separated by clay layers, where large quantities of recharge help supply the water to the Region’s water supply wells. The map shows the Regional recharge areas of the Waterloo Moraine where sand is exposed at the surface allowing the recharge into the aquifers.

But make not mistake, recharge happens everywhere beneath your feet, not just the green areas.

Map of Waterloo Region showing recharge areas of the Waterloo Moraine.
Map of Waterloo Region showing recharge areas of the Waterloo Moraine in green

Aquifers in much of Waterloo Region consist of sand and gravel with layers of clay. The exception is most of Cambridge where the aquifers are in bedrock.

Getting back to me parachuting from the clouds and soaking into the ground…once I have soaked into the ground, I look for spaces between the different materials – sand, gravel or bedrock. Those spaces might look tiny to you but for me, they’re plenty big.

Hands-on activity: Place some pebbles or marbles in a glass. They represent the sand or gravel in an aquifer. Look closely at the pebbles/marbles. Do you see spaces? Now pour water into the glass. This represents the recharging or adding water back into the aquifer. Where does the water go? Does it sit on top of the pebbles/marbles or does it fill up the spaces?

Groundwater Foundation instructional video on how to make an aquifer in a cup

That’s what an aquifer is, an area underground filled with groundwater – me – in the spaces between the sand grains, rock or gravel.

illustration of a groundwater aquifer
Illustration of an aquifer

And once I’m there I don’t sit still. Water doesn’t like to stay in one place for too long. So while I’m underground, I’m slowly moving a few metres per year through the spaces between the sand, rock or gravel. Eventually I’ll make my way into a stream and evaporate as part of the water cycle before parachuting down from the clouds to recharge an aquifer once again.

So there you have it. Hopefully you now have a better idea of where I live. And if you are looking for something to do that involves ice cream, check out this edible aquifers recipe. It’s a fun and tasty way to learn more about my home.

Cheers, Groundwater

Groundwater is your drinking water. But where can you find groundwater? No. R.S.V.P. required. Your exclusive tour of groundwater’s home. #iamgroundwaterblog

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 groundwater aquifer
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.

Unlike groundwater’s friends in lakes and streams, groundwater doesn’t always get the attention deserved. 4 cool facts you might not know about groundwater. #iamgroundwaterblog

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.

water cycle
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?

Water connects us. Waterloo Region is in the Grand River watershed. All water in the watershed drains into Lake Erie and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean. We all live downstream and we all need to protect water. #iamgroundwaterblog

Get to know groundwater

illustration of groundwater aquifer

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.

You might not realize it but you and groundwater spend a lot of time together. Groundwater is the water you drink, cook and wash with and so much more. Check out the I Am Groundwater blog to learn more. #iamgroundwaterblog