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.


Rachel’s Five Favorite River Valley Adventures

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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.

Smoke on the Water: Wildfire Impacts on Water Health

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Throughout the day, I kept looking outside as a haze of smoke slowly enveloped the city. Edmonton started disappearing around me. My lungs began to feel heavier and heavier as the smoke encroached from all directions. The river disappeared from view, then the river valley was obscured, finally the neighbouring buildings seemed to be erased from the horizon, until all I could see was grey.


Edmonton is hundreds of kilometers away from the nearest forest fire, and yet it was surrounded by thick smoke. There have been hundreds of forest fires this spring, several of which are deemed out of control. Clearly, there will be astronomical impacts on the trees, animals, and people in the areas hit by these fires. As these fires rage on, Riverkeeper can’t help but wonder: will the water be impacted by these fires as well?

Morning of May 30th vs. 3 hours later

When we associate water and fire it’s usually due to water’s fire-quenching abilities and water’s perseverance over the devastation caused by fire. But allow us to turn the tables and consider fire’s impact on water. Anyone who has experienced poor air quality due to fires has realized that smoke and ash have an impact on your health. I was wheezy, sneezing, coughing, with watery eyes and a headache. Even though I would not be considered someone at risk (like people with heart or lung conditions, pregnant women, or young children), the health impacts were noticeable. Wildfire smoke can damage your lungs, heart, and even your brain. The fine particles of smoke can be destructive on our bodies, even extending to our bodies of water.


The water that we drink can be impacted by the ash and fine particles that settle after wildfires. Last year’s wildfires caused the waters running through Cameron Falls in Southern Alberta to turn a muddy brown, highly concentrated with ash. These waters were unusually high in nitrogen and phosphorus, causing green algae concentrations to spike in the moving waters of Cameron Creek. Our waters can be inundated with sediments and nutrients from wildfire smoke. These nutrients can change the water’s chemistry, along with it changing the composition of aquatic plants, insects, amphibians, and fish. Increases in mercury, iron, dissolved organic carbon, turbidity, and debris can all potentially affect waterbodies in Western Canada following these serious forest fires. What this means for us is that the beaches where we swim, the water that we drink, and the fish that we eat could all be seriously influenced from the smoke, ash, and fire ravaging our lands.


Not only does the ash from forest fires affect water quality, so does the rapid loss of trees. Trees, bushes, and small plants dig their roots into the soil, binding it together to prevent erosion. When forest fires wipe out a whole area of trees, the soils and nutrients within them can move more quickly, seeping into bodies of water. The North Saskatchewan River is home to diverse soils, but a sudden, dramatic influx of soil could be damaging to our source of drinking water, making it much more challenging and expensive to treat.


While water is not the most vulnerable environmental feature that fires affect, the impacts can be quite severe. Fire and smoke threaten the waters that we need and love. This includes the water cherished for swimming, drinking water that is clean and affordable, and the water supporting healthy fish and wildlife. Our environment is complexly interconnected. Clean water and clean air are extremely important for our health and well-being yet both are vulnerable to smoke and fire. Forest fires are a natural part of forests cycles, but are becoming more common and more intense in our changing climate. As they continue to impact us, it is increasingly important for our health and the health of our favourite waterbodies to prevent wildfires whenever possible.


How can you help prevent wildfires

  • Always dispose of cigarettes, matches, and other smoking accessories properly
  • Avoid smoking in forests and parks during dry conditions or fire bans
  • Don’t have bonfires during dry conditions or fire bans
  • Always pay attention to bonfires, keeping water and/or flame retardants on hand in case the fire gets out of control
  • Call 911 if you see a fire that is unattended and/or out of control


Music of the Water

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Water’s beauty is almost indescribable. It provides us with more than words can encompass. Water reaches deep into our feelings and emotions. The joy of splashing in the waves, the calm of fishing, and the bliss of canoeing are all powerful memories that can inspire us. Many artists, poets, and musicians use that inspiration to create. Unsurprisingly, water is an ongoing theme in music. Bodies of water across the world are often referenced in songs. Songs can access a part of us that can nearly describe the indescribable and hone in to a part of ourselves rarely accessed. Next time that you are visiting a waterbody, take the time to look, listen, and feel the water, and maybe put on a playlist of music about water to fully encapsulate feelings uncovered by water. Here’s a playlist of music inspired by water: 


Reeling It In: Can Fishing Be Sustainable?

