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.

 

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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.

Did you know? Edmonton’s River valley parks system is Canada’s largest stretch of urban parks

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For years and years I’ve grown up here and have taken the Edmonton River Valley and Parks for granted. Only in the last couple of years have I really begun to appreciate the incredible opportunity and beauty that is right in front of me. Whether it’s been swimming, walking, biking, or snowboarding, endless fun and enjoyment seems to be everywhere thanks to the long stretched-out natural playground that meanders through the city.

 

 

Edmonton’s River Valley is made up of 20 major parks and has over 160km of maintained pathways (not counting the abundance of unmarked trails). This makes it super easy to access the river valley from almost any point. Cliffside lookouts, mature forest, and sandy beaches are all found right in the city, not to mention an extensive amount of single track bike trails, two ski hills, and so much more. There is no doubt that the river valley system here is a true spectacle and unique to a large urban landscape.

The park system is continuous, allowing one to walk/bike/ski beside the river throughout the length of the city. The River Valley Alliance have plans, already underway, to extend and develop the continuous park system from Devon to Fort Saskatchewan.

 

 

Edmontonians seem to take advantage of the valley. If you visit one of the parks you constantly see people going for a jog, walking the dog, having picnics, canoeing, or watching the sunset. It’s great to see people using the valley and being thankful for the endless opportunity and healthy lifestyle that the river valley provides for our city.

When looking at a satellite image of Edmonton you will notice a pronounced band of green cutting through the middle of the city (the river valley). Smaller veins of green (ravines), extend out north and south connecting some of the far reaches of our city back to the river.

 

 

The North Saskatchewan River Valley is the beating heart of our city. It gives Edmonton life and creates a way for Edmontonians to connect with nature and each other. This intricate and beautiful system of forest, trails, parks, and water truly make Edmonton a unique and special city to live in and proud to be a part of.

 

 

 

Set Sail on the North Sask.

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There’s nothing quite like seeing Edmonton from the water. Floating down the river by boat, canoe, kayak, etc. provides a very different perspective of our city and is sure to make one appreciate the river valley in a new and astonishing way. There are many different river access spots here in Edmonton, below are some of the main places to set sail.

 

Boat Launches

There are two vehicle boat launches in the City. One is in Laurier Park and the other is at Capilano park. Both offer vehicle and motorized boat access. There is limited parking available at these boat launches. Launches are generally open from April to November but are subject to change due to weather, ice, water level, and emergency situations.

Capilano Boat Launch

 

River Access points (Hand/carry boat launches)

If you’re adventurous and don’t mind a bit of exploring then there are countless places to access the river (though some are difficult to find and are challenging to negotiate with a canoe). Here are some spots that provide a safe and easy way to access the river.

  1. Terwillegar Park – There is access at the main beach area where all the dogs swim. It’s a bit of a walk from the parking lot with a canoe but it’s a good place to access the river upstream.
  2. Fort Edmonton Park – Right before reaching Fort Edmonton Park, drop off your canoe, kayak, floaties at the entry point underneath the Quesnell Bridge. You can then find parking for your car in the large parking lot.
  3. Whitemud Park – Located close to the Whitemud Equestrian Centre.
  4. Emily Murphy Park – You can drop your boat off at Groat Bridge on the west side of the park near the river and then park your vehicle in the parking lot.
  5. Louise Mckinney Riverfront Park – There is a public dock which provides easy access to the river for boats and for leisure enjoyment. The dock is located on the westside of the park down by the river.
  6. Dawson Park – There is a gentle sandy hill that you can walk down to reach the water.

 

Future Developments

The city has plans to improve river access by building 7 new public docks and improving carry on boat launches as well as improving Capilano’s main boat launch. This will provide increased water access and allows for a natural way to get more people to connect with the river.

To learn more about this project and updates on completion visit the City of Edmonton website.

 

Edmonton Riverboat seen from Louise Mckinney Park

 

Remember, as users of the River we are responsible for its health and conservation. It’s important that we enjoy and use the river – this also means looking after it and making sure we can enjoy it in the years to come.

 

What you should know about the “dreaded” Swimmers Itch

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What is Swimmers Itch?

Swimmers itch refers to a swim rash caused by an allergic reaction to certain microscopic parasite larvae. These parasites lay eggs in, and infect waterfowl and certain water going animals such as muskrats. The feces from these animals contain the eggs which hatch into larvae. These Larvae then infect a certain species of snail where they multiply and are released again. The parasitic larvae then search for a host such as waterfowl and occasionally humans. If they come in contact with a human they can bury under the skin which causes the allergic reaction and rash. Lucky for us, the parasite cannot survive in humans and dies quickly after it comes in contact with our skin. However, they leave us with a nasty rash and irritating itch.

