Prairie Edition: “Is the Water Okay to Swim In?”

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There’s nothing quite like taking a dip on a hot summer day in the cold water of a natural body of water. But unless it’s a chlorinated pool, I always think about whether the water I swim in will make me sick or give me swimmers itch. In this blog I discuss how the prairie waterbodies are tested for recreational use, and how to access this information to be sure you remain healthy and happy when enjoying the natural lakes and rivers we have. Here are the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on water quality. 


How do I know is the water is okay to swim in?

  • If you’re planning on visiting a specific waterbody, head to the Swim Guide app or website to see the latest recreational water quality testing results. 32,000 Canadians have used Swim Guide across the prairies *since* Canada Day!!


What if my lake, or waterbody is not on Swim Guide and/or I notice incorrect information on Swim Guide?

  • Please do not hesitate to check out our contact information here, and let us know which waterbodies we should add, or what information we should update! 


How do I understand the symbols on Swim Guide?

  • The Swim Guide team has a streamlined system of symbols so that you can quickly understand what is going on with the water. Check out the symbol descriptions below. 

What is being tested in recreational water quality tests?

  • The main risk in Canadian recreational waterbodies used for primary or secondary recreational activities is contact with pathogens. Primary recreation activities include swimming and wading in the water and secondary activities include on-the-water activities like sailing and paddling, where the chance of water getting in your mouth is low. Pathogens are bacteria, viruses, or microorganisms that can cause disease.
  • The federal government recommends testing for E. coli, Enterococci., pathogenic microorganisms, cyanobacteria, other biological hazards, pH, temperature, and chemical hazards. There are also testing recommendations for the water’s turbidity, clarity, colour, oil and grease and litter.  
  • E. coli and Enterococci levels are used as indicators of fecal matter, as they are fecal coliforms found in the intestines of animals and humans. Their presence in the water could indicate disease-causing bacteria, viruses and protozoans. Fecal matter in the water could be the result of improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, leaking septic systems, or runoff from manure, among others.
  • When there is evidence of  blue-green algae, it is recommended that microcystins be tested in the water. Microcystins are a natural toxin that occurs when there is a large bloom. Upon entering the body, they travel to the liver and cause serious damage to humans and animals. 

A Lake with a Cyanobacteria Bloom in July 2018 (Image Credit: Alberta Health Services)

  • If deemed necessary by the provincial or local governing body, other microorganisms or biological hazards may be tested for as well.


Is there Federal legislation for testing recreational waters? 

  • No, the Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality is a federal document which outlines recommendations based on research for provincial and local policymakers to consider when managing their water bodies. As stated above, this document recommends testing for E. coli, Enterococci., pathogenic microorganisms, cyanobacteria, other biological hazards, pH, temperature, and chemical hazards. The provinces set their water quality testing parameters based on these recommendations.
  • They suggest testing for E. coli and for blue-green algae with the following criteria. When a water sample exceeds these parameters, they fail to meet the water quality standard.
    • No single sample result is greater than 400 E. coli organisms in 100 milliliters (mLs) of water for primary contact recreation.
    • The geometric mean of five samples is ≤ 200 E. coli/100 mLs for primary contact recreation.
    • Cyanobacteria or their toxins is less than 20 µg/L.
  • This document also suggests a multi-barrier approach to recreational water safety. This means there would ideally be an integrated system of procedures, actions and tools in place, that collectively reduce the risk of human exposure to water quality hazards. They suggest having multiple barriers in place to prevent water quality degradation (source protection, monitoring on multiple levels, hazard control, communication, consultation when necessary), rather than one single barrier.


What does Alberta test for and how can I access the results?

  • Alberta Health Services (AHS) have a monitoring program called the Alberta Safe Beach Protocol for freshwater beaches across the province. Water samples are taken by AHS staff and processed by Alberta Public Laboratories. The sampling frequency and beaches tested can vary per season, and the numeric results are currently not available to the public.
  • The AHS program tests for Enterococcus as of 2019, prior to this year they tested fecal coliforms. Recent studies have shown Enterococcus to be a better indicator organism for fecal contamination than total fecal coliform tests. When a potential blue-green algal bloom is spotted, blue-green algae/cyanobacteria and microcystins are also tested. AHS uses the following parameters for water quality thresholds before issuing a public health advisory.

