Watermark with Kevin Lowe

One of North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper’s directors, Kevin Lowe’s interest in clean water grew out of his original bond with the Shuswap Lake. As he became educated on everyday practices that were threatening our watersheds, Kevin felt a pull to take responsibility for stewardship of this lake and other waters. Along with his wife Karen, Kevin has developed a leadership role as a Canadian Trustee in the Waterkeeper Alliance. They have worked hard in collaboration with other Canadian waterkeepers to make the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper program a leader in the protection and preservation of our watershed.

As the President of Hockey Operations for the Edmonton Oilers and long-time resident of Edmonton, Kevin demonstrates commitment and dedication to making Edmonton a great city. Other endeavours include his support for fundraising efforts by the Stollery Children’s Hospital and leadership role with the Edmonton Oiler Community Foundation.

I grew up about an hour northwest of Montreal in the small city of Lachute, nestled in the foothills of the Laurentians, in Quebec’s cottage country. My family didn’t own a cottage back then; my father and uncles worked together running the family business and I think that sort of forced us to stick close to town during the summer months. But that never stopped us from loading the whole family up in our cars on hot, humid summer days and taking the 20 minute drive north to picnic at a place we used to called ‘Flat Rocks’. It was a spot where a stream (whose name escapes me now) flowed over a series of little waterfalls, forming small pools that were perfect for swimming. I’ll always remember the instant relief I felt jumping into those cool clean waters, and the great times we had together on the banks.

Now my family does have a cottage. It’s on Shuswap Lake in Southern B.C., where the summers are often scorching. On some of the hottest days, my wife and I would take our kids on hikes through Herald Provincial Park to Margaret Falls so we could all cool off in the spray from the waterfall. The comparison feels a bit funny now, but standing in the mists of that thundering waterfall with my kids would always bring me back to those days splashing around at the Flat Rocks with my family. I guess that’s probably why I care so much about safeguarding swimmable, drinkable, fishable water today; so everyone has a place to beat the heat and enjoy some good times with the people they love.

North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper is proud to be a part of the Watermark Project! To learn more about the Project and to check out Karen’s Watermark, visit the Watermark Project Archive.

To submit a Watermark of your own click here.

Watermark with Karen Percy Lowe

Born and raised near the Bow River in Banff, Karen has always felt a connection with water and passion for global water issues. An Olympic and professional downhill skier, Karen’s interest and concern grew when she was asked to ski with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at the Annual Waterkeeper Alliance fundraiser in Banff six years ago. Wanting to bring her passion to the watersheds of her home province, Karen forged a lasting relationship with the Alliance.

Two-time Olympic Bronze Medalist, recipient of the Order of Canada, and mother of five; she is now an active Waterkeeper Trustee, and dedicates ongoing time and support to the efforts of the Waterkeeper Alliance as President of North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper.

I ski-raced for a long time but now I am a mother of four and I do a lot of charity work – which includes being the president of North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper.

Water has been a special part of my life for a really long time. I grew up in Banff, Alberta. The water was so cold there it took your breath away. I used to go canoeing a lot but I was a really big windsurfer. A group of us would take our boards and go to Jack Lake and windsurf. Growing up, I spent my summers by the water. My family would pile in the station wagon and go on trips, and my dad always insisted that we had to park the trailer by a lake.

There are two waterbodies that have made a big impact on my life. The first is the North Saskatchewan River. Twenty-five years ago I married Kevin Lowe. We lived in Edmonton and in New York for a few years and then found ourselves back in Edmonton when he was traded. This is where we raised our four children. My family has lived by this river for a long time. It is important to me that the river is protected because it is Edmonton’s source of drinking water. I want people to have drinking water from the North Saskatchewan River for generations to come. I also run a lot. There are a lot of great trails that run along the river. Years ago I was training for a marathon and I would run down one trail beside the river and back up on the other side. It really is beautiful.

The other water body that I am connected to is Shuswap Lake in British Columbia. We have spent our summers there since 1992. All my kids come – but so do other family members and it ends up being 20 people by the lake. My kids love going there. We swim, fish, jump off the dock, waterski, make waterski pyramids, have canoe races, and paddleboard races. When my kids were young I used to put them to bed and wake them up when it was dark so we could jump in the lake at night. It was a tradition. Its beautiful to be able to jump in the lake. I want my kid’s children to be able to experience that.

