Groundwater is water that is found below the ground surface. It is the source of water for wells and springs and helps to sustain water flow in surface water bodies, such as lakes and streams. It is a valuable resource because it supplies many Nova Scotian residents and businesses with their water supply and contributes to the health and integrity of our aquatic ecosystems.
The department's role in managing and protecting groundwater includes:
- providing information on the occurrence and quality of groundwater in Nova Scotia
- regulating and providing information on the construction and maintenance of water wells
- regulating groundwater withdrawal approvals
- promoting the sustainable development and use of groundwater through several key groundwater management initiatives
- developing and maintaining groundwater publications, databases and maps
Groundwater in Nova Scotia
About half of Nova Scotians rely on groundwater for their water supply. Wells in Nova Scotia are either shallow dug wells in the overburden aquifers (shallow aquifers made of loose soil and rock) or deeper drilled wells in the bedrock aquifers. The most common water supply for homes that are not served by a public system is a drilled well.
Groundwater quality in Nova Scotia is generally good, and in most areas of the province a properly constructed and maintained well can provide a good source of clean, safe drinking water. However, there are several types of naturally-occurring and human-made water quality problems that can occur and, therefore, it is important to test well water regularly. Our groundwater in Nova Scotia page has more information about groundwater use, and the quality and quantity of groundwater in the province.
Our page on private wells contains information for homeowners on well construction, water testing, and maintaining a water supply. For information on well construction requirements in Nova Scotia, please see our Well Construction Regulations.
Groundwater Withdrawal Approvals
Groundwater withdrawal approvals are one of the key management tools used by the department to ensure that groundwater use in the province is sustainable. In Nova Scotia, a groundwater withdrawal approval is required if a groundwater withdrawal exceeds 23,000 litres per day (5,000 gallons per day). Unless they have groundwater heat pumps, most households do not require withdrawal approvals because they typically use between 700 and 1,400 litres per day (150 to 300 gallons per day). Most commercial, industrial and irrigation wells pump more than 23,000 litres per day and, therefore, they typically require withdrawal approvals. Our page on water withdrawal approvals has more information on how to apply for a groundwater withdrawal approval.
The goal of groundwater management in Nova Scotia is to protect groundwater and ensure that it is developed and used in a sustainable manner. Sustainable groundwater development helps to promote economic development and environmental protection by ensuring that residents and business relying on groundwater will have access to safe, adequate and reliable water supplies and by protecting the health of aquatic ecosystems which are vital to the quality of life for Nova Scotians. Our page on groundwater management provides more information on the department's key groundwater management initiatives.
- Before You Construct a Water Well (PDF: 656k) (Note: The drinking water guideline for arsenic, on page 24, has been changed to 0.010 mg/L effective May 2006)
- Guide to Groundwater Withdrawal Approvals (PDF: 69k)
- Protocol for Determining Groundwater Under the Direct Influence of Surface Water (PDF: 141k)
- 2012 Report - Nova Scotia Groundwater Observation Well Network (PDF: 19.7mb)
- Water Resource Reports
- Well Decommissioning Guidelines (PDF: 79k)
- Well Decommissioning Record Form (PDF: 31k)
- Fact Sheets
- Guide to Groundwater Assessments for Subdivisions (PDF: 144k) and Groundwater Toolkit (xls: 1.6mb)
- Nova Scotia Well Logs Database
- Nova Scotia Groundwater Observation Well Network
- Well Water Nitrate Monitoring Program