Swimmers itch usually occurs in freshwater such as lakes and ponds but can still be found in saltwater as well.

 

How to know if you have/had swimmers itch

If you recently went swimming and now have a rash, itching/burning feel on your skin, or red bumps/blisters you may have swimmers itch.

The severity of the allergic reaction varies depending on the person. Some may react a lot and some not so much.

 

How to treat it

Although swimmers itch may sound and look like a serious condition that needs medical attention it usually does not. Most of the time symptoms go away within a week on their own. Here are some things you can do to help treat it at home.

  1. Use Calamine Lotion
  2. Apply cool clothes to compress on skin
  3. Take lukewarm baths with baking soda or epsom salts
  4. Use anti-itch cream

Note: Swimmers itch is not contagious so it cannot be passed from person-person.

Although it may be hard, try to resist the temptation to scratch the affected area. Scratching may cause infection which can lead to longer recovery or sometimes medical attention.

 

How to Avoid the Itch

Choose swimming spots carefully – Look for advisories and warnings before going swimming. You can also visit http://swimmersitch.ca for current swimmers itch reports across Canada.

Swim in Deeper Water – The snails that release the parasite tend to be in shallow, marshy, warmer water. Try to avoid these areas when swimming and if you’re a strong swimmer, head to deeper water where there is less of a chance of being infected.

Rinse off after Swimming – Rinse off your skin and swimsuit with clean water right after swimming. Drying with a towel will also help lower your chances of getting the itch.

Don’t encourage the wildlife – Best not to feed any waterfowl or any wildlife that is around the waterbody. Droppings from certain animals are part of the swimmers itch life cycle and can lead to increased outbreaks.

 

 

Since these parasites are so small and unpredictable it’s difficult to determine when and where an outbreak will occur. You can help by reporting – If you or someone you know gets swimmers itch you can report where and when it happened to swimmersitch.ca to inform others before they choose a place to take a dip.

All this being said, don’t let swimmers itch stop you from getting in the water. In the majority of swimmable waterbodies around, the chances of getting swimmers itch are unlikely, and even if you do come across it, it’s not the end of the world. It’s good to become educated about it and to be aware of the risk but it should not scare you away from finding a place to swim.

 

Make summer happen this August long weekend

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It is one of the busiest weekends of the summer. The sun is out, and it’s the perfect time to relax and take the opportunity to get to the water. Whether it’s a beach, dock, lake, or river take time to wash away the stress of everyday life and enjoy some time spent with family, friends, and yourself.

Water is refreshing, rejuvenating, and soothing for the soul. There really is no better way to spend your August long weekend.

If you’re in Alberta, Saskatchewan, or Manitoba take a look at these top beach destinations and choose a spot to spent time by the water this weekend. Be sure to check out Swim Guide as well for more locations near you.

For additional reading and inspiration, take a look at Swim Guide’s Spend this August long weekend on your local waters article.

Catch this: Fishing in Edmonton better than you may think

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This blog will be all about fishing on the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton. I’m not an avid fisherman myself but do enjoy the occasional cast and reel. I never really realized the potential that the river has in the city when it comes to fishing. I thought it wasn’t a thing or that nothing substantial could be caught, but my perspective on this issue has changed. There are definitely opportunities to catch fish right in Edmonton.

Fish species vary on different spots along the North Sask. In the upper parts of the river the water is much colder than the water here in Edmonton. Upstream the river is home to more cold water fish, in Edmonton the water is more suited for cool water fish. This doesn’t mean you won’t find cold water fish here, you’re just more likely to find species that favour cool water.

The river around Edmonton is home to Walleye, Burbot, Northern Pike, Mountain Whitefish, Sauger, and Lake Sturgeon. Walleye seem to be one of the most regularly caught along with Sauger. Fish can be found really anywhere on the river, but creek mouths, stormwater outfalls, bridges, and river bends are popular hangout spots for these swim goers. These spots provide deeper slow moving water, shelter and food for the fish. This makes them a good place to cast a line.

Walleye – Photo taken by OakleyOriginals, Attribution 2.0 Generic

When it comes to keeping fish, there are regulations depending on species and size which are subject to change. You can visit Alberta fishing guide for more details on current regulations. The City of Edmonton recommends eating fish caught from the river only once a week. Pregnant women and children under 15 years of age should hold off eating fish caught from the river altogether. This is due to mercury that may be in the fish, likely from natural sources.