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Fishing. For me, it sparks foggy memories of sitting with my grandfather on a small metal boat in Lac-des-Sables, Quebec, waiting impatiently for any sign of movement. I kept busy playing with the bucket full of wriggling worms. I’ll never forget how peaceful it was, just us, out on the water watching for a nibble on the line, listening for the soft hum of the reel as the line dragged across the water. He caught something. My fuzzy mind remembers it to be a brightly coloured angelfish, but looking back, it was more likely a small perch or bass, simply coloured grey or brown. I wanted him to throw the fish back in the water and save its life. But he knew the opportunity to eat a freshly caught fish was a valuable chance for me to learn where food comes from. Floating out on the calm lake, my grandfather showed me the hard work it takes to put something fresh on the table. That night, my family and I shared stories and bonded while we devoured the fresh catch. That’s the power of fishing—connection. Connection to yourself as you wait. Connection to nature as you study patterns and behaviours of the water, rocks, plants, and animals. Connection to each other as you sit together, and perhaps get to share a meal at the end of the day.


When the topic of fishing comes up, the first thing that may come to mind for many people is the unsustainable overfishing practices currently happening across the world. Globally, fish populations are declining. Locally, fish populations in the North Saskatchewan River watershed are also dying off. Many native species across the watershed are endangered or vulnerable. This is a result of habitat degradation and fragmentation, over-harvesting, invasive species, industrial activities, stream flow fluctuations, poor water quality, climate change, and more. Species like the Lake Sturgeon nearly disappeared from the North Saskatchewan River. But thanks to the improvement of sewage treatment processes and fishing regulations, local fish species have been given a chance.


It may come as a surprise that fishing can be an important tool for protecting fish species. Sustainable fishing, that is. Local, sustainable fishing is a time-honoured tradition passed down by generations of people living in Canada. Those who regularly visit their waterbodies, cast out their line, and follow fishing regulations are some of the greatest water stewards. By spending periods of time out on the water, watching and learning from their surroundings, people begin to notice changes that are much more subtle to others. Fishers are often more aware of changes in the health of local fish, the populations of the fish in the water, and the biodiversity of other aquatic life. Indigenous peoples have been fishing in the North Saskatchewan watershed for tens of thousands of years at rates that haven’t depleted fish stocks. Since fishing is an activity that is directly correlated with a healthy environment, fishers often take on the responsibility to advocate for strong environmental protections, ensuring thriving fish populations for future generations.


Sustainable fishing is fishing at a rate that allows the fish to reproduce, maintaining their populations in the long term (or even improving them). One of the ways that local fishers can help to balance fish populations is by following fishing regulations. There are diverse regulations in place throughout Alberta that you absolutely need to be aware of before casting your line. One of the most important regulations is to clean, drain, and dry all equipment (including fishing rods and boats) to help prevent any invasive species from taking over our waterways. Another important regulation is to keep shorelines intact and natural. This helps to prevent erosion, as well as algal blooms that are very common in Alberta’s mineral-rich soil. Blooms of blue-green algae cover the surface of Alberta’s beautiful lakes with toxic cyanobacteria threatening the swimmability and fishability of our waters.


Thriving aquatic biodiversity helps ensure a fishable future for all. Fishers wanting to enjoy fishing for years to come will make sure not to take more than they need. This is especially important since our waterbodies have many threatened species that are only allowed for catch & release fishing. When you catch and release fish properly, it can be a conservation strategy and spare the lives of endangered or threatened species including Lake Sturgeon, Walleye, and Sauger. Fishing regulations like catch & release, size limits, and catch limits give fish species an opportunity to recover, and hopefully to thrive once again. Be sure to know your local fishing regulations and get your fishing license to become a sustainable fisher yourself!