  • AHS follows the same parameters for recreational water quality as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Any public health advisories that are issued for fecal contamination,  blue-green algae blooms, or other water quality concerns will be listed on the AHS Public Health Advisories website, which can be found here. They are also updated daily on the Swim Guide app and website.


What does Saskatchewan test for and how can I access the results?

  • The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health has launched the Healthy Beaches Program, which provides water quality testing results to the public for 67 waterbodies across the province. This program monitors the health of beaches on a regular basis (which can be weekly, monthly, annually, etc. depending on the beach), and monitors water quality to inform citizens on potential risks. The beaches chosen for testing are based off recreational use statistics and other parameters. Private beaches are not included in this program. 
  • The Healthy Beaches program releases results for E. coli and for blue-green algae. They currently use the following federal recommendations for determining the quality of recreational water. When a water sample exceeds the parameters stated below, it fails the water quality standard. 
    • No single sample result is greater than 400 E. coli organisms in 100 milliliters (mLs) of water
    • The geometric mean of five samples is ≤ 200 E. coli/100 mLs
    • Cyanobacteria or their toxins is less than 20 µg/L.
  • Advisories will be issued to the public if beaches exceed the recommended levels of E. coli or blue-green algae. Nicole White, the Ministry of Health Zoonotic/Environmental Health Consultant for the Healthy Beaches program shares that citizens should follow the instructions on signage at the beach. The local signage at a beach might state to not ingest the water, or to keep yourself and your pets away from a blue-green algae bloom. 


What does Manitoba test for and how can I access the results?

  • The Government of Manitoba also has a Clean Beaches Program. This program monitors the beaches, takes samples, and provides open data on water quality testing to the public. Sixty beaches are tested for water quality. The beaches are selected based on previous recreational use statistics and historical health of the waterbody. 
  • The program tests for E. coli levels, as well as blue-green algae and microcystins when a bloom is spotted. Their water quality criteria aligns with the federal recommendations. When a water sample exceeds the parameters listed below it has failed the standard.
    • No sample result of E. coli with the geometric mean exceeding 200 bacteria/100 mL
    • No single sample result of E. coli contains more than 400 bacteria/100 mL
    • No sample of blue-green algae/cyanobacteria should exceed 100,000 cells/mL. 
  • When a sample is taken and exceeds these parameters,  it is re-sampled as soon as possible until it meets recreational water standards.
  • The health advisories for fecal contamination, blue-green algae blooms, or other water quality hazards will be updated here on a regular basis. 


How can I report pollution if I see it in the water?


What is swimmer’s itch?!

  • Swimmer’s itch, also known as lake itch or duck rash, is an allergic reaction as a result of your skin coming into contact with parasites in a body of water. It is caused by a parasitic flatworm that grows in snails, not by blue-green algae, which is a common misconception. These flatworms, known as schistosomes, are present in many lakes across the prairies.
  • The rash itself can look like mosquito bites, pimples, or blisters and is not contagious between people. Children are especially susceptible because they may play in shallow waters. To help prevent getting swimmer’s itch towel-off immediately after leaving the water and avoid swimming in high vegetation areas of lakes. In high vegetation areas or shallow waters there may be more snails present, and potentially more parasitic flatworms (as they use snails as their host).
  • Check out a new swimmers Itch reporting tool to report your ‘itch’, see how you can treat it, and see where others have experienced the ‘itch’ this summer.


How do I know if the water is safe to swim, drink or fish in?

  • For swimming guidelines check our Swim Guide app and website to see the most updated recreational water testing results across Canada. 
  • For drinking water consult your provincial governing body to see what water quality processing they use, and to learn about where your tap water comes from. They can be found here: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba.
  • For fishing information consult your provincial guidelines on angling practices and eating fish. They can be found here: Alberta guidelines, Saskatchewan guidelines and Manitoba guidelines.


Have other questions we didn’t answer? Feel free to reach out to the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper through our website, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook! Have a great time swimming, and enjoying the water this summer. 