EPCOR states that river water quality in Edmonton has improved significantly over the past 60 years due to better treatment of wastewater which has had a positive impact on fish population and health. People are starting to see that the river isn’t just some dirty lifeless slew and instead that it’s clean and full of all sorts of life and opportunity.

I visited a popular fish spot in the city close to Quesnell Bridge near an outfall. I met Johnny, a 43 year old Edmontonian who has been fishing on the river since he was 8 years old. He and his friend had already caught over 5 fish that afternoon and he mentioned that if it’s a good day, and the rivers high, you can catch around 30 fish in a 4-5 hour session. “I catch about 5-6 different species a lot” he says, including a story about a 30 lb Lake Sturgeon he caught not far up river. It was great to hear from someone who had a lot of experience and really knew what fishing on the river was all about.

It’s encouraging to see and to hear that fishing on the North Saskatchewan in Edmonton is great and that you don’t have to travel far to land some high quality fish. I can’t wait to start fishing on the river.

 Quesnell Bridge

 

Right from the River: What are we drinking?

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All the water that we use comes from the North Saskatchewan River, but it’s not as easy as just sucking it up and distributing it out to everyone’s tap. Edmonton has a thorough water treatment system run by EPCOR making sure everyone has safe, clean, available water throughout the year.

Edmonton has two water treatment plants. The E.L Smith plant near Terwillegar Park and the older Rossdale Plant downtown. Together these facilities are able to produce an average of 350 ML (megalitres) of treated water a day. The water is stored in 12 reservoirs with a capacity of around 800ML. As needed, it is distributed to Edmontonians and surrounding communities.

Rossdale Water Treatment Plant

 

The Process

The treatment process is broken down into 12 steps.

  1. Intake: The first step is the intake of water from the river. These intakes are near in the deepest parts of the river, near the lowlift pump stations, making sure the least amount of debris and other substances are taken in.
  2. Screens: The water is then filtered through screens to remove any debris from the intake. These screens have 1 cm2 holes that keep out sticks, leaves, fish and whatever else that is sucked up.
  3. Lowlift Pumps: Low pressure pumps are then used to pump 20 – 200 millions of litres per day (MLD).
  4. Chemical Injection: At first it may not sound the greatest, but chemicals are used to treat the water to help make it safe to drink. Alum and powdered activated carbon are the first chemicals added. Alum acts to remove solids in the water, and the carbon absorbs colour, taste, and odour causing compounds.
  5. Rapid Mix: Once the chemicals are added they need to be mixed well with the water. High intensity mixing is done at lowlift pump stations and mixing chambers.
  6. Flocculation: Polymer is added to the water to attract dirt particles. It forms large jelly-like particles called Floc. The Floc then sinks and gathers at to the bottom of the water.
  7. Sedimentation: Once all the Floc has settled at the bottom it is removed and the clear water is taken from the surface.
  8. Disinfection: Chlorine is added to the water to kill microbes and harmful bacteria. After the filtration process the water goes through UV disinfection which kills and disables other microorganisms. Ammonia is also added which combines with the chlorine to form Monochloramine, which acts as a long-lasting disinfectant.  
  9. Filtration: A layer of anthracite coal and a layer of sand are used to filter the water by slowly flowing through it.
  10. On site Reservoirs: Now the clean water is stored in reservoirs so it can be distributed when needed.
  11. Dechlorination: Any water that ends up not being used during the process is dechlorinated by adding Sodium Bisulfite, ensuring that the water is safely returned to the North Sask.
  12. Highlift Pumps: High pressure pumps are used to pump 90-200 MLD from the reservoirs to your tap.

 

Water quality is constantly being monitored during the treatment process. EPCOR tests over 300 different parameters (80 are required), with the goal of ensuring that the water coming out of our taps is consistently safe to drink.

During the spring you might notice a taste difference in the water. This is due to all the snowmelt and increased runoff into the river. The treatment process has to accommodate for the increase of runoff and harmful bacteria that may be in the water at this time so some changes are made which causes some people to notice a more chlorinated taste in the water. The water is still considered safe to drink but if you are not a fan of the taste you can use a filter or refrigerate a pitcher with some added lemon or lime.

I feel like I take for granted how water here is so easily accessible. Edmonton wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the river and the water it provides to sustain us. We’re blessed to live in a place where clean drinking water is literally right at our fingertips with the turn of a tap.

