So, What’s a Piezometer? An Answer to the Mystery of the Rideau River Hitching Posts

Measuring the water table, and not hitching horses, is the reason why these piezometers line the cross-country ski trails along the Rideau River. Photo by Petre Croal

Measuring the water table, and not hitching horses, is the reason why these piezometers line the cross-country ski trails along the Rideau River. Photo by Petre Croal


PETER CROAL

One obvious benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the virus has motivated Old Ottawa East residents to find creative ways to get outdoors and exercise safely.

With all the walks and now cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, available to us in this community, you might have noticed some strange-looking objects along the Rideau River. A friend went skiing recently and had this conversation with his partner: “I think they are here to cordon off the x-country tracks from the rest of the trail.” His partner replied: “I don’t think so – they’ve always been here”.

To some, they are reminiscent of hitching posts, but not so; they are neither a spot for hitching horses nor a deterrent to walking on ski trails.

These objects are in fact important scientific instruments with an exotic name – “piezometers”. They are used to measure the depth to the water table and water pressure, and also to obtain water samples for chemical analysis. Scientists insert probes down the white plastic tube inside the protective casing to extract the water to perform the required analyses.

The Rideau Valley Conservation Authority and the City of Ottawa use data from the piezometers to base their important forecasting of floods and to facilitate construction planning needs.

Needless to say, piezometers should not be tampered with, as they are part of our collective flood management toolkit! With unpredictable weather systems due to climate change, we face the increasing possibility of floods, so instruments such as piezometers are now more important than ever, and they should be treated with care and respect.

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