Better Planet: Guelph’s Groundwater

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Better Planet: Guelph’s Groundwater

Professor Beth Parker discusses benefits of Guelph’s unusually hard water


Professor Beth Parker speaks at the Guelph Civic Museum about the physical properties of Guelph’s groundwater in the first of four Better Planet lectures to be held this semester. Photo by Wendy Shepherd.

On Jan. 9, the Guelph Civic Museum hosted the first of four public lectures planned to coincide with the U of G’s 50th anniversary exhibit now on display. Each of the four lectures will focus on one of the Better Planet Project’s four pillars: environment, health, community and food. This inaugural lecture, conducted by Professor Beth Parker of the School of Engineering, was titled “Guelph’s Groundwater: Understanding Our Local Water Supply.”

About two-dozen people – mostly adults – showed up to listen to the evening talk and, judging by the questions that dominated the closing remarks, many had been drawn in by the promise of learning more about City’s unusually hard tap water.

Professor Parker, who led the talk, is the NSERC Industrial Research Chair and Director of the U of G’s G360 Centre for Applied Groundwater Research. The focus of her research is primarily on groundwater contaminants and, as a result, much of the talk was devoted to looking at how groundwater flows and accommodates pollutants. Professor Parker stressed that Guelph’s groundwater is a uniquely valuable resource, and spent relatively little time discussing the causes and effects of the water’s hardness.

The bedrock aquifer beneath the Grand River Basin, the source of Guelph’s and the surrounding area’s groundwater, is composed of Silurian dolostone. The qualities specific to this type of rock ensure an unusually high quality of groundwater, as well as an unusually high mineral content.

“Its one of the best aquifers in the world because of its low salinity,” said Parker, “so its fresh water qualities are about as fresh as one can get.”

Professor Parker expressed some disappointment that too often this benefit is clouded by the nuisance factor associated with the accompanying hardness. Hard water, in contrast to soft water, can lead to excessive limescale build-up and can prevent soap from lathering.

Guelph’s drinking water has around 460 ppm of calcium carbonate, placing it on the very high end of the hard water scale. Toronto, by contrast, has values of 121 ppm, while Vancouver, whose water needs are met by glacier-fed mountain lakes, has extremely soft water, with calcium carbonate levels in the single digits.

“I think when I talk to local folks and they say, ‘Oh, I hate the water because its hard,’ I think we have kind of skewed view of treasure we actually have access to,” said Parker in her closing remarks. “I think I need to do a better job of pointing out some of these assets and features we have and that comes with groundwater as a source of drinking water.”

Indeed, groundwater accounts for 96 per cent of the planet’s unfrozen fresh water and meets the needs of over half the world’s population. It is a remarkably resilient resource but, Parker stressed, it is jeopardized by all manner of pollutants: from industry to road salts to septic tanks.

Professor David Ma, from the College of Biological Sciences, will be giving the next talk on Omega-3 Acids and Breast Cancer Prevention on Feb. 13. Professor Evan Fraser, from the College of Social and Applied Human Sciences, will discuss the coming challenge of feeding nine billion people on Mar. 13. Professor Maurice Nelischer, Director of Sustainability at U of G, will give the final lecture on the relationship between the university campus and the wider community on Apr. 10.