Canadians overwhelmingly care about their waters. We can think about fond memories of time spent by our waterbodies. We appreciate the safety and cleanliness of our drinking water. We can enjoy the splendour of seeing aquatic wildlife thriving in their habitat. But the real question is: do Canadians care for their waters?
Caring for water is not only enjoying what water provides us, but enabling it to thrive by protecting it. In other words, caring for water is becoming a water guardian. Water guardians are protectors of our lakes, rivers, and streams. Becoming a water guardian can seem like a daunting task, but it takes easy habits to make a significant difference. There are the 6 important steps (in any order) that can help you become a steward for your waters:
One of the best ways to protect your waters is to get to the water. Spending time on the water can help to form a connection. This connection leads to care and will create experiences with waterbodies. Sharing those experiences through stories via the Watermark Project contributes to an important database of water stories. Joining a water community, even if it’s family and friends, and having events by the water or about the water can help to protect it. There are also many groups and organizations that you can join to form a water community. By caring for water, it can lead to a general interest in water, so you will seek out information about your body of water (like the information in this blog). By becoming informed, you are able to recognize when something is wrong with your waterbody, such as recognizing pollution, and have the abilities to report problems to the Swim Guide. There are also opportunities to share your opinion on how your waterbody is managed in order to keep it swimmable, drinkable, and fishable. Most waterbodies have decision-making groups and events that you can get involved with to protect your waters. For example, the city of Edmonton often has public engagement opportunities like open houses and online surveys for you to voice your opinion on decision-making that impacts the North Saskatchewan River. Be sure to engage in some or all of these 6 behaviours to care for your waterbody.
As 2019 approaches, we are faced with the annual tradition of selecting our resolutions. This year, why not strive to become a water guardian? These habits are very attainable and benefit not only your favourite waterbodies, but you as well. There are numerous health benefits to spending time in nature with an engaged and informed community that document what they see and participate in decision making. Choose one water guardian behaviour at a time, and watch your watershed thrive!
May your 2019 be filled with swimmable, drinkable, and fishable waters.
Happy New Year!
As the chill of winter sweeps across the prairies, our memories of summer water sports seem distant. But instead of reminiscing of warm days spent by the water, why not warm your heart with one of Canada’s favourite winter activities? It’s that time of year where we dig through our storage to grab our skates. Waterbodies across the prairies are solidifying into stunning crystallized rinks for us to glide on. To make the most of this season, lace up your skates and twirl your way across the prairies’ most beautiful and inviting skating rinks.
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You know it’s winter in the heart of Winnipeg when locals strap their skates on and head to the Red River Mutual Trail! Want to be one of them? Skate rentals are available at @theforkswinnipeg market for $5 ($3 for children). Don’t worry if ⛸️ isn’t your thing, there’s walking paths too. While you explore the trail, make sure to stop at one of its 6 unique warming huts. These one-of-kind structures are in fact art installations created by architects for the trail’s annual art and architecture competition on ice. One of our favourite huts this year is, “Greetings from Bubble Beach” an inviting inverted snow globe! 📷 @sierrasavannahf 📍@TourismWinnipeg, @TravelManitoba #ExploreCanada . La scène hivernale par excellence au cœur de Winnipeg? Des gens du coin chaussés de patins et rassemblés sur le Sentier d’hiver de la rivière Rouge! Envie de vous joindre à eux? Louez des patins à 5 $ (3 $ pour les enfants) au marché @TheForksWinnipeg. Vous êtes plutôt du type randonnée que ⛸? Il y a des sentiers pour vous aussi! Pendant que vous explorez les lieux, ne manquez pas de prendre une pause dans l’une des six huttes chauffées. Ces structures uniques en leur genre sont en fait des installations artistiques créées par des architectes pour le concours annuel d’art et d’architecture sur glace du Sentier. Cette année, nous avons un faible pour l’accueillante hutte « Salutations depuis la plage des bulles », une boule à neige inversée! 📷 : @sierrasavannahf 📍 : @TourismWinnipeg @TravelManitoba #OnlyInThePeg #ExploreMB
Winnipeg hosts the impressive Red River Mutual Trail that reached 10 km in length last year! This expansive skating rink is the longest IN THE WORLD! Even longer than the Rideau Canal. There was also a Guiness World Record broken on this rink for the longest skating chain, with close to 400 people holding hands while skating. The trail is speckled with unique and architecturally impressive warm-up tents, as well as food vendors and ice activities such as curling hockey, and broomball. This year they are building Pavillion Sub-Zero, an amphitheatre on the rink that will be featuring music, including that of Norwegian ice musician Terje Isunget. Check out the winning hut designs for 2019 here! The skating trail is located at the fork of the Red River and Assiniboine River, hosting over 4 million visitors every year.