Another way that fishers can help to ensure thriving fish populations and a safe, secure environment is by reporting problems in the watershed. When the fish populations are unstable, it’s best to report to your local Fish and Wildlife representative, or call the toll-free Alberta number at 310-0000 and Saskatchewan number at 1-800-567-4224. If you notice an environmental emergency in Alberta, call the 24 hour line at 1-800-222-6514. 


Fishers are incredibly knowledgeable on the fish status in the watershed. Stewards that can protect aquatic biodiversity need to be able to recognize the different species within the waterbody, when those species are plentiful or scarce, and when there’s a threat to the health of the waterbody. If you’re a fisher with knowledge to share, please write a watermark story about your fishing experiences for Watermark Project, an initiative to collect and share true water stories. Years ago, I was fortunate enough to learn the value of fishing and found it to be an incredible way to connect to water. For those looking to try fishing for the first time, be patient, experience the world around you, and follow your local regulations. Happy fishing!





Alberta, Environment and Parks, Fish and Wildlife. “2019 Alberta Guide to Sportfishing Regulations.” 2019 Alberta Guide to Sportfishing Regulations, 2019.

Horton, Jennifer. “5 Ways To Fish Responsibly.” How Stuff Works,  

“Lake Sturgeon FSI.”,

MacDougall-Davis , Robert. “Fishing and the Environment: Why the Two Are Inextricably Linked.” Ecologist: Journal for the Post-Industrial Age, 15 Oct. 2010,

“Regulations.” Tourism Saskatchewan, 2019,

“Saskatchewan Angler’s Guide 2019.” Edited by Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Fishing, 2019,   

“Species at Risk.”,

“The Dependable Online Resource For Fishing In Alberta.”, 2019,


Battle of the H2O: Bottled vs. Tap

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Bottled water is incredibly convenient. You can purchase it almost anywhere nowadays. When out and about, bottled water is the healthy choice among the sugary sodas, juices, and energy drinks that fill up the aisles of grocery stores. For many people across the world, bottled water continues to be the only safe source of drinking water. In a place like Edmonton, clean tap water is available in abundance. However, it is not uncommon to encounter people who refuse to drink anything but their favourite brand of bottled water. Is bottled water better than tap water? Let’s examine the difference in taste, quality, cost, and environmental impact of bottled vs. tap water.


Many people also would argue that bottled water tastes better and is cleaner than tap water. I had a friend in university that refused to drink tap water and would buy cases of bottled water instead. To see if he actually preferred bottled water we put the tap to the test. Without telling him which glass was bottled water and which glass was tap water, we got him to choose the water that he thought tasted the best. Believe it or not, he was certain that the glass full of tap water was of superior taste. After that experiment he finally accepted that tap water was not actually so bad, and may even taste better than the bottled water that he was constantly buying. This test has been replicated many times by scientists, classrooms, and curious citizens and there is no definitive answer. Some people prefer the taste of bottled water and some people prefer tap water. One study looking directly at premium water brands (including Fiji and Evian) found that people preferred the regular tap water to these brands, which are relatively expensive. Taste preference is extremely personal, so try your own blind taste test to see if you actually preferred bottled water or tap water. The answer may surprise you.


Surprisingly, bottled water is often of lower quality than tap water. Municipalities have very strict standards for tap water and test on a regular basis. Bottled water does not have the same standards or testing, and might not meet the same safety regulations as tap water. While bottled water is not allowed to have arsenic, lead, coliform bacteria, or poisonous substances in it under the Food and Drug Act, there are no regulations on any other water contaminants. Tap water undergoes much more rigorous and long-term testing to ensure that the water is contaminant-free under the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water. One of the contaminants that is becoming more common in bottled water is microplastic, which is being studied for impacts on the liver and the endocrine system. Also, up to 45% of bottled water in Canada comes from the same sources as municipal tap water, so you might actually be drinking tap water that has been bottled. There is very little evidence to suggest that bottled water is higher quality than tap water.
That being said, there are approximately 1000 drinking water advisories across Canada on any given day. In these communities there is a significant threat to the drinking water, meaning that you either cannot drink the tap water or that you must boil the tap water prior to drinking it. First Nations communities are disproportionately affected by drinking water advisories in Canada. Also, Canada has been home to a massive drinking water catastrophe in Walkerton, Ontario, where 7 people died and thousands of people got sick from E. coli contamination in the tap water. Since this event from 2000, Canada has stricter testing to avoid other potential contaminations. It is worth noting that historically there have been problems with Canadian tap water and safe, clean tap water is not available to all Canadians.  


It will come as no surprise that bottled water is more expensive than tap water. It costs about $0.001 per litre of tap water, and anywhere from about $0.16 to $5.00 per litre of bottled water. People are paying 160% to 5,000% more for bottled water! When the tap water is not potable (meaning not good to drink) it can be very expensive for a family or a community to purchase bottled water instead.

Environmental Impact

There are many factors that demonstrate that bottled water has a greater environmental impact than tap water. First off, it takes at least twice the amount of water to make a plastic bottle of water than it does to fill a bottle with tap water since it takes water to make plastic. Second, bottled water takes over 2000 times more energy to produce than tap water. Third, bottled water produces billions of bottles every year, and only about 10% of plastic waste is recycled in Canada, meaning that the other 90% is sent to landfills or is in the environment on land or in waterbodies. It takes about 500 years for a plastic water bottle to decompose, and instead of breaking down, plastic breaks up into little pieces of microplastic, which are shown to have significant impacts on ecosystem health.


Where To Fill Up

If you want to drink tap water but don’t like the taste you can use a water filter, such as an activated carbon filter, to remove impurities and soften the water. But when out and about, it is becoming easier to fill up your own bottle. Airports, schools, and malls are starting to have more bottle stations where you can fill up. When leaving the house make sure that you have your keys, wallet, and water bottle. By making your reusable water bottle the regular habit instead of buying plastic water bottles, you are saving money, reducing your environmental impact, likely drinking better quality water, and you may actually prefer the taste without realizing it! Next time that you purchase bottled water, ask yourself why you prefer bottled to tap and reassess your drinking water preferences.
PS: if you need a new water bottle, there are Swim Drink Fish bottles available here


Wildlife Corridors: Pathways for Biodiversity

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Humans have adapted diverse forms of transportation over the years. We have travelled by boats, horses, bicycles, cars, airplanes, skateboards, ATVs, segways, and SO many more. Personally, I’m still waiting for the true Back to the Future-style hoverboards. Evidently, there is a plethora of human strategies for moving around.


Now for a moment, imagine that you do not have access to any of these strategies. Instead, picture that you have a specific physiological adaptation that influences how you get from place to place. Maybe you have specialized fins, or wings, or move around on 4 legs, or 100 legs, or slither around without legs. Once you have imagined yourself as another creature, now think about moving around. How do you find food? What barriers do you encounter? How do you avoid predators? Where do you sleep? How do you get from place to place?


During this little exercise, where were you picturing yourself? Most of the time, we imagine that wildlife lives exclusively in the wild. But our world is not separated into wilderness and not. Wildness is integrated with the non-natural almost everywhere on Earth.


Edmonton is no exception. Edmonton is home to many diverse creatures. Some of them you might see on a daily basis. Animals like magpies, pigeons, and squirrels are very well adapted to city life. But many other creatures have a more difficult life in the built environment. It is especially challenging for these critters to move around in cities. Many species require soil, water, trees, bushes, etc. for defence, food, sleep, and displacement. Fortunately, animals in Edmonton have large natural spaces to roam around right in the city. These regions are pathways for biodiversity known as wildlife corridors.



Wildlife Corridors


A wildlife corridor is a type of nature pathway for animal habitats. Like a highway, flightpath, bike trail, or hallway, these are the paths that critters use to move around, particularly in urban locales. These corridors are becoming increasingly important as cities continue to encroach on what was once considered natural terrain. Pockets of nature are absolutely essential for plants and animals to thrive in cities. Edmonton has one of the largest continuous urban wildlife corridors: the North Saskatchewan River Valley. Edmonton’s River Valley is home to some fascinating species. Animals like coyotes, porcupines, deer, and peregrine falcons live in the river valley, where the abundance of green space makes for easy travel.  


When visiting the river valley, you are likely to stumble upon some of these creatures. There are some prime photo ops along this wildlife corridor. Watching and photographing animals is definitely encouraged, but there are some things that you should and shouldn’t do when in contact with animals.


Don’t feed them

Wild animals might seem really happy to gobble down treats, but in the long run it’s not good for them or us. Unfortunately many birds in urban areas that are fed by people eat too much and cannot fly long distances. This means that they would be unable to migrate for the winter, which is a threat to their lives. Many animals including squirrels, coyotes, and geese can become over-reliant on humans for food. When people feed wild animals, it can lead to aggressive behaviour, malnutrition, overpopulation, and an increase in fecal matter in the water and on land.



                                                                 Give them some space

Getting too close to wildlife can stress them out and put you at risk. For their wellbeing and for yours, don’t approach wildlife. Animals can hurt people when they get too close, often acting in self-defence. While on the other hand, some animals become too accustomed to human interactions. Over time they lose their natural instincts when becoming too comfortable with human contact. They might lose vital instincts that keep them from predators, that help them to hunt, or that allow them to reproduce. Experts recommend staying 100 meters away from wildlife like cougars, coyotes, and wolves (about the length of a football field) and 30 meters away from other large wildlife like deer (approximately the width of a hockey rink). For smaller animals, avoid touching them and give them a wide space bubble so as to not stress them out. Animal selfies might sound like a good idea, but are detrimental to the long-term health of the wildlife. Selfies are great, animal pictures are great, just try not the mix the two!




Keep track of your pets

While exploring wildlife corridors, make sure that you know where your dog is at all times and make sure to keep your dog on a leash. Coyote-dog interactions can become quite aggressive, and either animal can get injured in these encounters. To ensure that your pet and the wild animal remain free from harm, keep your dog on a leash and always make sure that you have an eye on them. It is also a good idea to keep tabs on your cats. Cats are responsible for an estimated 200 million bird fatalities in Canada. When they are off hunting, cats can do serious harm to local bird populations. Make sure to always keep track of your pets when they are off exploring the homes of our diverse wildlife.



Appreciate the wonders of nature

To get the most out of your nature explorations, make sure to take in all of the beauty that exists in our world. Spending time outdoors surrounded by plants and wildlife is proven to improve our physical and mental health. There are fantastic trails across Edmonton for biking, jogging, hiking, and birding, as well as excellent spots to get down to the water for paddling and swimming. Get outside whenever possible, whether it’s to visit the river valley, the rocky mountains, the boreal forest, the badlands, or the plains. The prairies are home to diverse plants, animals, and terrain that are just waiting to be explored. The only thing missing is you.




Featured image Jeff Wallace / Flickr

Deer photo Robert Walsh / Pixabay

Pigeon photo Rudy and Peter Skitterians / Pixabay

Cat photo rihaij / Pixabay

Why Do Humans Love Water?

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Seeking out waterbodies is built into our DNA. They bring us joy, calm, fascination, and memories. My favourite moments are spent by the water. Like watching waves crash and slither back with the tides. Feeling the force of a river push back on my fingertips as I dip them in the water. Treading water in a lake until my legs get sore and tired.


Water is beautiful, water is precious, and water is life. Without water, humans can only survive two days to a week. We need water to survive, so of course we inherently like it. But that fact alone doesn’t explain our fascination with coastlines, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. About 90% of all people live near a body of freshwater. While the need for something to drink is clearly a leading reason for our proximity to freshwater, there’s something else at play.


Spending time by water has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, to make people feel happier, and to improve health.



How can water have such a strong power over us?


There are lots of different theories as to why people are drawn to H2O. Potentially, we feel a strong kinship to water as it’s our home. Water is the reason life exists and the location where all life on Earth originated billions of years ago. Therefore, returning to water is comparable to returning home. Much like the joy of coming home after being away for a long time, we experience happiness and health when we return to the water.  



