When you visit Marlene Peacock’s home—a rural retreat hidden away from civilization near Rimbey, Alberta—you never want to leave.
The property, which was purchased by Peacock’s father in 1982, is home to a 70-year-old apple orchard, grazing pastures for cattle, and a natural spring, all nestled in amongst a grove of trees.
“This property is really special to my family,” she said. “I grew up here, my kids grew up here. Now my grandchildren play here.”
This is why, in the fall of 2015, Peacock was alarmed to see the water that feeds her spring gushing out of a hillside and into the ditch adjacent to her property.
All of this beautiful, pristine water was rushing from the hillside down into the ditch. It was hard to watch.Grant Nieman, AER field inspector.
“A company notified us that they would be drilling on the land next to ours,” she recalled. “They made a significant cut into the hill and accidentally tapped into the aquifer.”
The water poured from the hill at an incredible rate, and within one week, Peacock noticed the volume in her spring beginning to decrease.
Seeking a Solution
Typically, water flowed into the Peacock’s spring at a rate of around 40 litres per minute. After a week of water loss, the flow had dropped to around half that. “That’s when I phoned the AER.”
Grant Nieman, a field inspector with the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), brought a team to Peacock’s property and began working with the company to find a solution.
“We knew this needed to be fixed right away,” he said. “All of this beautiful, pristine water was rushing from the hillside down into the ditch. It was hard to watch.”
While tapping into the aquifer was easy, undoing the damage was not. Various options were discussed, including installing an underground water pipeline or trenching the water across the dirt road to the property. These options, however, were unsatisfactory.
“You could drink this water straight from the ground,” Nieman said. “Not to mention, running it through the ditch meant Marlene would lose a significant volume of the water that she typically used to water her cattle.”
After a year of brainstorming, a potential solution was finally reached. The company installed a six-metre vertical pipe into the aquifer and reclaimed the hill, leaving a short section of pipe sticking out; the bottom was perforated and packed with large rock, which allowed the ground water to pool. This pipe, which was eventually sealed off with cement, blocked the water flow, helped the spring to recharge, and redirected the water back towards its natural route.
That winter, Peacock watched her spring. In the 14 months it took to reach a solution, it had completely dried up. “There was no water flowing in, it was bone dry,” she recalled.
The Spring Sprang Back
But she remained optimistic, placing rocks at the bottom of the spring to create a pattern for the water’s return. Finally in January 2017, two months after the pipe was installed, she noticed a small amount of water bubbling up through the ground.
It’s been three years since the aquifer was breached, and nearly two since water began slowly trickling back into the Peacock’s historic family spring. While the spring is now full, its flow is still at only one third of its original strength.
“We were hopeful the aquifer would completely recharge, but for now it’s at least flowing,” Nieman acknowledged.
Despite facing the potential loss of her beloved spring, Peacock remained positive throughout the ordeal. This, she says, is largely due to the efforts of AER staff and the care that they showed her. In fact, the positive relationship between her and Nieman is evident: listening to them discuss the situation is less like a formal relationship between counterparts and more like old friends.
“We had such great cooperation with the local contractors, and the AER came out to our property numerous times,” Peacock described. “They listened to our concerns, sent messages back and forth with the company, and really genuinely cared about helping us solve this problem.”
Marlene Peacock chats with the AER’s Grant Nieman.
Marlene Peacock stands next to the only visible portion of the vertical pipe that blocks water flow to recharge the aquifer.
Three pumpjacks sit atop a well pad near where the sealed vertical pipe which reaches 20 feet below ground.
The Peacock family spring, hidden away amongst a 70-year-old orchard.
Marlene Peacock enjoys a drink of her spring water.
A tub filled with drinking water for Marlene Peacock’s cattle.
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Great job, Grant!