Monday, 26 November 2012 08:09

Lethbridge County officials studying groundwater

Written by  Stephanie Labbe
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Murray Peters (right), a senior soil and water technologist, explains the different lengths of PVC pipe they put in the ground to test groundwater as part of the Livestock Manure Impacts on Groundwater Quality in Alberta study. Murray Peters (right), a senior soil and water technologist, explains the different lengths of PVC pipe they put in the ground to test groundwater as part of the Livestock Manure Impacts on Groundwater Quality in Alberta study. Photo by Stephanie Labbe

The County of Lethbridge is currently in the process of a research study looking at livestock manure impacts on groundwater quality in Alberta.


During an agriculture tour in October, stops were made at three of the sites in the Battersea area currently being observed.
The project first started in 2008 and is set to conclude in 2015. 
The 73-kilometre-square Battersea area is just east of Picture Butte. In this area there are about 30 confined feeding operations (CFOs) or 40,000 animal manure units. An estimated 70 per cent of the land is mainly irrigated for cereal production.
The irrigation water used in the area comes from the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District. There’s some source water that comes from the Picture Butte Reservoir and returns to the Oldman River.
Three main objectives of the study include to determine how the groundwater quality changes with time in the Battersea; determine the risks to groundwater quality from manure field application and storage facilities; and compare relative impacts between manure field application and storage facilities on groundwater quality.
The first stop was at a site called LB2. Here, two speakers provided an overview of the entire study and touched a little bit on the three main objectives of the study.
Barry Olson, with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, was the main speaker during the afternoon portion of the tour. Olson explained many different agencies have done research in the area.
“Because of the high agriculture intensity and the connectivity to the Oldman River, it’s been a popular area to do some research and other studies by a number of agencies,” said Olson.
He added there have been numerous studies done in the area and that provides the researchers now with large amounts of data from over the years with which to compare their findings.
“We have a lot of data that has accumulated over the years on surface and groundwater, beginning in the early 1990s and this includes nutrients and metals and salts, pesticides, bacteria and livestock pharmaceuticals.”
Kristen Lorenz, a groundwater specialist, said there are several different types of soil found throughout the Battersea area. In the western portion of the Battersea area there are stiffer soils that are almost like clay where water doesn’t seem to move as much.
She said in the east, there are coarser soils such as loose sands where water and materials move more quickly.
“... The regional shallow groundwater follows the topography, so it moves
from higher elevation in our western northwest area towards the east and the southwest,” said Lorenz. 
In the historic study, the researchers found groundwater in the west was older, so there wasn’t any evidence of human impacts on the area. There is no precipitation moving down through the ground surface to that water. 
In the east, the historic study showed the groundwater is younger and it’s there, because there is precipitation moving down through the soil profile and adding to that groundwater.
“When we’re talking about impacts of agricultural activities, we’re mainly focusing on nitrate and chloride,” said Lorenz. “Nitrate and chloride are just better indicators for us to use when we’re looking at manure (and) transport of manure constituents.”
The second site visited on the Ag. Tour was Field A (Groundwater Nest LB5a). Here, a series of monitoring wells were observed and explained to the public. These wells are used to determine water quality changes in the Battersea area in comparison to the historic work done about 10 years ago.
There are 36 wells in 13 nests to assess regional groundwater quality. Nine of the 36 wells are being used for the comparison to the historical data set. These nine wells are historical wells that are looked at to observe the changes mainly in nitrate and chloride.
Jonathan Turchenek, a University of Saskatchewan masters student, is doing a thesis on this current study. He said in his research so far, he’s found high nitrate in the course and finer sediments generally in six sites that he has looked at.    
Murray Peters, a senior soil and water technologist with Alberta Agriculture, did the installation of the wells at each site in the Battersea area. Not only did he drill the holes for the wells, but the drills brought up soil samples and those were used for testing.
Once tested, the soil samples are handed over to other scientists and specialists to look at and decide in what areas they will actually place the wells.
The well consists of a two-inch PVC pipe that has a well-screening at the bottom and the rest of it is a solid pipe to ground level. The depth in which the well-screen is placed, is where the specialists will be wanting to look.
Each well can have a well-screen at a different depth.
Doug Knowles, a water specialist, was at the site to explain and show the different tools and techniques used by specialists to take water samples.
One of the pieces of equipment used is a pressure transducer logger, which measures the height of water. Every 15 minutes they are set to take a reading. This measures the pressure of water on top of it and then once sent to a computer, it can determine the height of water. There are 52 of the pressure transducer loggers stretched across the site.
The third stop on the afternoon portion of the tour visited site CFO-1. There are five different CFO sites involved in the study, including three dairy manure storage facilities in central Alberta, which is in the Lacombe-Ponoka area.
Two of the CFO sites are located near Picture Butte. Sensors are placed in the study area to measure groundwater velocity direction and magnitude in situ at the centimetre scale. It can take anywhere between 12 to 48 hours for the sensors to take the test. The sensors are placed under the ground in a PVP stand. Sometimes there are two or three in each stand.
These probes (sensors) were installed in CFO-1 in August of 2011 and the first ones in Canada were in 2010. There are 10 PVP stands at eight nests in the study area with 25 PVPs instrumented in those stands.
Five of the PVP stands are in CFO-1 with about 12 probes in those stands. The PVP probes cost below $100 a probe, not including installation. 
Lisa Tymensen, a scientist with Alberta Agriculture, assess potential impacts of manure storage facilities and field application of manure on pathogen contamination of groundwater. Pathogens are micro-organisms, in this case bacteria, that cause disease.
“Generally the ones I’m looking at are fecal pathogens, so they’ll cause diarrhea and a good example of that that most people might know would be something like salmonella or E. coli 157,” said Tymensen. “One thing I like to emphasize is that I’m focusing the study on just shallow groundwater, because there’s really minimal risk that pathogens are going to be transported into deep water.”
So far, there has been little research done on pathogens in Alberta as it takes a lot of instrumentation to do the research.
Tymensen is studying two general types of bacteria including E. coli and Campbell Vector. The E. coli Tymensen is looking at is not a pathogen, but the Campbell Vector is.
She explained most people and animals are going to have a strand of E. coli in them. However, this is not the same kind of E. coli which makes people sick. It’s actually good to have this strand of E. coli in a peron's system or their livestock.
E. coli 157 is the E. coli that causes diarrhea, while most strands of E. coli don’t. Campbell Vector causes diarrhea and is found in most livestock. It doesn’t cause disease in the animals, but it does cause disease if it contaminates groundwater and food and humans ingest it. 
Bacteria is able to transport a lot easier through the sandier soils rather than the more clay-type soil.
The tour was meant to give the public more insight on what’s going on agriculture wise in the County of Lethbridge. For more information on the research study contact Barry Olson at 403-381-5884, toll-free at 310-0000 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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