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Ancient River Found Flowing Beneath Toronto

Source:  Copyright 2003, Reuters
Date:  September 19, 2003
Original URL: Status DEAD

TORONTO (Reuters) - A river runs through it -- wide, deep, cold and ancient -- and few people in Toronto suspect it's even there.

There's an ice-age river flowing deep under Canada's largest city. There has been for at least a million years but it wasn't until last month that anyone saw any real evidence of it.

The discovery of the glacial river happened when workers were trying to cap two artesian wells, part of a stormwater runoff project in High Park, one of the city's largest parks, near the shore of Lake Ontario.

One well was capped, and then, as the other was being capped, the first well blew off like a broken water main, spewing water 15 feet into the air.

As that cap was being repaired, the second blew off, shooting up water and gravel.

Consultation with experts confirmed the workers had siphoned into the rumored, yet still largely unknown, Laurentian River system running underneath the city.

"We've discovered where it probably comes out into Lake Ontario," said an elated Bill Snodgrass, senior engineer responsible for groundwater quality management for the city of Toronto. "What we never really knew before was where it connected to Lake Ontario."

The existence of a bedrock valley was first documented in the first half of the century, but its exact location remained largely unknown, said Steve Holysh, a hydrogeologist working on the project.

It was likely formed one to five million years ago when layers of debris carried by glaciers covered up the bedrock valley.

In tests done in August, researchers at the High Park site expected to hit bedrock at about 40 feet, but it wasn't until a depth of 123 feet that they hit the river system, technically known as an artesian aquifer. They hit bedrock at 145 feet.

The water flows extremely slowly in a sand and gravel stratum, which could be a 20- to 30-foot layer on top of bedrock.

It would take thousands of years for the water to travel to Toronto from the groundwater system's origin. City hydrogeologists say the Laurentian travels at the stunningly slow rate of about one centimeter a year.

It's origin is likely near Georgian Bay, about 93 miles north of Toronto.

The water is drinkable, but it tastes distinctly of iron, and the city of Toronto has no plans to tap the underground river as a source of drinking water.

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