Every year I want to do one special thing when the kids come to Shuswap Lake. In the past, we have had seven people waterski behind the boat at one time, we made a water ski pyramid. Then the following year, we made a bigger water ski pyramid. We do it every year, so next year’s pyramid will be even bigger.

I got involved with protecting water when Kevin and I became trustees for Waterkeeper Alliance. We helped raise money and brought people we knew to the events. People kept asking me what was Waterkeeper Alliance, so rather than just explain it, I decided to walk the talk and do something. I wanted to do something local, so that people could understand what Waterkeeper was and see that the money was going local. It was a big project, but I just wanted to explain to people what we were doing and to help grow clean water in Canada. I wanted to protect the water we have since it is our drinking water.

North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper is proud to be a part of the Watermark Project! To learn more about the Project and to check out Karen’s Watermark, visit the Watermark Project Archive.

To submit a Watermark of your own click here.

The Watermark Project is Here!

North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper, in partnership with the National Water Centre and Waterkeepers across Canada, is proud to announce the official launch of the Watermark Project!

We often forget how water shapes our country, our culture, our lives. We forget how privileged we are to have access to more freshwater and ocean than arguably any other nation in world. When we forget, we become immune to the loss: the destruction and diminishment of Canada’s swimmable drinkable fishable waters.

As Canadians, we need to sharpen our memory. Our water is more than a necessity for keeping us alive, it is the thread that holds us together as a country. And that thread is best seen in our stories about being on, in or around water.

That is why we created the Watermark Project: to collect and archive Canadian water stories to demonstrate why swimmable drinkable fishable water matters.

When you think about your favourite body of water, what comes to mind? When you recall your most powerful memory of being on the water, what is it?  Everyone has a story – a Watermark – that connects them to a waterbody; provides them with another reason to protect it. That story often becomes the most powerful reason for protecting swimmable, drinkable, fishable water. And so it should.

Watermark’s are personal and powerful. Whether your Watermark is a positive or negative story about water, it is also valuable information about your environment, at a specific place, at a specific moment, with real people. In addition to being a powerful reminder of your connection to water, it also records and archives important information that can be used to protect water from future threats. Your Watermark is a ripple in a project intended to keep Canada a place where everyone and everything can safely swim, drink, and fish.

Recording and sharing your Watermark is an incredible personal experience. You can learn so much about yourself by submitting a Watermark, making that connection to a waterbody, causing that ripple. Help us protect your waterbody.

Try it. Build a force strong enough to cause a shift in our water culture so you can’t ever forget again.

Click Here to Discover the Watermark Project!


Reblogged from The National Water Centre



Watermark with Rachel Schoeler

Posted in: Case Studies, News, Recreation, Water Quality | 0

North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper is excited to be partnering in the Watermark Project in 2016!

The Watermark Project is a digital archive that preserves and protects Canada’s water heritage through storytelling. It acts both as a registry for the waters that Canadians love to use, as well as a unique clearinghouse for people’s powerful and personal experiences on those waterbodies.

Check out this awesome video featuring a Watermark from Rachel Schoeler with our friends at Fraser Riverkeeper in Vancouver, BC. Back in August of 2014, Rachel took on the challenge of swimming solo across the Georgia Strait without a wet-suit to raise awareness of recreational water quality issues; becoming the first woman in over 40 years to make the crossing!


Be sure to keep an eye on our blog for news about the launch of the Watermark Project website and more Watermarks from North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper’s Directors and other great Canadian water leaders coming in the new year!


Source: Fraser Riverkeeper – http://www.fraserriverkeeper.ca/watermark_rachel_schoeler

Federal Government Declares Proposed Mine Site To Be Critical Habitat

Last week, the federal government declared that dozens of streams and rivers in southwestern Alberta are critical habitat for endangered trout species.

On December 2nd, the Alberta Wilderness Association said that it would drop a lawsuit against Ottawa which sought to force the federal government to issue the order. Under law, critical habitat for native cutthroat trout was supposed to have been declared more than a year ago under the previous Conservative government.

“We’re happy that we likely do not have to follow through with it,” said Brittany Verbeek, the association’s conservation director.

Verbeek said the order lends protection to the creeks, streams and tributaries draining into the Oldman and Crowsnest rivers that are home to the trout. The fish were already protected under the Fisheries Act; now their home is protected under the Species At Risk Act.