Image: SplitShire via Pixabay

Canada’s Water History in Policy

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When you think about policy documents you probably think about dense legal jargon that usually has no consequence to you or your life. In my blog this week, I share with you some key Canadian water policies and events since Confederation, in the hope of making complex water policies easily understandable. Water policy documents govern the water of the country we live in and have a role in the accessibility of our (and our neighbours) water. By understanding Canada’s water history and the current legislation today, I hope you take action in your own community for swimmable, drinkable and fishable water for all. 


Late 15th Century to 1867– 

  • Colonization of Indigenous peoples took place on “Canadian” soil.


  • Canadian Confederation is founded on July 1, and the Department of Marine and Fisheries was created to oversee the seacoast and inland fisheries.


  • Fisheries Act was established. It prohibited ‘prejudicial or deleterious substances’ to be released in waters, that could result in injuries to fishing grounds or pollution.


  • Parliament prohibits the discharge of lumber mill waste, including sawdust and its byproducts into navigable waterways. This is to maintain water quality as the sawdust effects the fish and fish habitat. 


  • Debate on the water management of rivers begins with John A. Macdonald and Ontario premier Oliver Mowat, disagreeing on the building of harmful river facilities to push along Canada’s timber trade. This is the first of many debates on public versus private economic interests on waterbodies.


  • Ottawa decided they were to “protect, preserve and propagate the fish” and that the provinces were to “have the sole right to catch the fish so preserved and protected”.


I feel it to be my duty to inform you, that unless more stringent measures are adopted immediately, our God Fishing business with become depleted as the Lobster Fishery has reached”- Excerpt from J.O Morrisons Letter in 1894. Source: Collections Canada.


  • Administrators and others who manage water learned that they could protect drinking and household water through chlorination more affordably than caring for the groundwater source directly. 


  • Senator Napoleon Belcourt stated that “the individual and the public as well, have an inalienable and indefeasible right to pure water”, during fatal typhoid outbreaks affecting vulnerable populations.


  • Chlorination use increases, and was used as a “magic bullet” by health officials in water quality maintenance. This disengaged activism in protecting sources of water supply by water managing bodies. 


  • Drought affected many within the Great Depression era, and new programs to enhance water storage or make flows regular were developed provincially and locally. 
  • In Ontario, water hydroelectricity was explored due to the need for increased energy generation. There was disagreement on how internal water diversions for energy would affect boundary waters, and how the energy that was produced would be shared among boundary stakeholders. 


  • There was an expected post-war reconstruction era, including expansion and development of water and sewage infrastructure across Canada which was provincially and federally funded. 
  • Post-war automobile traffic also increased, and more citizens became aware of the water bodies and natural wonders of Canada. 

Postcard of Maligne Lake, AB (misnamed as Liard River in the Rockies, Alcan Highway) with stamp dating to 1950. Source: Explore North.


  • Washing machines became more common place, and phosphate detergents were used  without an understanding of their effects, which stimulated excessive algal growth in waterbodies. This problem of excess nutrients in waterways still permeates today. 
  • Provincial agencies for pollution control were formally established. Provinces were solely responsible for safeguarding water quality, even though many premiers urged the Prime Minister to take preventative policy action, as a result of the diverse and regular pollution occurring in their provinces. 
  • Environmental public interest groups also formed during this time, engaging with politicians to seek change to water policies and management.


  • This decade is filled with discussions of potential water export to our southern neighbour, the US. Of these proposals include NAWAPA (North American Water and Power Alliance), which was a “continent-wide plan for the collection, redistribution and efficient utilization of water running off to the seas totally unused or partially used”. 

Proposed diversion of natural flows of the Yukon, Copper, Kootenay, Fraser, Peace and Columbia Rivers headwaters, to provide water to the south. Source: NAWAPA Website

  • Critical responses to NAWAPA surfaced after the proposal, where Canadian policy makers were sharing that it is our (Canada’s) resource to use with our discretion, and stressed the need to safeguard our water for the generations of Canadian citizens to come. 
  • At the same time this US-Canada water debate was occuring, interprovincial boundaries of prairie water resources were determined by the Prairie Provinces Water Board.