Skating in Saskatoon is a splendid sight. One of Canada’s most spectacular rinks must be the Cameco Meewasin Skating Rink. Overlooking the South Saskatchewan River valley, this Bessborough rink is beloved by Saskatonians and tourists alike. Don’t have a pair of skates? Never fear! This rink has on-the-spot skate rentals by donation. Getting chilly? There’s a warming shack with a wood stove to defrost your toes. Test out your triple axels (or just try not to fall) on this well-lit rink in the heart of Saskatoon. It opened on December 18th, so now the only thing missing from this picturesque rink is you!
The 1988 Calgary Olympics didn’t only bring home 5 medals for Canada (shoutout to our President Karen Percy Lowe for winning 2 of them), it also brought some famous infrastructure. What was once the Olympic medal ceremony venue is now one of Calgary’s most beloved skating rinks. The Olympic Plaza, located in downtown Calgary, is still used for activities year-round! You never have to worry if it’s cold enough in the winter, thanks to the refrigerated surface ensuring skating from November to March. The urban setting makes for lovely scenery framed by skyscrapers and public art. Grab a warm beverage from one of the numerous cafés in the area (Phil & Sebastian, Rosso Coffee Roasters, Deville, Good Earth…) and skate to your heart’s content!
Edmonton has a majestic rink straight out of a fairytale. Skate your way through the river valley along the tree-lined Victoria Park Iceway. At night, the colourful lights guide you through the twisted path off of the Victoria Park Oval. This magical maze is nestled in the forest of Victoria Park, overlooking the North Saskatchewan River while being a short distance from downtown Edmonton. Be sure to bring a camera, because the kaleidoscopic lights make for some stunning pictures!
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It took the staff all morning to move the snow from the night before off the lake so that tourists could skate for free. Pretty impressive. #fairmontmoments #fairmontchateaulakelouise #lakelouise #alberta #banff #banffnationalpark #canadianrockies #winterfun #winterincanada #beautifulplaces #exploremore #travel #icecastles #skating
It sounds like a dream to skate while surrounded by 360 degrees of towering mountains. The spectacular Lake Louise freezes in the winter to become the ultimate winter wonderland! If you’ve ever visited during the summer, it is dramatically different when frozen, but just as spectacular. The summer’s turquoise waters transform into pristine ice. This wanderlust-fantasy-come-true is situated in Banff National Park. It comes as no surprise that this skating rink has been named the World’s Best Skating Rink. You can enjoy the majestic mountainous backdrop during the day, or under the twinkling stars (and rink lights) at night. If the Rockies aren’t picturesque enough for you, they also build an ice castle from blocks of ice directly on the skating rink every year.
History is constantly changing. We uncover new accounts of past occurrences every day, revealing interesting stories of how our lands used to be. Like its history, the North Saskatchewan River is constantly changing. The ebb and flow changes from year to year, meandering along different paths at different times. The Saskatchewan River’s name comes from the Cree, kisiskâciwanisîpiy, meaning “swift-flowing river”. Much of the kisiskâciwanisîpiy is on Treaty 6 territory, which is a traditional gathering place for diverse Indigenous peoples including the Cree, Blackfoot, Ktunaxa, Metis, Nakota Sioux, Iroquois, Dene, Ojibwe, Saulteaux, Anishinaabe, Inuit, Tsuut’ina, Assiniboine, and many others. There is evidence of Indigenous peoples in the North Saskatchewan River valley from over 10,000 year ago. People’s livelihoods were interconnected with the river and the river valley. Many Indigenous peoples fished in the kisiskâciwanisîpiy, hunted bison, woodland caribou, moose, and smaller mammals in the plains, and foraged for roots and berries in the river valley.
While today the river is often viewed as an obstacle when travelling, the North Saskatchewan River used to be the main vessel for travel and transportation. The highways of the past were the river and its tributaries. Nowadays, we may canoe or kayak on the river as a way to connect to our past, since paddling used to be the easiest and fastest way to get around. Kisiskâciwanisîpiy twists and turns from its headwaters of the Saskatchewan Glacier in the Columbia Icefields across Alberta and Saskatchewan into Lake Winnipeg, then through the Nelson River into the Hudson Bay. This journey was taken many times throughout the river’s history.