“It just means that the area surrounding where the fish live has that increased protection.”

Changes to the stream, such as increasing its sediment load, are now forbidden.

The Alberta government is considering an application from a subsidiary of an Australian company to build a coal mine on a mountaintop in the protected habitat. Benga Mining proposes to turn 12 square kilometres on the top of Grassy Mountain near Blairmore into a terraced site.

At the same time, the province’s energy regulator is investigating the company for a release of coal into Gold Creek, one of the streams included in the critical habitat declaration.

A recent survey by a fisheries biologist found virtually all southern Alberta streams that spawn native trout are threatened by industrial development or overuse.

Lorne Fitch studied 54 small rivers and streams that flow into the Oldman River and which hold bull and cutthroat trout, largely in the area now considered critical habitat. He found nearly all of them face damage from logging roads, energy development and off-highway vehicle trails.

Scientists suggest land that contains trout streams shouldn’t have more than just over half a kilometre of trail, cutline or road per square kilometre. The disturbance density in parts of the Oldman watershed is nearly 10 times that.

Cutthroat populations are estimated at five per cent of historic levels.


From Bob Weber – The Canadian Press

Source: http://www.ctvnews.ca/business/feds-say-proposed-alberta-coal-mine-site-a-key-fish-habitat-1.2684688

Photo credit: Robert Berdan



The Best and Worst Beaches of 2015

Posted in: Recreation, Uncategorized, Water Quality | 0

As swimmable water season comes to a close here in Alberta, North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper and Swim Guide are taking a look back at some of the best and worst beaches from the summer of 2015.

The top 5 beaches of 2015 were:

All five of these beaches remained safe for swimming throughout the entire 2015 sampling season, with zero days of unsafe swimming.

On the other end of the spectrum, 2015’s worst beaches were:

While these four beaches suffered the highest closure rates, they were far from the only ones to experience extended closures during the 2015 season. Without question, the most common cause for beach closures in Alberta this summer was contamination from blue-green algae blooms.

Blue-green algae is a cyanobacteria present in all Alberta lakes. It grows best in still or slow-moving water when the weather is warm, which is part of why we saw so many blooms during the hot and dry summer of 2015. Add nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen to the mix, and the bacteria will reproduce even more rapidly.

You can help to reduce beach closures due to blue-green algae contamination. Here are a few simple actions you can take to limit the flow of nutrients into Alberta’s streams, ponds and lakes:

  • Don’t use more lawn fertilizers than the recommended amount, and keep fertilizers out of storm drains and off driveways and sidewalks.
  • Maintain or plant native plants around shorelines and streams. Native plants don’t require fertilizers and they help filter water.
  • Properly care for and maintain your septic system.
  • Do not allow livestock to drink or defecate in streams or lakes. Don’t overfeed waterfowl.
  • Avoid clearing riparian vegetation to help prevent soil erosion.

Keeping informed about the water quality at our favourite beaches is an important step toward protecting public health and preventing the spread of waterborne illnesses. Make sure that you’re ready for 2016’s swimmable water season. Download Swim Guide today!


Cyanobacteria / Blue-Green Algae – Facts & Information. (2015). Vermont Department of Health. Retrieved from: http://www.healthvermont.gov/enviro/bg_algae/bgalgae_fact.aspx#do

Swim Guide. (2015). http://www.theswimguide.org/

Mapping Swimmer’s Itch Across Alberta

Many of us have had it.


I’m talking about the red, itchy rash we sometimes get after swimming in a lake.

Commonly called “Swimmer’s Itch,” Alberta has seen a considerable rise in the amount of cases reported this year.

Swimmer’s Itch is caused by the small larvae of parasites, known as schistosomes, which are transported by infected snails and deposited into fresh and salt water. These parasites are found in lakes and ponds across Alberta and the rest of Canada.

When the schistome larvae come into contact with your skin, they can penetrate the surface and cause your body to have an allergic reaction in the form of a red, bumpy rash. The rash can last up to two weeks (and will probably drive you crazy).

This summer, Alberta has seen more outbreaks of swimmer’s itch than normal, but it isn’t entirely clear why or how many people are affected each year. This has made it challenging for Alberta Health Services (AHS) to notify swimmers when and where there is a high risk of an outbreak.

