Drinking water always originates in one of two places. It comes from surface water, like rivers and lakes, or from groundwater that sits naturally below the ground surface.
With a reliable and high-quality water source from the South Saskatchewan River, the City of Saskatoon does not currently utilize groundwater. However, the City recognizes its value and the need to protect it because what we do above ground, matters underground.
Groundwater is water that occupies the pore spaces in soil and rocks underground and it comes from rain and snowmelt.
Where are Saskatoon's groundwater resources?
Groundwater resources in the Saskatoon area have been mapped at a regional scale by the Water Security Agency and include both shallow and deep aquifers. Significant groundwater resources, listed from deepest to shallowest, include the Tyner Valley Aquifer, Forestry Farm/Dalmeny Aquifers, and surficial aquifers. Groundwater from these aquifers is currently used for domestic, municipal and other purposes.
Shallow aquifers tend to provide the freshest water and are most targeted for groundwater use. These wells are also the most vulnerable to contamination from surface sources and fluctuations in water availability linked to climate and water use. Deeper aquifers have more water availability, but the water tends to be mineralized and it is costly to drill and install deep wells.
Are there risks to using groundwater in Saskatoon?
Untreated groundwater from private wells is not always safe for drinking water purposes. Testing is required to guarantee its safety and treatment is sometimes also needed to meet federal-provincial drinking water quality objectives. The City provides treated and safe drinking water from the South Saskatchewan River and is not responsible for ensuring that groundwater from private wells is tested nor treated.
Groundwater can sometimes be used for irrigation without treatment, however minerals dissolved in groundwater tend to accumulate in irrigation equipment over time may necessitate frequent maintenance or replacement. Irrigation with groundwater can also negatively impact soil quality and plant health.
In addition, bacteria from sanitary sewer line leaks, nitrates from lawn fertilizers or agricultural sources, and chemicals from spills are all contamination risks to groundwater. The number of potential contaminant sources are greater in Saskatoon when compared to rural areas due to the higher population density and more variable land use within city limits. Contaminants can reach aquifers either by infiltrating through soil and migrating through groundwater or by entering poorly maintained or abandoned groundwater wells.
Do we have groundwater wells in Saskatoon?
While the City does not expect there are many residents using domestic wells on properties where City water service is available, the number of active wells in use is currently unknown. The installation and operation of private groundwater wells for domestic purposes is not addressed by current bylaws. Because these wells do not require approvals or licencing by the Water Security Agency, up-to-date records are unavailable.
The Water Security Agency currently regulates groundwater used for non-domestic purposes in Saskatchewan. These purposes include: municipal, irrigation, industrial, and other uses. The agency also monitors groundwater levels, allocations, and use from aquifers in the southern half of the province, thereby administering and managing groundwater resources at a regional scale. A water rights licence is required to use groundwater in Saskatchewan, except for domestic purposes.
If we're not using it, why do we need to protect groundwater?
Groundwater is an important natural resource that requires protection to ensure its viability is sustained for present and future users. Groundwater is not restricted by property, municipal, city or provincial boundaries. As a rural province, there are large numbers of properties and municipalities that utilize groundwater as a drinking and irrigation supply.
In 2021, Saskatoon City Council approved proposals to create a bylaw prohibiting new domestic-purpose pumping wells within city limits and create a new development standard for monitoring wells installed, maintained, and decommissioned during the land development process.
What can I do to help protect groundwater?
All water that enters the storm sewer system goes directly into the South Saskatchewan River. For this reason the City has specific bylaws to protect the river, for example the prohibition of draining hot tubs and pools to the storm sewer without treatment.
Be mindful of what you put on your lawn and garden. Over fertilization can contaminate both surface water and groundwater.
If you have a groundwater well on your property, ensure that it is maintained and decommissioned when no longer required.