As the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was developing, people working in the fur trade began exploring the Hudson Bay’s tributaries. In the 1690s, the first European fur trader of the HBC, Henry Kelsey, explored the Saskatchewan River in pursuit of Cree trade partners as well as medicinal plants and minerals. Other HBC traders made their way across the North Saskatchewan River, such as Anthony Henday along with Cree guides in 1754. This group made their way to the river’s headwaters in the Rocky Mountains. As the HBC and fur trade developed across the river, it impacted many Indigenous communities. Many First Nations people began hunting furs for European trade instead of hunting for subsistence. As well as bringing the fur trade to the river, Europeans unfortunately brought diseases, including smallpox, that killed many Indigenous people.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, cities including Rocky Mountain House, Drayton Valley, Devon, Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, Battleford, and Prince Albert developed along the North Saskatchewan River. With the introduction of new populations living in settlements along the river, as well as increased industrial practices, significant amounts of pollution were being introduced into the North Saskatchewan River. The rise of environmental awareness and integrated water resource management in the 1970s led to laws protecting the quality of the North Saskatchewan River. While the water is still impacted today, there are efforts being made to minimize the effects of urban, agricultural, and industrial development on the beautiful, ever-changing North Saskatchewan River.
Photo credit Shannon1
Newton, Brandi. “North Saskatchewan River.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2 May 2017, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/north-saskatchewan-river
“Marketing & Communications Toolkit.” University of Alberta, www.ualberta.ca/toolkit/communications/acknowledgment-of-traditional-territory.
“The Rivers.” Canadian Heritage Rivers System, www.chrs.ca/the-rivers/north-saskatchewan
Partners For the Saskatchewan River Basin. “From the Mountains to the Sea: the State of the Saskatchewan River Basin.” 2009.
Royal Alberta Museum.
The North Saskatchewan River looks so beautiful this time of year. Analyzing the surface of the water, it seems to bloom with frozen lily pads. This blossoming phenomenon is not unique to this river, but it’s certainly a captivating event. Every year, as the cold sweeps across the prairies, these discs appear and proliferate, covering our river with pancakes. I did not just create a new word, the official name of this ice is, in fact, pancake ice!
jomilo75 / Flickr
Pancake ice forms on waterbodies across the world including Scotland’s River Dee, Antarctica, and even the Great Lakes! These round plates are observed from 30cm-3m in diameter and can grow to be 10cm thick. They form on water that has some wave action and temperatures that are just below freezing. The agitation of the river, paired with the slowly dropping temperatures create an ideal environment for grease ice (a very thin layer of ice) to form in somewhat circular discs with a raised edge. While watching these pancakes glide downstream I could hear them bump into each other with an audible slosh.
These ice discs have long remained a mystery to lovers of the river valley. The dynamic season of winter is fast approaching, and everyday we encounter new formations appearing on the surface of the North Saskatchewan River. Our river is known for gently freezing into soft ice crystals since the water is constantly moving and being stirred up. The name for this clumpy ice is frazil ice! Today you may be learning some new words for ice. English isn’t the only language with many words to describe ice. In Nunavik, a dialect of Inuktitut, there are about ten words that describe ice and another dozen or so describe snow. When dealing with winter, we often need to be able to communicate the variability of conditions, and by exploring icy vocabulary we can uncover a lot about our surroundings.
I’m getting hungry thinking about this phenomenal phenomenon! Could I get a serving of iced pancake with extra maple syrup? Enough pancake talk… go out and enjoy our beautiful river valley during this icy season!
The North Saskatchewan River is home to a wide diversity of fascinating creatures. Some are feathered, some are furry, and some are scaly. One of the most interesting of these creatures has been on Earth for at least 100 million years. This animal existed while dinosaurs were still walking the planet. This creature is known as a living fossil, since it has lived for many Eras relatively unchanged, while its relatives have gone extinct. They can reach 2 meters in length and 90 kg in weight. Also, these species can live for up to 150 years! This creature is: Lake Sturgeon.
These fish are recognizable by their shark-like tail, their thick skin with armour-like plates (called scutes), and their barbels that hang down like a moustache in front of their retractable mouth. Sturgeon are bottom feeders, meaning that they feed on creatures on the bottom of the lakes and rivers in which they live. Their barbels are used to detect food, which they suck up with their toothless mouth, which is located under their head. They mainly feed on small fish, insect larvae, mollusks, crayfish, and fish eggs.
