Is the North Saskatchewan River Dirty?

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Many people living in communities along the North Saskatchewan think that the river is dirty. When I first moved to Edmonton last November I saw the colour of the river and assumed the same thing. The river was covered with ice and snow, but instead of the typical bright white snow that you see elsewhere in the city, the snow on the river was brown. I assumed that the water wasn’t clean, and many people that I have spoken to make the same assumption. But just because water isn’t clear, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t clean. So what is the state of the water quality in the North Saskatchewan River?

 

The birthplace of the North Saskatchewan River, also known as the headwaters, is the Saskatchewan Glacier in the Columbia Icefields. When I picture glacial waters, it makes me think of the pristine cloudy turquoise waters of Lake Louise or Moraine Lake, where I grew up visiting. Why is it that some bodies of water coming from glaciers look bright and colourful while others look brown?

Rivers born from glaciers often have high levels of sediment and silt. Much of the colour of glacial lakes and rivers are due to erosion. This occurs when glaciers break down minerals from rock, forming sediment, which makes its way from the melting glaciers into lakes and rivers. Some lakes display dazzling colours as a result of this sediment. Sometimes in rivers, the colours are more of a muddy-brown because of the speed and flow of water. This does not mean that the river is dirtier than the lake. The colour depends on the types of minerals in the water, how they are moving, and how the light reflects off of the water. In glacial lakes, minerals are suspended and this causes light reflection, which often displays vibrant turquoise colours. This sediment appears differently in rivers, and while there are parts of the North Saskatchewan that are brilliant blue, it often appears brown because these sediments are constantly being stirred up. This sediment is also the reason that we have beaches that form across Edmonton, such as the Fort Edmonton Footbridge Beach, the Cloverdale Beach (aka Accidental Beach), and the Terwillegar Park Beach. Last summer, we tested these sites, among others, for water quality, and many of them passed over 50% of the time.

 

The colour of a river does not necessarily indicate that it is clean or dirty. That being said, there are some potential threats to the water quality of the North Saskatchewan River. These threats include urban and agricultural runoff and combined sewer overflows which discharges pollutants into the river during periods of heavy rainfall. If you do ever see pollution such as trash or chemical spills, take a picture and report it on the Swim Guide app or website, or if you see an environmental emergency call the Alberta 24-hour Environment Toll-free Hotline at 1-800-222-6514.

The waters of the North Saskatchewan River are not dirty! Even when the water isn’t perfectly clear, it’s often clean. There are a wide variety of activities that we can take advantage of right on the river, including swimming, stand up paddleboarding, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, jet boating, and even gold panning. Before getting into the water, it’s always a good idea to check for any recent water quality updates on theswimguide.org. The North Saskatchewan River is not dirty, and we should go out and take advantage of this beautiful body of water whenever possible!

 

 

Sources:

 

Dreger-Smylie, Brigitte. “How Clean Is the North Saskatchewan River?” North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper, 6 Aug. 2015, www.saskriverkeeper.ca/how-clean-is-the-north-saskatchewan-river

Misachi, John. “Why Are Glacial Lakes Blue?” World Atlas – Maps, Geography, Travel, WorldAtlas, 16 July 2018, www.worldatlas.com/articles/why-are-glacial-lakes-blue.html.

“North Saskatchewan River Myths.” EPCOR, www.epcor.com/learn/river/Pages/myths.aspx

 

Featured image by Johntwrl at English Wikipedia

Can I Flush it?

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I’ve often wondered about the flushability of everyday items. I have watched people in movies flushing medications down the toilet, I have flushed my dead fish down the toilet (RIP), and I sometimes wonder whether flushable wipes are truly flushable. Are these seemingly normal habits good ones for our river? Most of the time I don’t think about what goes down my drain. What was once out of sight, was out of mind! But now I cannot stop wondering about what happens once it’s flushed. My mission is to find out what is good to go down the drain, and how to properly dispose of regular, everyday items. Here’s what I discovered.

 

Medications

 

The results are in: no drugs down the drain! I have always assumed that I should put expired medication down the toilet, but I have recently learned that they really shouldn’t be flushed. Scientists find large traces of medications in our bodies of water because they are being flushed and make their way into lakes and rivers. Medications are not always filtered out during the water treatment process. This can negatively impact the health of our waterbodies, as they can be consumed by fish. For example, many fish have been found to be changing due to exposure to estrogen from birth control pills. The male fish are losing their male characteristics, and this problem could wipe out entire communities of fish since they become unable to reproduce. So what should we do with our old, expired, and unused medication? We can bring them to the pharmacy or to a take-back program with local police. That way they can be properly disposed, and don’t make their way into our waterway.

