In a 2009 report on sustainable management of groundwater in Canada, an expert panel of groundwater specialists identified "collection, maintenance, and management of existing and
newly collected groundwater-related data, coupled with ready access to these data, be viewed as a priority for action across the country" (Council of Canadian Academies, 2009). Since that time there has been some progress, in particular with respect
to access to water well records, but broader and more holistic collection and sharing of groundwater data still is not occurring.
Traditionally, provincial governments have been the lead agencies in collecting regional-scale data in the form of
water well records and dedicated water level monitoring wells, and providing public access to this data. Municipalities and conservation authorities collect data at local scales and the federal government has generally played a national coordinating
role. Access to data, where it is provided, has generally been free. The real cost of collecting, maintaining and improving these datasets is not readily discernible.
In an environment of spending constraints at all levels of government, and in
particular at provincial governments, these databases, and supporting source data, are vulnerable. In 1996 the Ontario government withdrew its funding of the Petroleum Resources Laboratory which had provided free public access to well records and
drilling samples from petroleum wells at its London location since 1971 and can trace its origins back to at least the early 1900's, and declared the staff redundant. There was a very real risk that these records and samples would be destroyed.
Fortunately, the Ontario petroleum industry recognized the value of maintaining and continuing the data operations of the Laboratory and in its place has emerged the Oil, Gas and Salt Resources Library.
The Library is a unique and innovative
approach to data sharing, driven by necessity. The Library business model is based on profit-driven data vendors in western Canada and the United States who package and market access to public petroleum industry data. The small size of the industry
in Ontario does not support a 100% fees-based model so the Library funding model is a hybrid.
The Library is an example of a successful approach to collection, amalgamation, management and sharing of subsurface geological data. There is convenient
access to an ever-increasing volume and scope of data on the Library website. Data content is actively managed and is under constant improvement through ongoing quality control initiatives. There is a balance between free public access to basic
information and fee-based access to value-added information. User fees are reasonable. It is possible to purchase data services in addition to data access.
Many of the features of the Library business and funding model can be adapted to
groundwater data sharing in Ontario. Implementation will be much more complex for groundwater data due to the dispersed custodianship of data, lack of a mandated reporting requirement, and the need to establish a funding model. The potential benefits
make this effort worthwhile. The key to implementation is identification of an organization, and an individual in that organization, willing to make a medium to long-term commitment to organize it.