Sturgeon are famous for their expensive eggs, which are considered a delicacy, known as caviar. Lake sturgeon caviar is not as desirable as the beluga, osetra, and sevgura species of sturgeon which live in the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Sea of Azov. These species are all Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red list. Female sturgeon reach sexual maturity after 14-33 years, and are killed for their caviar, often illegally. While their caviar is not as consumed as other sturgeon species, the lake sturgeon’s eggs and meat were overexploited in the 1800s. Today, they are considered Threatened under Alberta’s Wildlife Act and At Risk under the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. Sturgeon are also threatened by dams, habitat degradation, contaminants, deformations, destruction of spawning grounds, and invasive species. The populations of lake sturgeon are endangered in the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers, but the populations are on the rise due to habitat management and fishing regulation. In the North Saskatchewan River, Lake Sturgeon are a catch and release species for sport fishing. There are many locations in Edmonton along the river that anglers report catching sturgeon, including Dawson Park (a known sturgeon spawning location) and Rundle Park.
USFWS Midwest Region – Flickr
It can be quite surprising to learn about what lives within the river. Sturgeon are incredible creatures that capture the imaginations of anglers, conservationists, and people of all walks of life. In the news we hear about endangered species going extinct almost every day. Extinction rates on our planet are occurring 1,000 to 10,000 faster than natural extinction rates. It is rare yet affirming that lake sturgeon, which had almost been wiped out of the North Saskatchewan River, are increasing in both population and size. As they grow, this indicates that they are living longer since they never stop growing during their lives. We may not be able to bring dinosaurs back, but with hard work in conservation we can maintain these prehistoric creature’s presence on Earth.
Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. 2002. Status of the Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) in Alberta. Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Fish and Wildlife Division, and Alberta Conservation Association, Wildlife Status Report No. 46, Edmonton, AB. 30pp.
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. “Lake Sturgeon (Saskatchewan River).” Government of Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Statistical Services, 2006, dfo-mpo.gc.ca/species-especes/profiles-profils/sturgeon2-esturgeon-eng.html.
Dove, Laurie L. “How Caviar Works.” HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 8 Mar. 2018, science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/edible-innovations/caviar1.htm.
Grant, Travis. “Here Be Sturgeons: Fishing in Edmonton.” Vue Weekly, 27 June 2018, www.vueweekly.com/here-be-sturgeons-fishing-in-edmonton/.
“Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser Fulvescens).” South Saskatchewan River Basin Water Information | AEP – Environment and Parks, aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/fish/sturgeons/lake-sturgeon/lake-sturgeon.aspx.
Snowdon, Wallis. “Big Fish Story: Sturgeon Make a Comeback in North Saskatchewan River | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 24 June 2016, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/sturgeon-north-saskatchewan-river-comeback-1.3649674.
“Sturgeon.” WWF, wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/endangered_species/sturgeon/.
“The Extinction Crisis.” Centre for Biological Diversity, www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/elements_of_biodiversity/extinction_crisis/.
Featured image: USFWS Midwest Region – Flickr
There is much uncertainty surrounding Edmonton’s drinking water. Is it safe drinking water? Why is there sediment in the water? Does the water taste good? The drinking water for the City of Edmonton goes through two water treatment plants run by EPCOR. One is the Rossdale Water Treatment Plant located downtown Edmonton and the other is the E.L. Smith Water Treatment Plant located in Cameron Heights. All of the water piped to our homes, offices, and schools come from these facilities.
I joined a tour of the E.L. Smith Water Treatment Plant to witness the water treatment processes first-hand. I learned about how the water from the North Saskatchewan River can be piped to our taps to deliver Edmontonians drinkable water. Not only have they achieved drinkable water, but Edmonton’s drinking water has allegedly won best tasting water in Canada in blind taste tests.
Tap vs. bottled water is still a debate in Edmonton. There are many communities in Alberta, in Canada, and across the world that do not have clean drinking water. Also, Edmonton has moderately hard water since the river is born from a glacier. Therefore, people coming from communities with softer water or unsafe drinking water may still have the habit or may prefer the taste of drinking bottled water. The water from our taps is drinkable. However, if you dislike the taste or the sediment of the mineral-rich water, a solution could be a carbon filter which neutralizes the odour and taste. Edmonton has rigorous testing and advisory protocols with the goal of preventing events like the catastrophic Walkerton tragedy, which resulted in 7 deaths and thousands of illnesses from E. coli contamination in the drinking water.
