Protecting, Sustaining Groundwater Aim of New Research Centre

June 25, 2010 - News Release

The University of Guelph today opened the first phase of a new centre to help ensure safe and sustainable groundwater supplies that is intended to become one of the most advanced bedrock aquifer research facilities in North America.

"Water is a precious resource, and it’s an ongoing challenge to balance human needs and demand with nature’s process and supply,” said Kevin Hall, vice-president (research).

“This state-of-the-art facility will allow our researchers to discover new information about bedrock aquifers. It will lead to improved water management practices and generate practical, sustainable solutions for preventing water contamination.”

The Bedrock Aquifer Field Facility will be overseen by U of G engineering professor and groundwater expert Beth Parker. Researchers will study everything from how contaminants travel through groundwater in fractured rock and how they affect well-water supplies to whether they can be easily removed or destroyed underground.

“What we learn here will help advance our understanding of entire urban water systems in Canada and around the world,” Parker said.

Guelph draws its water from one of Canada’s most important bedrock aquifers, made up of fractured dolostone. It’s Ontario’s largest community supplied by bedrock groundwater.

“As a municipality, Guelph is on the front lines of protecting and conserving the city’s water supply,” said Mayor Karen Farbridge. She added that the city has made a long-term commitment in its water supply master plan to rely on its groundwater resources. “The research of the Bedrock Aquifer Field Facility will enable Guelph to stay on the forefront of groundwater protection.”

More than a million people living in some of southern Ontario's fastest-growing communities rely on bedrock aquifers for their water. As demand for water increases, so do the potential risks associated with contamination of the water-yielding underground layers of porous fractured rock. Bedrock aquifers are particularly prone to problems, Parker said. Water flows in fractures at exceptionally high velocity and can rapidly spread contaminants, including human viruses.

But there is little information about how and why, relative to other aquifer types such as sand and gravel, Parker said.

The Guelph water system will be a “living laboratory” of sorts. Currently, the new facility includes three boreholes, and will be rapidly expanded into a network of wells that will allow researchers to investigate the bedrock aquifer and overlying soils year-round. It also houses drill rigs, water sampling devices and other types of field equipment.

“It will serve many research and teaching purposes for several University of Guelph departments and nearby universities involved in water resource science and engineering,” Parker said. “It will provide students with excellent opportunities for hands-on learning and foster interdisciplinary research and collaborations between institutions.”

She added that this is the first time an urban bedrock aquifer system has been subject to such comprehensive and multidisciplinary investigations.

Parker also heads an international team of 16 researchers aiming to develop technologies to secure safe and sustainable groundwater supplies. In 2009 the group, which includes scientists and engineers from Canada, the United States and Switzerland, received $5 million over five years from the Ontario government.

She was involved in investigating and cleaning up contaminated industrial sites before joining U of G in 2007 as a Senior Industrial Research Chair. She brought with her more than $5 million in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

Last year Parker received an international award for her significant research contributions to groundwater remediation, protection and management.

Prof. Beth Parker
School of Engineering
519 824-4120, Ext. 53642

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982 or

University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1