  • The Canadian government established the Canada Waters Act (CWA) in 1970, and the Department of Environment in 1971, to address Canadian citizens’ concern with freshwater security. The CWA is to “address any aspects of water resource management that relates to restoring, maintaining or improving the quality of water” where in parts of the country water quality management has become a “matter of urgent national concern”. There has been criticism to what the CWA has actually done to intervene when water quality management has become a national concern. 
  • The province of Manitoba tried to assert that mercury pollution coming from their provincial neighbours affected their fish, therefore their water policy laws can be used in court against the companies; the Supreme Court did not rule in their favour. 
  • Indigenous groups emphasize their rights in resource use through their connection to the environment in proposals on hydroelectric dams, and other water projects on their lands (Ontario hydroelectric dams are one example). 


  • In 1987 the Federal Water Policy came into place following extensive discussions and consults across Canada in 1984-1985. The Federal Water Policy’s overall objective is “to encourage the use of freshwater in an efficient and equitable manner consistent with the social, economic and environmental needs of present and future generations”. Twenty- five specific policy recommendations were made for five strategic directions: water pricing, science leadership, integrated planning, public awareness and legislation. 


  • Free trade negotiations (now NAFTA) between the US and Canada, and later Mexico had Canadians anxious of the possibility of water exports. (Canadians are still anxious today regarding NAFTA and water trade, with the political climate in the US having changed hands.)
  • Some news articles stated that Canadians anxiety was ‘truly strange’ as water is so abundant a resource “it falls from the sky”. Many Canadian scientists scoffed at the naive reporters sharing that Canada should export their water to willing buyers. In the end water found in Canada remained in the hands of Canadians. 


  • Canadians thought that safe drinking water access for all had been achieved in Canada, but with communities like Walkerton, North Battleford and Kashechewan experiencing water quality crises; the public’s eyes opened. Without national drinking water standards, provinces replied to the separate crises and invested in technological changes and structures to ensure drinking water safety. (Note: First Nations reserves are under federal jurisdiction for infrastructure including water infrastructure, not provincial).

Source: CBC Video: Is Canada’s Drinking Water Safe?


Source: Government of Canada: End long term drinking water advisories.

  • In 2017, the federal government committed an additional $49 M over three years, and in 2018 an additional $173 M to improve water infrastructure, operator training and innovative First Nations-led technical service delivery models. 
  • In 2019, an additional $739 M each year over 5 years was committed to maintaining no long term drinking water advisories via the federal government.
  • As of July 10, 2019 eighty-five long term drinking water advisories (water advisories over a year) had been lifted, with 58 remaining to be resolved by March 2021. Short term drinking water advisories (less than a year) don’t have any federal commitment to address. 


  • When the Liberal government was elected into Parliament they made commitments to infrastructure development across Canada, including the commitment to lift the long term drinking water advisories detailed above. Critics state that the roll-out of these initiatives and the funding has been slow across the country and, they question if non-disclosed internal reasons are the result. The federal government shares it is external reasons that have slowed the process, such as excessive paperwork from accepting community proposals and on-the-ground construction delays. 
  • Make it Safe is one initiative by concerned citizens, that shares stories of First Nations communities who lack access to reliable and clean water. This initiative calls for more prompt and widespread action from the federal government in addressing their citizens concerns.  
  • The Council of Canadians advocate for new, updated Federal Water policy, that looks at water security and protection more seriously. The image below is some of their concerns with the existing water management, and steps they see need to be implemented by government.

Council of Canadians Alternative Federal Budget 2019- Federal Water Policy. Source: Council of Canadians

  • Global Water Futures, is another activist group that recognizes the need for new federal water policy to address the changing needs of our country within the current climate crisis.


As the 2010s come to a close and the 2020s open a new decade in a few short months, what do you want to see in federal, provincial, or local water policy? What within this article strikes a chord and really pushes you to get involved in any aspects of water rights, policy or join water groups? I invite you to research the history and/or policies shared above further, and to use this new knowledge to engage in your community and country. Happy change-making my friends. 



Benidickson, J. (2017). The Evolution of Canadian Water Law and Policy: Securing Safe and Sustainable Abundance. McGill International Journal of Sustainable Development Law & Policy, 13(1), 59-104.

Image by roegger via Pixabay.


Quenching Water Podcasts

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Before podcasts I’m unsure how I kept my mind occupied while doing the dishes, driving long distances, or folding my laundry. If you’re like me, you have SO many podcasts on Apple or Spotify ‘favorited’ to listen to at some later date. If you’re new to podcasts, they are audio recordings of people chatting about topics such as current events, sports, food and anything you can really imagine. They can be historical, educational, or heavily opinionated, but best of all, they are free for the world to access and consume. They are kind of like radio, but now you can actually change the channel if you don’t want to listen to the same 20 songs over and over again. 