The water from the North Saskatchewan River undergoes a 12 step treatment process at the water treatment plants before it reaches our taps at home. The process includes intake, screens, lowlift pumps, chemical injection, rapid mix, flocculation, sedimentation, disinfection, filtration, reservoir storage, dechlorination, and highlift pumps. Click here to learn about these processes in detail. The Water Treatment Operators must be certified with Alberta Environment and Parks with the goal of reducing environmental impacts of water treatment on the river’s ecosystem.
During the tour, I learned an interesting statistic connected to my water footprint article from a few weeks ago. The Canadian average residential water demand is 274 Litres per capita per day, and Edmonton’s residential water demand is 195 Litres per capita per day. This suggests that Edmontonians use less water at home than most Canadians. Bravo Edmonton!
The OperationsEngineer and tour guide had never witnessed contamination of the drinking water at the plant. Edmonton has not had any serious drinking water advisories, but they informed me that there have been problems with residential pipes. Not all Edmontonians have the same quality of water. This is because of the pipes in many buildings in our city, specifically the lead pipes. Lead pipes were installed in buildings before the 1960s, and according to EPCOR about 1% of homes in Edmonton still have some form of lead in their plumbing. The presence of lead plumbing materials could pose long-term health risks, particularly for children and pregnant women. If you have concerns about the pipes in your building, EPCOR can test your water for lead.
I have loved water since I can remember. Whether it was splashing around in a bathtub, treading water with my synchronized swimming team, rowing in my high school regatta, or catching a long wave on a surfboard, many of my fondest memories involve water. I love sharing these stories of my experiences on the water almost as much as I love hearing other people’s stories of their relationship to water. Water sustains us, water moves us, and water fills us. As humans, we require water for our survival, and our connection to water creates some of the most treasured memories of our lives.
I have a plethora of special, important water stories. And when forced to select one, my story changes from day to day. I can’t be forced to have a single watermark express my complex, loving relationship with H2O. I have done my best to limit my watermarks to 5 special bodies of water with the hopes of inspiring you to share your own on the Watermark Project. After reading my stories, please share yours and contribute to an important database of people’s personal connections to water.
For a post-university celebratory expedition, I travelled to Australia, first to stay with my family in Sydney and work, and then to explore! One of the unforgettable destinations that I visited was Fraser Island. This island is the largest sand island in the world. Sand is a defining feature of this island since the beaches are the only roadways on the island. While this island is surrounded by ocean, it is home to about 100 freshwater lakes. Each lake has a different defining feature. One of the lakes that I visited was only accessible by a deep hike through jungle-like forest. Upon reaching this lake, the aroma of this pale green tea tree lake reminded me of a spa, and so did the tiny fish that nibbled on the dead skin of my toes. One of the streams that we visited had such clean, purified water that we dunked our bottles right in and drank straight from it. And my absolute favourite watermark of this island is Lake McKenzie. This lake is pictured on many Australian tour brochures, but these photos do not do it justice. The sand is pure silica, and the brightest white beach that I have ever seen. Contrasted with the snow-coloured sand is the most pristine-looking water that I have ever touched. This lake is completely filled with rainwater, and is so pure since its high acidity isn’t ideal for plant or animal life, (so doesn’t have any plant or animal waste in it either!) I will never forget the stunning turquoise clear water of the shallow beach contrasted with the black of the deep, which seemed like an underwater cliff.
I grew up in Calgary, Alberta and spent much time driving back and forth to the Rocky Mountains. The turquoise glacial waters of Lake Louise are always a breathtaking sight. In the winter, I loved skating on the lake framed by massive mountains blanketed with impeccably white snow. Yet visiting the lake in the summer is a completely different experience. One summer when I was quite young, my family and I rented canoes to paddle on Lake Louise. With the heat of the sun, I was tempted to jump in. I dipped my hand in with a particularly deep stroke of my paddle and instantly changed my mind. The water was unbelievably cold, even right in the middle of the summer! On this same trip my parents told me a famous myth that I believed for almost a year after they told me. The story goes that the blue colour of the lake is painted on the bottom each year and then they refill the lake to give it a bright, vibrant blue. While I now know that this story isn’t true, it is still shocking how bright this glacial lake really is!
While pursuing my environmental studies, I participated in a four month field study in Barbados. During the day I would be either in the field planting cashew trees to reforest a sand quarry or in the classroom learning about water resource management techniques. This was the origin story for my technical understanding of water quality. On the weekends, I was fulfilling my ultimate lifelong dream of breathing underwater. I will always remember the sensational feeling in my scuba training of sitting on the bottom of the ocean, looking up and watching my exhaled bubbles soar to the surface of the water. I looked over to my scuba buddy and signalled OK with my fingers. In reality, I was so beyond okay. This was beyond any experience I had felt before. This was overwhelming bliss. And it would not have been possible without water.
Photo credit: junkii, Flickr
As a young child, my parents, sister, and I would visit my grandparents in Notre Dame du Laus, QC many summers. Their log house was only about 20 meters away from the fittingly named, sandy beach of Lac des Sables. I remember building sand castles with my cousin, playing on the windsurf boards with my mom and dad, and catching and releasing frogs and toads with my sister. It was also the first and only time I went fishing. My grandfather took me out on his boat, he threw down the anchor and we got to work. He threaded the wriggling worms on the hooks and we tossed our lines into the water. My patience and diligence were apparent as I waited and waited and waited. Eventually I caught a small silvery fish. As I watched it flop around in the boat, I couldn’t handle the responsibility of harming this fish any further and I made my grandfather remove the hook and toss the fish back in the water. I may never be a professional angler, but I will always remember the connection that I had with my family whenever we would visit Lac des Sables, and that is the most important aspect of this watermark for me.
Upon moving to Edmonton last year, I was immediately drawn to the river. Before I even knew what it was called, I would go down to the North Saskatchewan River valley to sit and meditate along its banks. After a long day of work, the river was always there. On one of my post-work expeditions to the river, I decided that I really wanted to get down to touch the water. I planned my journey to the famous Fort Edmonton Footbridge Beach, which is a 6 minute bike ride down from Fort Edmonton Park. I had packed my camera along with a book and a towel to settle down and enjoy my afternoon by the river. On my trip down, I pedaled along the river valley trails. Despite knowing that I was right beside the river, the water is mostly obscured by tall, dense trees. I kept pedaling along, about 3 minutes away from the beach, when suddenly I felt my bike clunking with each turn of the wheels. I looked back and saw that my back tire was completely flat. I was so close to the beach that I knew that I couldn’t turn back. I walked over to the bridge and made an audible gasp at the sight of the river. This is such a stunning bend of the North Saskatchewan, with bright, clear waters and a long sand bar. After locking up my bike I got down to the beach, took off my shoes, and waded over to the sandy stretch. I watched canoes paddle by and motor boats jet along. All of the stresses of my bike disappeared as I splashed my feet in the water. After a lovely afternoon of watching hawks soar and drawing pictures in the sand, I called a taxi to take me and my deflated bike away from this gorgeous beach. I’m already eagerly planning my next trip to the sandbar next spring!
We all have a connection to water. By reading my fondest water tales, I hope it reminds you of an influential body of water in your life. The Watermark Project is building a strong database of water stories to reflect the importance and connection that we all feel with water. Think of your watermark and share it with the water community on watermarkproject.ca. Like how drops of water cause ripples to form, by sharing your watermark it can move others to share their own connections to water. Who will you inspire?
The North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper ensures that we have a swimmable, drinkable, and fishable North Saskatchewan River. One of the ways that you can contribute to this goal is by reporting water pollution. Last week while giving a water presentation to a grade 4 class, I was asked by a student, “what does water pollution look like?” I was very impressed by the question, and it made me realize how hard it is to describe water pollution. One of the biggest challenges of reporting water pollution is being able to recognize what is and is not normal. A part of this challenge is that some indicators of pollution like oil and foam can also occur naturally in water. There are tricks to differentiate between natural and artificial oils and foams in water. If you want to help but don’t know how, read on to learn about what water pollution is and how you can report it!
Let’s start off with an easy one. If you see a big pile of garbage floating in the water, that is clearly water pollution. We know that plastic does not grow in our lakes and rivers. If you see garbage floating in water, and if it is safe to do so, pick it up and dispose of it properly! Not all forms of garbage are safe or easy to clean up, so don’t feel obligated to pick up anything remotely dangerous. If you see garbage that you can’t clean up, TAKE A PICTURE! After you take that picture make sure to share it. You can share that picture on social media with the hashtag #swimdrinkfish, you can use the Swim Guide “Report Pollution” tool on the app and website, or you can report it to the city of Edmonton by calling 311.
Unfortunately, Edmonton’s sewer system is not perfect. We have what is known as a Combined Sewer System. When the underground sewers fill up with excess rainwater or snowmelt, that extra water (including raw sewage) goes untreated right into the North Saskatchewan River. While the city is working on fixing this, sewage pollution remains a threat to the water quality of the river. A couple of weeks ago, while participating in a cleanup of Irene Parlby Park, I found a shocking amount of those “flushable” wipes as well as some tampon applicators and condoms along the riverside. If you see these and don’t have gloves and garbage bags, like I did, you can still help. Just take a picture and report it on the Swim Guide or share it on social media!
Nature or Not
Another potential indicator for pollution is dead wildlife. Of course, in the natural world death is a part of life, so we cannot assume that any animal is dead from pollution. If you see a single dead fish floating in the water, that may not be a definite indicator for pollution. However, if you see a whole bunch of dead fish floating in the water, there is probably a serious problem. Regardless, I would recommend that you, once again, TAKE A PICTURE! Sharing that picture on the Swim Guide is an important citizen-science initiative to collect proof of pollution.
Oil pollution can be very harmful to aquatic plants and animals, however, normal and unpolluted water can sometimes seem oily. If you see oily-looking water, poke it with a stick or drop a rock on it. If the sheen separates into smaller pieces with jagged platelets it’s most likely normal bacteria (pictured below), but if it reforms it is most likely petroleum. I’m sure you get the drill now, but what do you do if you see oil pollution? TAKE A PICTURE!
Foam is another mystery pollution. It can be totally natural, and it can also be a sign of pollutants. Natural foam forms when organic matter is being stirred up and interacts with air. Normal foam on water is usually off-white with an earthy or fishy smell (pictured on left). On the other hand, when foam is unnatural it often has a perfumy scent and a bright white colour (pictured on right). The difference is very noticeable in pictures, so naturally (or unnaturally), you should TAKE A PICTURE!
Photo Credit Left: Brocken Inaglory, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15018761
Another form of pollution that can be very tricky to identify is algae. Algae itself is a natural part of any body of water. However, it is quite common to have serious blooms of blue-green algae in lakes across Alberta. This type of algae (also known as cyanobacteria) can release toxins which are harmful to humans and animals. If you see a huge bloom of algae, just ignore it… JUST KIDDING! Please take a picture and post it to social media or share it on Swim Guide and it can be identified and managed.
Don’t be overwhelmed with your new duties as a photographer! It might seem too easy, but taking pictures and sharing them on the Swim Guide and/or on social media provides an extremely important body of pollution evidence. This evidence can be utilized by researchers to identify sources of pollution to stop them directly, and to show exactly where the cleanup needs to happen! Most of us have our river-saving devices in our pockets all of the time. Even if you aren’t 100% sure if you’re looking at water pollution, send it to the Swim Guide or share on social media with #swimdrinkfish and we can make sure to clean it up or solve the problem! In Edmonton, you can report pollution by calling 311. Alberta also has a 24/7 line for environmental emergency reporting at 1-800-222-6514. Thanks for helping us keep the river free of pollution!
“Blue-Green Algae.” MyHealth.Alberta.ca Government of Alberta Personal Health Portal, 2018, www.myhealth.alberta.ca/Alberta/Pages/blue-green-algae.aspx.
“Combined Sewer System.” City of Edmonton, www.edmonton.ca/city_government/utilities/combined-sewer-system.aspx.
Flowers, Matt. “The Rule Everyone Should Follow to Save Our Waters.” Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, 2017, www.waterkeeper.ca/blog/2017/9/7/the-rule-everyone-should-follow-to-save-our-waters?rq=foam%2Bpollution.
“Identifying Water Pollution.” Ottawa Riverkeeper, www.ottawariverkeeper.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/1_Identifying-Water-Pollution.pdf.
Moreau, Jennifer. “What Is That Oily Sheen on the Water?” Burnaby Now, 22 Feb. 2016, www.burnabynow.com/opinion/what-is-that-oily-sheen-on-the-water-1.2179165.
“Nonpetroleum Sheens on Water.” Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, 2017, www.pca.state.mn.us/sites/default/files/c-er4-07.pdf.
I am a self-proclaimed nature nerd. I love the natural world. Whether it’s going camping, going birdwatching in wildlife reserves, or stopping to watch the neighbourhood hares on my walk to work, nothing makes me happier than seeing wildlife. The North Saskatchewan watershed is home to many critters big and small. Almost every day I encounter magpies, squirrels, ravens, white-tailed jackrabbits, and chickadees. While these species may not be appreciated by everyone, they are all part of the incredible biodiversity of the North Saskatchewan Watershed! It’s the perfect time of year to get your binoculars, get outside, and get to animal tracking, before they fly south or crawl to hibernation for the winter.
Of course, there are many species living IN the North Saskatchewan River. Due to the presence of diverse fish, the river is a popular location for anglers. The North Saskatchewan is home to burbot, goldeye, lake sturgeon, mountain whitefish, walleye, northern pike, and sauger. There are fishing regulations on many of these species, so be aware of the laws before casting your line. If you are cooking up fish caught from the river, try not to eat them more than once a week due to high mercury concentrations. Fish are far from the only critters living in the river. While not native, there are also some edible invertebrates residing in the river: crayfish! These crustaceans are said to be delicious. They look (and apparently) taste like little lobsters.
(Photo credit: USFWS Midwest Region. Flickr.)
As we move out of the water, Edmonton is home to a variety of amphibians as well. We can spot tiger salamanders, wood frogs, boreal chorus frogs, and canadian toads in parks across the city. Amphibians can be tricky to spot since they are usually quite good at hiding, many only come out at night, and they like humid environments that are often harder to get to. Reptiles also live in our watershed, including the red-sided garter snake, and the plains garter snake. If searching for snakes, you are more likely to find the red-sided garter snake in the river valley while plains garter snakes are found more often in open grasslands.
When visiting the river at one of the many beaches across the North Saskatchewan, you are most likely to see animals floating on, diving in, or flying above the water. There are many beautiful common and uncommon species of birds living near the river. Almost each visit to the river I spot gulls, specifically ring-billed gulls. The Edmonton river valley is home to a huge diversity of bird species including woodpeckers, jays, grouse, warblers, finches, merlins, juncos, waxwings, kingfishers, and eagles. Researchers have seen significant changes to bird distribution, and species like peregrine falcons have returned despite almost being wiped out by the impact of DDT on their eggs.
Four footed friends also frequent the areas surrounding the river. Just last week a cougar was spotted in the river valley. Coyotes, skunks, porcupines, deer, moose, beavers, and raccoons can also be seen by the river. This may not be a big surprise since Edmonton’s river valley is the largest park in North America, and provides a natural corridor for species to pass through.
Animals rely on the river just as we do. Life without water is impossible for any living thing! Keeping the North Saskatchewan River swimmable, drinkable, and fishable does not only benefit us, but the other creatures that rely on it. A thriving ecosystem benefits all species within it, therefore our participation in protecting the watershed is good for animals, including us! Fall is a season of change in the animals kingdom, and as the birds prepare for migration, the bears prepare for hibernation, and the frogs prepare for cryogenation (yes they almost freeze in the winter), get outside and appreciate the other creatures living among us!
To report a wildlife sighting, call the Alberta Fish and Wildlife Officers at 780-427-3574 or the coyote information hotline at 780-644-5744.
“Alberta Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy.” Saving Alberta’s Herps, www.savingalbertasherps.org/Species.html.
Amphibian Identifier. Alberta Volunteer Amphibian Monitoring Program. www.ab-conservation.com/downloads/avamp/aca_amphibian_identifier.pdf
Edmonton Master Naturalists. “The North Saskatchewan River.” Nature Edmonton, 21 July 2014, www.natureedmonton.wordpress.com/2013/08/10/the-north-saskatchewan-river/.
“Fishing.” City of Edmonton, www.edmonton.ca/activities_parks_recreation/parks_rivervalley/fishing.aspx.
Marcellin, Josh. “The North Saskatchewan River Has Killer Angling Right in Edmonton.” Vue Weekly, 2015, www.vueweekly.com/the-north-saskatchewan-river-has-killer-angling-right-in-edmonton/.
Myroon, Alex. “Local Snakes Slither to Winter Homes.” Local News, 4 Oct. 2018. https://www.fortsaskonline.com/local/local-snakes-hunker-down-for-long-winter
Salz, Allison. “Edmonton Is Teeming with Wildlife, Says Naturalist.” Edmonton Sun, 15 July 2013, www.edmontonsun.com/2013/07/13/edmonton-is-teeming-with-wildlife-says-naturalist/wcm/2c0ddd6b-58b6-4515-9a1d-015f7ffabbd5.
Snowdon, Wallis. “’Just like Lobster’: North Saskatchewan River Crawling with Crayfish | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 2 Aug. 2017, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/crayfish-edmonton-north-saskatchewan-river-1.4230555.
“The Dependable Online Resource For Fishing In Alberta.” AlbertaFishingGuide.com, www.albertafishingguide.com/location/water/north-saskatchewan-river-downstream-drayton-valley.
Weber, Bob. “Birders Migrate to Edmonton, Home to Many Avian Species.” CTVNews, 26 Oct. 2015, www.ctvnews.ca/lifestyle/birders-migrate-to-edmonton-home-to-many-avian-species-1.2627986.