 

 

Fish

 

While escaping down the drain might have worked out for Nemo, flushing is not the best way to send off our deceased pets. The fish we buy at pet shops are not typically local species that would benefit our waterbody. Most pet fish are exotic, ornamental species from far away. While they are beautiful, they can bring diseases and parasites that our local fish have never encountered. If these fish (dead or alive) are introduced to a local waterbody, they can endanger the entire ecosystem. Also, sometimes the fish we flush might not have actually kicked the bucket, and these exotic species can be extremely invasive. This means that these fish might be able to reproduce, evade predators, and hunt better than the local species, and affect the important balances of the ecosystem. What is the proper way to send off our beloved fish once they have gone belly up? They can be brought to your vet to be properly disposed of, you can bury them, or you can put them in your compost or garbage. If I could bring back my old fish Gill, I would make sure not to send him into our river!

 

 

Flushable or not

 

It’s right in the name: flushable. Once they disappear down the black hole of our toilet, do flushable wipes break down like toilet paper does? No! Wet wipes, even ones that say that they are flushable, are a big problem for our pipes. By doing a bit of research, I found out that a lot of the things that I used to think were okay to flush, are actually not! Even tissues, tampons, floss, band-aids, and hair should all be thrown in the garbage, and not flushed down the toilet! The only things we really should be flushing are pee, poop, and toilet paper.

 

 

How does it get to the river?

 

The water from our toilets in Edmonton go down the pipes to get treated at the Goldbar Wastewater Treatment Plant. Most of this water gets to the treatment plant before going into the North Saskatchewan River, but not all of it. On rainy days, our sewer pipes fill up, and instead of going to the treatment plant, they go straight into the river. This is due to our pipe system, known as Combined Sewers. There are 19 pipes in Edmonton that release stormwater, debris, and raw sewage directly into the North Saskatchewan River on days with heavy rainfall, corresponding to 2% of the city’s total discharge. Click here to learn more about these combined sewer overflows, (CSOs).

 

 

I’ve always known deep down that everything that I put down the drain or flush down the toilet doesn’t magically disappear. However, I don’t often stop to really consider what happens, and I know I’m not the only one. Everything that goes down the drains in Edmonton eventually impacts the North Saskatchewan River.  In order to keep our water clean for ourselves, for the plants and animals that depend on it, and for all of the other communities living downstream, we need to pause and reflect before sending anything down our drains.

 

 

 

Sources:

Canada, Health. “Safe Disposal of Prescription Drugs.” Canada.ca, 6 May 2014, www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/safe-disposal-prescription-drugs.html

“Combined Sewer System.” EPCOR, www.epcor.com/learn/about-our-drainage-system/Pages/combined-sewer-system.aspx

Racco, Marilisa. “9 Things You Should Never Flush down the Toilet.” Global News, Global News, 20 July 2017, www.globalnews.ca/news/3609987/9-things-you-should-never-flush-down-the-toilet

Rangan, Daksha. “Don’t Flush Goldfish, Officials Warn. Here’s Why.” The Weather Network, www.theweathernetwork.com/news/articles/alberta-advises-against-flushing-fish-down-the-drain-/53426

 

Introducing the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper’s new Outreach Coordinator… Sadie Caron

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Hello fellow Riverkeepers! It’s a pleasure to be a member of the Swim Drink Fish team in Edmonton. I am a former Calgarian and Montréalaise (Montrealer). Prior to my move to Edmonton last year, everyone kept telling me how gorgeous the river valley was, and everyone was right! The North Saskatchewan River is a beautiful body of water that flows right through the city and connects all Edmontonians. I immediately felt this connection to the river, going on hikes and bike rides through the many trails lining the river, and meditating along its banks. I’m always glad to see the busy parks and paths along the river valley, since it’s a perfect place to meet with friends and family and build a strong sense of community.

 

I have always loved water, my parents have called me a fish since I was very young. My grandparents used to live in a cabin right on the beach of Lac des Sables in Notre Dame Du Laus, Quebec, where I would play all day in the water with my family, swimming, fishing, and catching frogs in buckets (and releasing them of course). I also grew up going to summer camp in Tichborne, Ontario and learning how to canoe, kayak, sail, and windsurf on Eagle Lake. In high school on Vancouver Island, I was a part of the rowing team and would wake early to go out on the water, often meeting playful seals in Mill Bay, BC. My love of water continued throughout my years of study at McGill University, which brought me to Barbados for a field study semester. I was very lucky to go out swimming and surfing while also learning about the challenges of a water scarce country. Learning how people have come to adapt to water problems inspired me to work with water conservation, leading me to my position with the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper.