Since starting my position at the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper, I naturally combined my love of podcasts and passion for swimmable, drinkable and fishable water, and delved into water podcasts. I was delighted to find so many, such as discussions on water sustainability and water law, as well as interviews with influential water conservation actors. I’d like to share a few of my favorites with you today in no particular order! I hope you check them out whether you’re a seasoned activist of water issues or just starting to look into accessible water for all.


Science Vs. Plastics: the Final Straw (32 min)

There’s a good chance you have already seen the shocking video of the straw being pulled from the turtle’s nose, and in this podcast we hear from the researcher who took the video. But this podcast is not just discussing plastics straws (as they are only 4% of the waste found in water bodies), it also touches on the other 96% of plastic products and how they get from our homes to the ocean. In the podcast we learn that microplastics come off plastic material after *just* a few weeks in the water, how microplastics affect wildlife negatively, and some steps on how we can start thinking about reducing plastics in our own lives. 


Water Dialogues by Lindsay Day (MSc Student) (all three episodes: 51 min)

This collaborative podcast was probably the most insightful episode that I listened to. I feel it began to bridge my knowledge gap in understanding that water is more than just essential for drinking and daily tasks, and that discussions surrounding water don’t stop at water management practices and infrastructure. From this podcast, I am shown that water is and can by more symbolic in nature and aligned with a way of being, with interconnected ideas and multiple identities. This podcast is a part of a larger project funded by the Canadian Water Network, looking at methods and models on integrative Indigenous and Western knowledge to inform water management and research in Canada. This project was based on recordings from national water gathering event that brought together First Nations, Inuit, Metis, and other Canadian water researchers, to have conversations on knowledge systems connected to water and address the critical water issues we face today in Canada as a result of colonization. 


Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness: Who is Enforcing the Clean Water Act (40 min)

In this series, Jonathan Van Ness from Queer Eye hosts a podcast where he engages individuals who are stars in their fields to learn more about their world. In this episode we hear from the Waterkeeper president, Robert F. Kennedy Jr, and his interesting history on catching water polluters, and pollution stories in American cities. He discusses key American policies that ensure water safety for the people, and addresses how the clean water crisis directly affects marginalized populations. He calls for citizens of all nations to understand that environmental responsibility and economic prosperity do go hand in hand, and are not a trade-off as politicians may make it seem. 


Stuff You Should Know: How Watersheds Work (31 min)

This series discusses random topics that the hosts, Josh and Chuck, feel the public should know about and breaks down the topics into easily understandable chunks. This episode explains how watersheds work, why they are a valuable entity, and why it is important to consider how waste within your watershed can pollute the ocean. I enjoyed this podcast for the silly jargon between Josh and Chuck which keeps the listener engaged, and how their analogies help to break down complex scientific concepts.


The Water Values Podcast: How the Internet of Things Affects (and Will Affect) the Water Sector with Geoff Engelstein (44 min)

In this podcast, using accessible language, Geoff explains how the Internet of things (IOT) will affect the development of water technology within the public and private water utility sectors. In essence, he describes how one day we’ll potentially have an app to turn our water on and off, even if we were on our way to a month-long vacation. He also shares how some cities already have a computer room controlling all the water sprinklers in their city. Towards the end of the podcast there is a more technical discussion that provides insight on how a producer can get involved in the water industry using the IOT. This podcast was insightful for a beginner like me, trying to grasp the connection between emerging technology and water management practices. 


60 Second Science: You Contain Multitudes of Microplastics (2 min)

In this series put on by the Scientific American, current research is highlighted in short  segments that are less than five minutes to give you the most up-to-date science in an accessible way. A researcher from the University of Victoria speaks in this episode about how individuals may consume between 74,000 and 121,000 microplastics a year (and they share shockingly that this may be a gross underestimate). 


Let there be Water: #3 Pat Mulroy (16 min)

This new podcast is aimed at interviewing key players in the world of water to grab their insights about water practices. In this episode we hear from Pat, who is the retired General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and how she established clean and reliable water to the city of Las Vegas (which is located in the middle of a desert) within a pressure-filled timeline. I enjoyed this episode for her no-nonsense statements and her stance that water security for all is not a competition, but instead requires community collaboration regionally and locally.


