Groundwater makes up 35 per cent of all freshwater withdrawals globally. Yet despite this large dependence on groundwater, our understanding of groundwater systems — and if these withdrawals are sustainable — is limited due to data scarcity and lack of modelling. Carol Luttmer is working to change this.

As the Program Manager of the Living Lakes Canada Columbia Basin Groundwater Monitoring Program, Carol is on the front line of “making the invisible visible”, which is the theme of this year’s groundwater-focused World Water Day on March 22.

“Groundwater is really important in the water cycle, and we often don’t think about it because it’s unseen,” Carol said. “We know that many people in the Columbia Basin depend on groundwater, as do many ecosystems. Groundwater helps maintain flows in rivers and provides cool water to keep stream temperatures suitable for fish.”

An independent consultant with 20 years of experience in environmental research, monitoring, and project management, Carol grew up on the shores of Lake Ontario and was always passionate about water, having even sailed on the national sailing team. She has an Honours BSc in Water Resources Engineering and a MSc in Physical Geography from the University of Guelph.

Carol’s interest in research began as an intern studying groundwater flow in bedrock as part of Atomic Energy of Canada’s research on the disposal of nuclear waste. She then headed to the Mojave Desert where she worked on restoration strategies to combat desertification associated with water diversions in the Owens Valley, California. Following this, her adventurous spirit took her to the Canadian Arctic where she worked for a decade on contaminated site assessments and remediation including studying the distribution and accumulation of contaminants in the food web and traditional foods gathered and hunted by Inuit.

“I was really struck by the effects we humans have on our environment. After seeing firsthand the issues we’ve created with waste, altering landscapes, and the effects of contaminants in the Arctic, I wanted to stop things from being impacted and polluted in the first place.”

This decision led her to work as an Environmental Assessment Officer for the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board in Yellowknife, helping manage environmental assessments of proposed developments.  Since moving to B.C. in 2013, Carol has worked as a contractor primarily on environmental monitoring and protection within government and non-profit sectors. Now settled in the Columbia Basin, she focuses mainly on water monitoring projects, including the Columbia Basin Groundwater Monitoring Program.

“I’ve taken opportunities where I could learn about environmental systems, but also learn about people and their relationships to their environment,” said Carol. “What I really like about the Groundwater Program is interacting and learning from communities and citizens about their relationships with water.”

The Groundwater Program is a community-based program whereby Living Lakes Canada partners with well owners, such as water supply system operators, First Nations, farmers, and homeowners, who volunteer their wells for monitoring. The program installs monitoring equipment that tracks groundwater levels to determine how they change seasonally and year to year.

“It’s really exciting because we now have multiple years of data that can help inform our understanding of how groundwater responds to climate change and other stressors” Carol said.

The data are available publicly on the Columbia Basin Water Hub and BC Real-time Water Data Tool.

The goal of the program is to collect long-term data to increase knowledge that will help manage and protect water for both people and nature by informing initiatives such a drought forecasting, water conservation, and ecosystem restoration. For example, data collected in Windermere, and an associated 3-D model that examines groundwater-surface water interactions, were recently shared in a public webinar in early December. The webinar attracted almost 40 participants ranging from local, regional and First Nations governments to community groups and landowners interested in understanding groundwater supplies and the restoration of Windermere Creek. Data collected by the Groundwater Program this past July made local, regional, and national headlines when it showed that groundwater levels were lower this July compared to the previous July in three different aquifers that are being monitored through the program.

Living Lakes Canada has released a short film about the program to help highlight the importance of groundwater monitoring. To learn more about the program, visit the project page.

Further Resources

Watch Living Lakes Canada’s Groundwater film:

Visit the Groundwater Monitoring Program project page: