Thank you very much. I very much appreciate the opportunity to be here with the committee today.
My name is Dave Rudolph. I'm a groundwater hydrologist at the University of Waterloo. Today I'd like to talk about three main points associated with Canada's subsurface water resources, or groundwater.
Groundwater is rapidly emerging as one of Canada's most strategic natural resources, influencing current topics related to the environment and sustainable development, yet it probably is the nation's most poorly understood resource. Part of it is because it tends to be out of sight and out of mind.
I am going to provide a bit of an overview of current groundwater use in Canada, just to give an idea of how Canadians use it. Then I'll go through a variety of questions related to emerging issues that are environmentally impacting groundwater at a national scale and will have social and economic impacts on a wide range of issues, and I'll provide a couple of examples of that. Finally, I have a couple of recommendations that might help us ensure that we stay proactive as we manage groundwater resources moving forward.
As Professor Famiglietti presented just a moment ago, at a global scale, groundwater represents an enormous component of our accessible fresh water. Approximately 95% to 98% of accessible fresh water is in the groundwater reserve. It's available throughout the world and it is depended on significantly.
In Canada, between the years 1970 and 2015, our dependence on groundwater went from about 10% to about 33%. In that short time period, we've been progressively turning towards groundwater as a substantial resource. That's about 10 million Canadians using groundwater on a daily basis. We expect this dependency to grow, yet it's quite variable across Canada.
For instance, in Prince Edward Island and the Yukon Territory, it is 100% of the supply that's used. Across the prairie provinces, it is about 30%; and in Ontario, maybe 30% to 40%. That gives you an idea of how substantial it is across Canada.
As illustrated by part of what you saw just a moment ago, there is clear evidence now that groundwater will be a crucial component in helping us mitigating against climate change because of climate warming. It will help us maintain the economic growth that we are looking for and a standard of living for our future Canadians, but there are challenges coming forward and I'll mention just a few.
The first relates to the decades of land use management and resource development that has resulted in slow and chronic degradation of groundwater quality. That is now beginning to threaten municipal water supplies and ecosystem health across Canada. It's slow moving but arriving now at our doorstep.
Particularly challenging are examples you may know of: urban road de-icers, which are particularly difficult; agricultural nutrient management; and retired metal and petroleum mining operations across Canada.
The second point I'll refer to is the emergence of new contaminants of concern, ones that we may never have anticipated before. One that is particularly prevalent these days is a series of substances referred to as per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. You may have heard the term. They are being widely detected in the environment, tend to be bioaccumulating, and as yet we don't know how to deal with them and what the health effects are. This is something that is changing very quickly. Recently, just in the last few months, the U.S. Department of Defense invested $100 million in PFAS research. Groundwater appears to be one of the most substantial vectors of movement.
The third issue I'll point to just for this morning is the identification of hundreds of thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells across Canada, all of which are indicating a potential impact in terms of groundwater threats. Right here in Ontario, we have 25,000 of these abandoned wells, something that's really not well known. They are under the Great Lakes, around them, and all through Ontario. That type of threat is not understood very well. The overall environmental economic legacy of it is still under consideration.
One of the biggest challenges, of course, in groundwater management is that jurisdictional responsibility is divided between municipal, provincial and federal governments, which makes it challenging to manage it in the long run. However, because of the strategic significance of the nation's groundwater and how it's changing so rapidly, federal leadership is critical, moving forward.
To that light, I will point out two major, substantial documents that the federal government has developed over the last few years.
In 2003, NRCan initiated a national committee to develop a Canadian framework for collaboration on groundwater. That document provides a really good road map for governance. It's as timely now as it was then, and it has gained international attention. It is being used in lots of parts of the world. It's something that's available, and I tried to bring a bilingual version of it for you today. I've only found the English version, but it's online on the NRCan website.
The second one is a document that the federal government commissioned from the Council of Canadian Academies in 2009, and it is referred to as “The Sustainable Management of Groundwater in Canada”. It's an excellent reference. I've brought the both French and English versions of it for you today. I'll leave it with the chair at the end of the day. Again, CCA developed that document.
Both of them are totally relevant now, with a lot of great information. As a result of the changes I mentioned, we need to revisit some of the topics going forward.
To close, moving forward, I have some recommendations.
I think groundwater needs to be fully integrated into all of our conversations regarding the environment and sustainable development in Canada, particularly as we consider the creation of a new Canada water agency. It plays a substantial role.
One of the opportunities for us now, I think, is another national-scale committee to evaluate the current status of groundwater in Canada and to provide advice to the federal and provincial government authorities in developing the Canadian water agency, building on the excellence that's already come out with those two documents I mentioned—they're a great way to start—and engaging Canada's groundwater and hydrogeology expertise in academia, government and private business. It's recognized worldwide.
Thank you very much.