 

As with many of us Waterkeepers, I have a dream of a swimmable, drinkable, fishable North Saskatchewan River. I have a background in environmental education with the Biodome and the Biosphere in Montreal and with the Telus World of Science Edmonton which I will apply to water literacy education across the North Saskatchewan River watershed. I have a strong relationship to water, and I’m sure that you do too! Share your watermark (your own story of a memory on water) to contribute to an important database of stories of water history.

Enjoy September on these 5 Alberta Waterbodies!

September is the perfect month to get outside and get to the water. While it may be getting a bit more chilly, now you can dig your favourite sweater and toque out from storage, bundle up, and face the great outdoors. Spending time outside is proven to be great for social, physical, and mental health. This is particularly important as the school year starts up. Getting to the water is the perfect opportunity to gather with friends and family, it can improve your mood, it gets you moving, it calms the mind, and it’s just plain fun! There’s no snow on the ground. The lakes have not frozen. Now is the time to get outside!

 

Alberta is feeling the chill of seasonal change approaching, but summer is far from over. September is a prime time to get outside and take advantage of the many lovely walking and biking paths, the perfect water for paddling, and maybe even brave the cold water for a dip. While the City of Edmonton might not be moving forward with constructing a permanent beach along the North Saskatchewan River, that does not mean that Edmontonians cannot get out to the water. There are 22 major parks along the river, forming the largest expanse of urban parkland in North America, and an abundance of space for activities. For ideas of beaches to visit in one of the sunniest provinces, here are a few of the most popular beaches in Alberta. For more ideas, check the Swim Guide or read on.

 

File:Elk Island National Park Sunset.jpg 

Elk Island National Park

 

Elk Island National Park is located a quick 30 minutes away from Edmonton. If you like hiking, paddling, or seeing wildlife, this is a trip you might want to take this September. You can pack a picnic while gazing out on Astotin Lake, and if you have young ones with you (or the young at heart), build some sandcastles on the beach. There are also 11 hiking trails of various difficulties to immerse yourself in the fresh air. If paddling is more your scene, on the weekends you can rent a canoe, kayak, or stand up paddleboard; if you have your own boat, bring it along for some quality time out on the water. Elk Island is also home to many different creatures of all different shapes and sizes, including bison, elk, beavers, and the tiny boreal chorus frog. You will have to keep your eyes and ears open to witness some of these amazing creatures.

 

Wabamun Lake Provincial Park

 

Is it possible to go swimming in September? Absolutely! The Wabamun Lake Provincial Park Beach is another quick trip from Edmonton for a day full of activities. The beach has plenty of space to play in and out of the water. If you prefer birdwatching, you may be able to spot herons, bald eagles, hooded mergansers, and more. It’s also a great location for fishing, many anglers rave about the pike and walleye in Wabamun Lake.

 

File:MalignelakeSpiritisland.JPG

Maligne Lake

 

For a Rocky Mountain Adventure, why not trek to Maligne Lake. There are many lakes and rivers to choose to visit in Jasper National Park, so why not visit the largest? The 22km long lake is a fantastic spot to go paddling or for an epic hike. They have easy and difficult trails to take you to the tops of mountains. There are a variety of campsites at the lake, as well as many other sites around Jasper. There are a variety of activities that are still available in the surrounding area including horseback riding, mountain biking, paddling, fishing, and even traction kiting.

 

Mill Creek Ravine

 

Flowing right through Edmonton, the Mill Creek Ravine is a stunning location for a hike, for mountain biking, or for a dog walk. It’s a popular site for dog owners since there is an off leash dog park. But there are also sites for picnicking, so bring a snack to enjoy the beauty of the creek. The paved trails are accompanied by bridges to cross over the water with ease. This is a great location to escape from the hustle and bustle while still being located right in the city.

 

Accidental Beach

 

While it may not be the most accessible of beaches, the sand has returned once again this year. This year Accidental Beach (also known as Cloverdale Beach) did not have as many people come by, but it is still a great spot to visit with friends and family. Last year’s water testing showed high levels of E. coli, so bathe at your own risk. But the view of downtown from the water is reason enough to visit this accidental sandy beach.

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