There it may travel for as long as thousands of years before flowing into rivers, lakes, streams and oceans. Due to chronic over-pumping, chemical contamination and climate change, groundwater has become one of the world's most threatened resources. Here's what Environment Canada (citing the excellent work of renowned hydrologist John Cherry) now has to say about groundwater pollution: Chemical contamination "can render groundwater unsuitable for use." The overall extent of the problem across Canada remains unknown due to poor mapping and non-existent monitoring. There have been dramatic cases of groundwater pollution involving solvents, nitrates, de-icing salt, pesticides and methane. "In many cases, contamination is recognized only after groundwater users have been exposed to potential health risks. The cost of cleaning up contaminated water supplies is usually extremely high," adds Environment Canada . And the problem is getting worse due to population growth and "the large and growing number of toxic compounds used in industry and agriculture." The federal government warns that "more contaminated aquifers will be discovered, new contaminants will be identified, and more contaminated groundwater will be discharged into wetlands, streams and lakes." Once an aquifer is contaminated, it may be unusable for weeks, decades, centuries or 10,000 years depending on the contaminant. (Some frack jobs in Alberta consist entirely of diesel fuel.) Moreover groundwater contamination is an industrial curse that keeps on going. "Several studies have documented the migration of contaminants from disposal or spill sites to nearby lakes and rivers as this groundwater passes through the hydrologic cycle, but the processes are not as yet well understood." As a consequence Environment Canada says that "preventing contamination in the first place is by far the most practical solution to the problem." Any progress to date has been "hampered by a serious shortage of groundwater experts and a general lack of knowledge about how groundwater behaves." Despite documented cases of groundwater contamination throughout the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, no energy regulator has yet constructed a groundwater monitoring system to watch how oil and gas activity is changing the quality of groundwater over time. Not one, says John Cherry, the nation's top hydrologist.

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