 

Sources: EPCOR Website: https://www.epcor.com/Pages/Home.aspx, Edmonton Journal: https://edmontonjournal.com/news/insight/from-river-to-tap-a-special-report-on-your-drinking-water

 

 

 

Celebrate the opening of the Gord Edgar Downie Pier with a Gratitude Swim in Edmonton

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On July 26th, history is going to be made in Kingston, Ontario. The Gord Edgar Downie Pier – Canada’s first deep water urban swimming pier will be opened and a celebration for the reclamation of Kingston’s waterfront at the new Breakwater Park will take place.

The realization that a waterbody that was once inaccessible and facing consistent sewage overflow can be restored to be made swimmable, drinkable and fishable is inspiring. This is a huge step forward for everyone who cares about swimmable, drinkable, fishable water in Canada.

The Pier is a human-made feature in Ontario, but it reminds us of the Accidental Beach in Edmonton. The swimming pier is making headlines and changing the way we view and interact with water. It’s promoting water quality and river health for sustainable use and enjoyment. We have a world class river valley here in Edmonton with so much potential for accessible recreational water use. Hopefully the new Breakwater Park in Kingston can inspire our community to bring more people to the water’s edge in Edmonton.

The July 26th Gord Edgar Downie Pier opening ceremonies will be accompanied by a Gratitude Swim. This is a time to reflect and be thankful for the water, decades of hard work, the supporters, and all the people that have made this project possible. It is safe to assume that many of us will not be in Kingston on July 26th. We invite you to join the celebration and participate in a Gratitude Swim at your local waterbody and to take a moment to be thankful.

The reclamation of the Breakwater Park and pier proves that when people come together the unthinkable can be achieved. I really hope this project sparks a movement in other cities and communities to do something similar with their local waterbody for a swimmable, drinkable, and fishable future.

Gord Downie was an ambassador and board member of Swim Drink Fish Canada. He was a driver for the swimmable, drinkable, fishable waters movement and grew up right across the street from where the new pier has been built. He also hosted the first fundraiser and launch of North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper. Gord has helped make these organisations and projects possible and it seems fitting for Edmontontonians to honour him, the river, and those who strive to keep it clean by partaking in a Gratitude swim.

Visit one of Edmonton’s river beaches or river valley parks on July 26th to get together and celebrate what you are grateful for. Take a picture or video and share it on social media using #swimdrinkfish

For more on the Gord Edgar Downie Pier and Breakwater Park project, visit Great Lakes Guide

 

Where does the North Saskatchewan River come from?

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Where does it come from and where does it go?

The North Saskatchewan River originates from the Saskatchewan Glacier in the Columbia Icefields 1800m above sea level. It flows through the Rocky Mountains into the manmade Abraham Lake which is created by bighorn dam. It continues out of the Rockies, travels east to Rocky Mountain House and then north past Drayton Valley. During this stretch the landscape is mostly forested and natural. It then meanders through mostly farm and prairie land before reaching the city of Edmonton. The river twists and turns northeast and cuts right through the city. It then travels east through the rest of Alberta and into Saskatchewan. About 50km east of Prince Albert, it unites with its partner the South Saskatchewan River forming the Saskatchewan River. Eventually the water flows into Lake Winnipeg and furthermore to Hudson Bay via the Nelson River.

Headwaters of the North Saskatchewan

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

 

River Characteristics

At the start of its journey the river is narrow and fast-moving. Its headwaters are glacier fed which means the water is freezing cold, crystal clear, and super clean. The river bed is mostly rocky making the water turquoise blue throughout its leg out of the Rockies. As the river makes its way to Edmonton, it slows down and becomes wider. The river bed here is mostly rock, gravel, sand, and silt. During spring melt and periods of heavy precipitation the water can appear murky due to naturally occurring sediments. This is caused by resuspension and erosion of the river bed and is important to the natural function of the river. As summer progresses the river flow slows down and the water clears up. This makes for the best time to enjoy recreational water use.

 

What lives in the river?

There is a variety of wildlife that depend on the North Saskatchewan River in and around the Edmonton area. Mammals such as Beavers, Muskrats, Porcupines, Deer, and Coyotes are frequently seen and live in the river valley. The river itself is home to an abundance of fish species including Walleye, Burbot, Northern Pike, Mountain Whitefish, Sauger, and Lake Sturgeon.

NPS Photo / Kent Miller

 

The river is life

We get all our water needs from the river, and ultimately water gives us life. From our drinking water, to bathing, to the toilet it all comes from the river. It is vital that we keep the river clean and natural to make sure it can sustain us in the future.

Created by Steve Boland, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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