This year, AHS teamed up with the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta to dig deeper into the life history and range of this common parasite. Through research and surveys, they’re mapping Swimmer’s Itch in our province. Eventually, the researchers are hoping to be able to predict where and when outbreaks will be the most prevalent. They’ve come up with this risk map, which they’ve put together with the help of swimmers like you documenting when and where they came into contact with the parasite.


Have you had swimmer’s itch? Some of the symptoms include the following:

  • tingling, burning, or itching of the skin
  • small, reddish pimples
  • small blisters

Often, the rash will go away gradually in a week or so, but itching the affected area can cause pimples to develop into small blisters. To learn more, you can read the U of A FAQ on Swimmer’s Itch here.


You can support this project, and help keep Albertans informed, by filling out this survey.



Swimmer’s Itch. swimmersitch.ca.

What is Alberta’s Water Future?

You might have read our blog post back in July talking about WWF’s Canada-wide assessment of our most prominent watersheds. Or our post about the drought-like conditions affecting much of Alberta. WWF’s ambitious Canadian watershed project, along with flooding, wildfires, and drought across our province this summer, have gotten us thinking – what is Alberta’s water future?

Agriculture, urban development, and industrial needs all put pressure on our reserves or ground and surface water. So does your and my personal use.

Of course, water supplies replenish themselves, but our growing population along with climate change are making this cycle, and the availability of our water supply, more variable. With Alberta’s population expected to almost double by 2040, the majority of which will be seen in the Edmonton-Calgary corridor, where will the water we need come from?1

The University of Alberta’s Water Initiative is already working on a project mapping Alberta’s water future, and their research is looking at water supply under various climate variability and climate change scenarios. The Government of Alberta runs the Water for Life strategy, which is committed to managing and safeguarding our water resources. Alberta Innovates, Energy and Environment Solutions (AI-EES) committed $10 million in 2013 to water research projects dedicated to a number of water areas, from drinking water and security to ecosystem management and conservation.

Climate change is perhaps the most challenging component of this to map: we already know that the water cycle is becoming more uncertain due to climate change, and extreme weather is increasing in frequency. Some of these changes include changes in the duration and intensity of precipitation, decreases in snowfall and shorter, warmer winters (like the one we saw this year). We’re also seeing 100-year storms increase in frequency. But it’s not entirely clear how these changes will proceed in the future, and what we can expect over the next generations in conjunction with development, agriculture, and our own everyday needs.

Understanding our sources of ground and surface water in the province will be critical to managing it and ensuring availability for decades to come. It’s important we understand our relationship with water and how our actions will shape it, as it shapes us.



Government of Alberta. (2013). Water for Life. Retrieved from: http://environment.gov.ab.ca/info/library/6364.pdf.


Why are Alberta’s trout species threatened?

5 per cent.

That’s what’s left of the once-thriving population of cutthroat trout in Alberta. Combine that with a 70 per cent loss of habitat for Alberta’s provincial fish, the bull trout, and things aren’t looking too positive for our freshwater fishes. Both cutthroat and bull trout are now restricted to high elevations, when they were once abundant through the Oldman and Bow river basins.

Facing multiple pressures

So why the dramatic decline? The biggest threat might not be what you think: off-highway vehicles. Quads, 4x4s, dirt bikes, and other off-highway vehicles tear up the stream bottom, compromise important habitat, and increase the amount of silt and sediment being deposited into important spawning grounds.1

But it’s not just our off-roading friends to blame. The creation of logging roads, expansion of energy development, effluent runoff from feedlots, and draining of watersheds to meet irrigation needs are all part of the problem. Together, these pressures create an ecosystem that is heavily disturbed, and its estimated that the disturbance density of the Oldman watershed are ten times the recommended maximum to ensure the long-term health of cutthroat and bull trout.

But why is silt and sediment a problem?

We used to think silt and sediment would just be washed away when it entered our waterways, but this actually isn’t the case: these tiny particles of sand and dirt become trapped in the bigger stones and gravel that make up the stream bed, where it solidifies. Eventually, the sediment and silt becomes so concentrated in the seafloor that water can’t permeate through it, creating what is referred to as a “hardpack streambed.” This makes it extremely difficult for trout to carve out redds (nests) – and hardpacks aren’t expected to go anywhere soon.