Another reason could be the benefits that our ancestors profited from when their lives were heavily tied to waters. It’s hypothesized that our big brains were able to grow due to our heavy reliance on omega-3 rich seafood. During human evolution fish, crabs, and molluscs provided human ancestors with exponential brain growth, enabling us to thrive.



Regardless of the reasons, we are forever bonded to water. By our desire to swim, skate, paddle, and spend time near water. By the need to drink water to live healthily. By the benefits that fish have provided us with as we have evolved and continue to evolve. Swimmable, drinkable, fishable waters are a part of who we are, and absolutely essential to protect for our future.




Trash Tales

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A plastic water bottle falls upon the river valley trail. Its owner was aiming for the recycling bin, but missed, initiating this bottle’s journey to new lands. A wind gust pushes the cylinder down the steep valley. It rolls uncontrollably, smashing into trees on its journey through the forest. Tall grasses trap the bottle on a ledge overlooking the North Saskatchewan River. Rain starts to pour down, dislodging the bottle from its new home and it falls into the river with a splash. Slowly, very slowly, it breaks down over the next 450 years. As pieces break from the bottle, inquisitive fish taste the small shards of plastic, while other fragments settle in with the sand along the banks of the river as the bottle’s remains journey over 1,000 kilometers towards Lake Winnipeg, and eventually the Hudson Bay.



This story is made up, yet water pollution is a very real threat. The banks of the North Saskatchewan River are beautiful places to be enjoyed. However, they are also home to plenty of garbage that threatens the quality of the North Saskatchewan River. Plastic pollution is a particularly large threat to the diverse aquatic species living in the river. Microplastics have been found in almost every waterbody, have been consumed by almost all aquatic species, and have been found in tap water in Europe, Japan, and Russia. These plastic pieces 5mm or smaller come from microfibers in clothing, plastic pellets for manufacturing, microbeads that used to be in toothpaste and body wash, and break from larger pieces of plastic. Plastic harbours harmful microbes as well as chemical pollutants including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyls (PBDEs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which can be harmful to the aquatic species consuming them, as well as humans ingesting impacted water and fish.



Less than 9% of all plastic that’s ever been made has been recycled. Therefore, the remaining 91% are housed in landfills, are incinerated, are found in bodies of water, or are located in other environments. Instead of dwelling on the plastic that’s not recycled, let’s shift our focus towards recycling. Edmonton has a massive waste processing facility called the Edmonton Waste Management Centre (EWMC) which offer free tours of their recycling and garbage processes. To learn about how recycling works and what happens to waste that’s being diverted from the river, Riverkeeper joined a tour of the centre.


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle


Who knew recycling could be so complex? Recyclables collected at the EWMC are sorted at the Materials Recovery Facility into the different categories including paper, cardboard, glass, metal, and plastic type. It was eye opening to learn that the recycling industry is driven by its own market and economy. When there are people willing to buy the items being recycled they will get recycled. But there are challenges in finding demand for some types of hard-to-recycle (or expensive-to-recycle) materials. When there is no demand for a recyclable, they often end up in landfills or sent to other facilities at the EWMC. 



The 3 Rs that we are taught in elementary school are increasingly important as the quantity of waste continues to grow. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It’s no mystery that the order matters. Reducing consumption is the most important R. Rethinking every time we make a purchase might make us reconsider what we need in our lives. Reducing comes next but is also super important. For example, using a reusable water bottle saves water since plastic water bottles take over double the water to make. But finally we can recycle and properly dispose of our waste to make sure that our amazing river can be trash-free!


Join Riverkeeper this Spring and Summer for river valley cleanups to make sure that the garbage making its way towards the river is diverted and properly disposed of. Sign up for our newsletter above to stay informed of upcoming cleanups. The next time you are visiting the river valley, bring a garbage bag to keep our source of water (and life) clean. If you find pollution that you can’t clean up, report it on the Swim Guide and participate in an exciting and important citizen science initiative




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