Nature Talks – The Nature Conservancy of Canada: Nature, The Engineer (18 min) 

In this series put on by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, we hear a story from residents of Riverside-Albert, a community on the East Coast. The community signed a land lease protecting their water source and historic acadian forest one hundred years ago, and now the lease is up. This podcast covers the community banding together to raise money to buy back the forest and their water source that flows through it from a private landowner. I enjoy this podcast’s emphasis on nature as the superior water engineer, as the acadian forests roots filters the clean water the community receives naturally without human systems! 


Words on Water #94: Lori Weigel on Public Opinion on Infrastructure, Affordability and Reuse (25 min)

This podcast series discusses diverse water issues as they talk to water actors all over the US, discussing a variety of policy, opinion, and law. In this podcast we hear from Lori Weigel, the Principal at New Bridge Strategy which is an opinion research company. She discusses the results of an annual US poll looking at citizens perception of their water as clean, and whether there should be investment in water infrastructure. This podcast is interesting to me as they find that 85% of US citizens think water should be invested in, a belief that spans all demographics such as age, race, income level and political party. Other topics discussed include the affordability of water in the US, and public opinions on recycled water being used as drinking water.


I hope while you’re washing your dishes or throwing another load of clothes in the laundry, you listen to some of these podcasts and consider your water use and the water issues you wish to know more about. I highly encourage you to explore more of the podcasts within the series I shared above, to get inspired on how people within and outside the water industry are taking a stance for swimmable, drinkable, and fishable water for all. As always, feel free to share my podcast recommendations with friends and family, so we can keep the discussion on clean accessible water for all, flowing! 



Image creds: Reynier Carl on Unsplash

Sustainability: Water Edition

All the buzz right now about sustainability is great, but if you’re like me, it can be challenging to understand what sustainability really means and how to achieve it. Therefore, in this article I try to break down this common buzzword into bite-size chunks, focusing on water sustainability in Canada, and in our everyday lives. 


According to the Cambridge English dictionary, the word sustainability means: the quality of causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore (the practice is) able to continue for a long time. Within a subsection of this definition specific to natural resources and the environment, sustainability is defined as: the idea that goods and services should be produced in ways that do not use resources that cannot be replaced and that do not damage the environment. This definition is more applicable to practices that we hear people talking about, such as bringing their own food containers to avoid using single-use plastic, and choosing public transit over personal transportation to reduce carbon emissions. Overall, I think sustainability for the individual is being conscious of the steps we take today, and working to uphold a future we wish to have for the Earth tomorrow. This is especially important when thinking about the sustainability of water, as it is an essential resource for all life.


Natural resources are materials or substances that are found in nature, and can be used for economic gain. Water is the world’s most abundant natural resource, with other natural resources including soil, oil, natural gas and wind. Even though water is the largest natural resource on Earth, with water covering 70% of the earth’s surface, only 3% of water available is freshwater. Of that 3%, only 1/3 is readily available for use, the other ⅔ is locked away in glaciers and icecaps. Freshwater sources that are available to us can be surface waters (such as rivers, lakes, springs), atmospheric water and groundwater. This freshwater is what we use in everyday activities such as cleaning, bathing, watering our plants and cooking. There has been the same amount of freshwater on earth since the dinosaurs, but as a result of the human population expanding, the world water demand has increased. With increased demand and the same resource supply, the competition for clean water to sustain all aspects of life intensifies. A question you’re probably wondering: Why don’t we just desalinate the salty water if 97% of the water on earth is salty? And though that’s very innovative thinking, very high energy and advanced technology is required  to remove salt from water, and therefore this method is relatively inaccessible as a freshwater replenishment strategy. 


Canada is lucky to have around 20% of the world’s freshwater, but of which only 7% is renewable. Renewable resources are replenished naturally over time, where nonrenewable resources, like coal and oil have limited amounts available on Earth. Even with an abundance of freshwater in our country, there is still inequality in water access with some communities having limited or no access to safe drinking water. This is especially true for remote communities and Indigenous peoples in Canada, who are disproportionately affected by the water inequality crisis as a result of poor resource planning and/or infrastructure. Another question you may have, is why do Indigenous peoples have poor resource planning, or water infrastructure? Following colonization, Indigenous peoples were taken from their traditional lands and placed on federal land reserves where all the infrastructure, including water, is the responsibility of the federal government. On these reserves there is no legislation – as there is in the provinces – governing drinking water standards and accessibility (2005 Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development report).