Echoed all over the province

In order to see real, lasting change for all of our native species of fishes and freshwater species, Alberta will need to address its land-use policies and make considerable changes.2 Some of these would include better protection for headwaters, more control of industrial activity, and improved water quality monitoring.

What can you do?

The biggest thing we can do to ensure the long-term health of our freshwater species is to limit the impact we have on our waterways directly. When you’re out camping, leave some distance between your site and the water. Don’t use your off-highway vehicle in or near the water. And make sure you use caution down on the waterfront.



CBC News. (June 13, 2015). Alberta trout threatened, say anglers and environmentalists. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/alberta-trout-threatened-say-anglers-and-environmentalists-1.3112452.


Bob Weber. (July 12, 2015). Most Alberta trout streams threatened: survey. The Canadian Press. Retrieved from: http://globalnews.ca/news/2106366/most-alberta-trout-streams-threatened-survey/.


How clean is the North Saskatchewan River?

When you ask someone about the quality of the North Saskatchewan River, clean might not be the first word they respond with. But saying the North Saskatchewan River is “dirty” isn’t correct. The early history of our river and its muddy brown appearance are both partly responsible for misconceptions about the health of the river today.

The river’s quality has improved significantly in the last half-century, and bacterial levels have lowered to those measured in the 1920s, despite a 10-fold increase in population.1 Improvements in water quality are primarily due to improved sewage and wastewater treatment, though a better understanding of how to protect and manage our watershed have also contributed to increased health. Yet misconceptions about its health are still widespread, and this challenges our community’s connection to the watershed. We’re hoping to change the perception of our watershed through outreach and education.


Just because its brown, doesn’t mean it’s dirty.

The appearance of the North Saskatchewan River is mainly due to natural processes. In the spring, the river is a muddy-brown colour because of sediments and silts, which are washed into the river as snowmelt and rainfall increases.The colour of the water changes in early to mid-summer, when water flow is reduced and sediments settle.3 The river is particularly prone to this muddy colouration when it flows through Edmonton due to natural topography and high levels of erosion.

Today, a few sources of pollution do threaten our water, primarily in the form of discharge from storm sewer outfalls and combined sewer overflows (CSOs). Urban and agricultural runoff deposit heavy metals, nutrients, and other contaminants into our waters. However, these only pose a threat to human health during heavy rainfall and snowmelt.

Discharges into the river continue to be reduced, and stormwater is being better treated. There is also a trend towards wastewater reuse. All of these are contributing to increasing health of our watershed.4


Our river wasn’t always clean, and that’s a big reason we think it’s dirty today.

Standing in the river valley today, you wouldn’t know that this beautiful urban escape was once a dumping ground for toxic industrial waste. But it was: in the early 20th century, downtown Edmonton was a booming industrial landscape, and the river valley was populated with coalmines, brickyards, garbage dumps, and slaughterhouses.The North Saskatchewan River was a natural effluent for all of these. On top of this, logging operations used the river as a float for log booms, and dredging equipment cluttered the river. Combined with untreated human waste that was routinely discharged into the river, the North Saskatchewan endangered those who dared to drink or come into contact with it with real threat of disease and infection. 3

In the early 1950s, an assessment of the water was done and results were chilling: by the time the river reached the Saskatchewan border, there was no dissolved oxygen left, and no life could be found in the river. These findings were pivotal to our understanding of the watershed – and we began to take steps to protect and manage our watershed.4


Today, the North Saskatchewan River is (mostly) clean and safe to swim in.

But there’s always more we can do, and we need to continue to protect and maintain our watershed to ensure it stays that way.



  1. Bunner, Paul. (October 23, 2014). I swam in the North Saskatchewan River and lived to tell this tale. Retrieved from: http://www.rivervalley.ab.ca/2014/swam-north-saskatchewan-lived-tell-tale/.
  2. City of Edmonton. (2015). North Saskatchewan River – Water Quality. Retrieved from: http://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/environmental_stewardship/north-saskatchewan-river-water-quality.aspx.
  3. Marcellin, Josh. (May 2015). River Valley Alliance.The North Saskatchewan River has killer angling right in Edmonton. Vue Weekly.Retrieved from http://www.vueweekly.com/the-north-saskatchewan-river-has-killer-angling-right-in-edmonton/.


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