Quebec: Assessing the Risk of Groundwater Contamination During Flooding

quebec floods affect water quality
A multidisciplinary project will develop a decision-making tool to estimate the risk of water contamination in flooded areas. Source: Global News Canada

In recent years the province of Quebec, Canada has seen record flooding. Not only do extensive precipitation and overflowing water bodies cause property damage and psychological impact but they also pose a significant health risk. Contamination of groundwater and other drinking water sources may have a devastating impact on the health and the level of life of the locals. Professor Geneviève Bordeleau of Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) is leading a research project to boost the local communities’ resilience by enabling them to manage vulnerable drinking water sources in the event of flooding.

The research project is a collaboration of scientists and environmentalists. Professor Bordeleau of INRS, fellow INRS professor Karem Chokmani, professor Roxanne Lavoie from Université Laval, along with the company Géosapiens are working together to find a solution to prevent massive destruction and drinking water contamination. The innovation is to be implemented all around Quebec.

Contamination factors

Professor Bordeleau notes that the risk of contamination of water reservoirs during flooding depends on a number of very specific conditions. The underground drinking water source must be located near a contaminated stream from which water seeps into the source during a flood. Infiltration can occur directly from the surface or indirectly through groundwater. An expert in isotopic geochemistry, professor Bordeleau points out that despite strict standards for drinking water wells in Canada, there is always a chance of contamination.

“Although construction standards for drinking water wells in Québec are designed to protect water quality, several factors can increase the risk of water contamination locally” — Genevieve Bordeleau, professor at INRS.

Step one of the research was to analyze data from several sources and conduct field work. Complete and correct evaluation of the risks requires thorough examination of multidisciplinary data. The results will be used to develop a methodology for spatially assessing risk. The approach will be tested in several small study areas with varying social and geographic contexts, types of water supply, and potential contaminants. This research will enable Québec to take steps to reduce health risks by better protecting water quality in target areas affected by flooding.