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The Importance of Protecting Groundwater on the Farm

By Sierra Unick, ATechAg, Agri-Environmental Specialist, Prince Albert

Water, whether it be surface or groundwater, is an essential resource in Saskatchewan. While many people still rely on surface water for spraying crops, watering livestock or supplying their household water needs, groundwater is often considered the more reliable source. Saskatchewan has a number of large underground aquifers that are regularly recharged and less prone to losses from evaporation or runoff than surface water sources. These aquifers provide water for farms and households across the province.

An aquifer stores groundwater in the gaps between coarse gravel and sand layers, both shallow and deep, below the soil surface. Groundwater is refilled by surface water and slowly moves from recharge areas, through our underground aquifers and into discharge areas. Wetlands, including springs, creeks, and groundwater-fed sloughs, can be either recharge or discharge areas, depending on local geography.

Due to its nature as a universal solvent, water is a prime candidate for contamination – nutrients, pesticides, chemicals and other wastes can dissolve in and then flow with water, which can cause negative impacts on water users. Once an unwanted substance contaminates groundwater in an aquifer, it is costly and difficult to clean up.

The key to protecting groundwater is preventing contamination from happening in the first place. There are best management practices you can follow to protect this resource on your farm. Some include:

  • Manage farm waste to prevent accidental chemical contamination of your groundwater source.
  • Prevent nutrient-rich runoff from reaching aquifers through wetlands and wells.
  • Maintain wetlands on your farmland. Wetland plants remove nutrients and filter sediment from water before entering an aquifer.
  • Properly cover and then decommission old and abandoned groundwater wells. An open or improperly covered well is a conduit for contamination between the surface and aquifer.

Financial support is available to Saskatchewan producers, First Nations, value-added agricultural businesses and Rural Municipalities for the decommissioning of groundwater wells through the Farm and Ranch Water Infrastructure Program. Applicants are eligible for a rebate of up to 90 per cent of eligible costs to a maximum payment of $10,000. Pre-approval is required for the well decommissioning funding. Help with your application is available at no cost through your local Ministry of Agriculture agri-environmental specialists, located in regional offices across the province.

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