Now that we understand what sustainability means, and know some freshwater facts about Canada, I share some actionable steps you and I can take everyday to ensure water sustainability for our collective future. Many of the recommendations I list below are based on that in Canada, many of us have unlimited, uncontrolled access to clean water. As a result of this, it is important as global citizens to consider how best we should manage this privilege, and how we should encourage others to manage it as well. 


Some small things you can start doing today:

  • Skip the bottled water. The water quality testing for tap water from your municipality is often tested at a higher quality threshold than bottled water, therefore there is no reason to be seeking out bottled water as a ‘cleaner’ water. The plastic bottles each actually uses one litre of water to make, and also create unnecessary waste that often contribute to the microplastics found in Canadian water bodies today. (On that note: skip plastics when you can and try to bring reusable containers to limit the plastic waste you make in general. Check out Plastic Free July to commit.)
  • Consider what is necessary + change daily practices. Do you have automatic lawn watering, let the tap run while you brush your teeth, have super long showers, have a leaky faucet you haven’t got around to fixing, or do you wash laundry with only two items? Think about the unnecessary ways you and your community use water, and change your ways today. Our growing population is putting an unnecessary demand on the limited water resources of the world, and many of us are so lucky to have unlimited access to it so our responsibility to be sure we’re not wasting a precious resource.
  • Some thoughts for homeowners. 
    • Consider investing in high efficiency machines that use water sustainably, not only will you reduce greenhouse emissions, but you will also save money on your utility bills! The City of Edmonton even has a bylaw for the promotion of the use of high efficiency fixtures.
    • Think about using a rain barrel to catch rainwater, for watering your plants or lawn rather than using freshwater from the tap or hose. 
    • Consider low-impact development (LID) for your garden, a great example from EPCOR is a rain garden.  If LID is not for you, consider eco-landscaping, which is a design technique for your yard to use water efficiently, involving selective planting to reduce water use.
  • Think about the river (or other waterbody). Think about what you flush down the toilet, and consider if it may have harmful effects. Check out the City of Edmonton’s “ways to keep the river healthy”, such as how to wash your car and dispose of chemicals while being mindful of the river.
  • Support water sustainability initiatives. Another key step as a global citizen is engaging water sustainability in your communities, and seeking out like-minded individuals can be very motivating. Some Edmonton-specific examples include the Master Composter Recycler program, Waste Free Edmonton, Northern Climate and Stewardship and Sustainability Society and Climate Justice Edmonton.  


I hope this article drew you to consider how you use water every day, to learn some new water sustainability practices, and to think about how you can include them in everyday life. I encourage you to share this article with friends and family to continue the conversation on water sustainability in your community, and to ensure the future entails water that is swimmable, fishable and drinkable. We should not take the clean water accessibility we have for granted, and should work for change on a global level, so all can have access to clean safe water. 



Image by Alain Audet from Pixabay

Rachel’s Five Favorite River Valley Adventures

Posted in: Uncategorized | 0

I didn’t grow up in Edmonton around the North Saskatchewan River, but instead on a grain and cattle farm where the river was a five minute drive away, and was inhabited by more wildlife than humans. Growing up, the river represented a place where fun was had; a place where I’d spend the day fishing with family friends and where my siblings and I would chase each other through the river brush trying to catch birds and each other.

Since moving to Edmonton to attend the University of Alberta to study Biology and Anthropology, I have experienced the river in a much different way. My new Edmontonian friends called the river “dirty”, and were shocked when I shared my love and fond memories of the banks on which my childhood was spent. They couldn’t believe I had ever swam in it, or eaten the fish from its waters.

Though I respected my friends concern for safety around the river, I didn’t let the negative view they had taint my love of the waterbody. Throughout the five years I’ve lived in Edmonton I continued to regularly engage with the river, and it has become an essential part of my life in Edmonton. As a result, I am very excited to be the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper’s Swimmable Water Intern for the summer, and to share with you my five favorite ways to interact with the River this spring and summer!

(1) Run (or Walk or Wheel) Next to It

No need to head to the gym to get your exercise in, as the Edmonton River Valley has over 150 km of multi-use trails, many of which follow the river or give way to stunning perspectives of it. I highly encourage you to gather up friends or family, and check out the running and biking trails right in your backyard. My personal favorite running route that I have found since exploring, is crossing the High Level bridge and looping back on the Groat bridge to get two different, yet equally gorgeous perspectives of the river valley and the river. As for wheeling, I prefer exploring the multiple trails within Mill Creek Ravine as I always find new critters and sights, and many fellow cyclists enjoying the view.

(2) Stop and Stare

I know as a busy student involved in multiple extracurriculars myself, that taking time for yourself to enjoy the environment around you is something that can easily get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday tasks. But finding small slivers of time and seeking out a quiet place on the bank of the river with loved ones or a book, can make for a nice relaxing session you may not have even realized you needed. Studies have shown that by spending time in natural settings, it can lead to increased mood, cognition, and mental health through the connection one feels with nature. These benefits could help you in mastery of your daily work and life tasks, and I cannot think of a better place in Edmonton to get your nature fix than the river valley!

(3) Take Ownership (and Clean Up)

Serving my community in multiple capacities is something I’ve always been passionate about, and the river and its ecosystem are no exception. All you need is garbage bags, some gloves and maybe some water-inspired tunes to get out and clean up your community. The North Saskatchewan River is a natural resource we are very lucky to have, and by taking a few minutes within your nature walk to pick up litter, you can contribute to the health of the river and the city. Be sure to report any other pollution you see by calling the Alberta Environmental Hotline to report a spill (1-800-222-6514), and 311 for other pollution reporting inquiries. You can also report pollution through the SwimGuide app (available through IOS and Android).

If you think that picking up garbage in the river valley can’t be fun? Check out one of the world’s newest ‘sports’ called “Plogging”! It originated in Sweden and involves running while picking up garbage, and there’s even a Plogging Canada group you can join for the latest updates/meetups

(4) Fish (Sustainably)

Fishing in the North Saskatchewan was something I thought of as commonplace growing up. I enjoy how it taught me patience and always left me with a good tan. With your fishing gear and knowledge of Alberta Fishing guidelines, you can head down to many of the common fishing spots within and outside Edmonton, and you can catch up to eight different species of fish. July Family Fishing Weekend is coming up on July 6-7, and is a great time to try out fishing for free, as no fishing license is required during this weekend.

As for eating fish from the river, it is recommended by the City of Edmonton that you should eat no more than one fish a week and not consume any if you are pregnant, a woman of child-bearing age or children below fifteen. This is due to safety precautions surrounding the naturally occurring mercury content possibly present in the fish tissue.

(5) Enjoy an Event on It

If you have never floated down a river on floaties all tied together, soaking up the summer sun with friends, you must. It is easily one of my favorite memories on the river. Be sure to do your research beforehand on the route you wish to float, and the safety equipment you should bring along. If you don’t already own equipment, consider going through a company to rent the equipment and enjoy the added benefit of their shuttle service.

If floating down the river on floaties isn’t for you, there are other events on the river that I have enjoyed, such as those put on by the Edmonton Riverboat! The Riverboat’s rides are around 90 minutes and they host various seasonal events. A trip on the Riverboat will allow you to see Edmonton from a whole new perspective.

Another event that offers you a chance to get on the river is Epcor’s Riverfest in Edmonton and Devon, coming up on Saturday August 10th. The whole event is a celebration of the North Saskatchewan River and River Valley park system, and they have ticket sales on right now for a float down the river on a raft or voyageur canoe. Throughout the day, there will also be a bunch of free river-centered land activities located in Laurier Park to check out, and the opportunity to connect with river-valley related businesses and clubs!

I hope you enjoyed my favorite Edmonton river valley activities and are inspired to get out and about in and around the river this spring and summer. I also encourage you to explore the river valley in any way you dream up, and to share your river valley experiences with friends and family.



Knight, T. M., Bowler, D. E., Buyung-Ali, L. M., Knight, T., & Pullin, A. S. (2010). A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural environmentsBMC Public Health10, 456.