We refer to the North Saskatchewan River as the mainstem of the North Saskatchewan River Watershed.
What is a watershed? The area of land and water that drains into a specific waterbody (river, lake, ocean). Smaller sub- watersheds can drain into a larger watershed. For example, the Sturgeon River sub-watershed drains into the larger NSR watershed.
The whole of the North Saskatchewan River Watershed is reflected in the diversity, majesty, and history of the mainstem.
Its beginnings - in the meltwaters of the ancient Saskatchewan Glacier, high in the Columbia Icefields of the Rocky Mountains - speak of a land of snow and ice. But "Kisiskatchewan," the "swift-flowing river" of the Cree, travels far beyond the mountain peaks and forested foothills of the Eastern Ranges, forging a 1,287 kilometre pathway across the province of Alberta and through the heart of Saskatchewan, where it joins its South Saskatchewan sister to create the Saskatchewan's main stem. Draining an area of 122,800 square kilometres, the North Saskatchewan moves from mountain to prairie; its 48.5 kilometres of tumbling headwaters are known as a Canadian Heritage River, in recognition of their glacial beginnings, ancient tributary valleys, Canadian Rockies wildlife, whitewater rapids, and a rich historical association with mountain explorers such as David Thompson. But history is the hallmark of the entire North Saskatchewan, from the first French fur trading forts of its eastern reaches, to the upriver provisioning post that grew into the capital city of Edmonton. Navigable for almost its entire length, almost rapid-free except for its uppermost stretches, the North Saskatchewan became the fur trading route of choice through Canada's vast western interior. Today, though some of its flow has been harnessed, long stretches of the North Saskatchewan remain wild and free, ready to be enjoyed by paddlers, fishers, campers, naturalists and all those who would reflect on the river's historic role in the shaping of Canada West. (Source: www.greatcanadianrivers.com)
The North Saskatchewan River and Watershed is home to a wide variety of recreational activities including: swimming, fishing, watersports, canoeing, and hiking.
The River is home to excellent walleye fishing in many reaches including the City of Edmonton. The NSR is also the westernmost home of the iconic and prehistoric Lake Sturgeon.
Summary of Issues and Threats:
There are many types of water demands on the North Saskatchewan River and Watershed. These include hydroelectric generation, human consumption, oil and gas extraction, mining, and agricultural uses such as irrigation and livestock watering. All of these, as well as precipitation and groundwater base flow, affect overall stream flow in rivers and streams. The cumulative impact of land use and water demand is an emerging area of concern, with possible impacts on environmental integrity and water quantity and quality for the future of this river and watershed.
A large industrial base in the Edmonton area withdraws water from the North Saskatchewan River for cooling and process waters. Oil and gas activities, including deep-well injection for enhanced oil recovery, de-watering, and steam-assisted gravity drainage, permanently remove some water from the hydrologic cycle. Draining wetlands has resulted in the loss of both surface water storage capability and protection of source water quality through wetland processes. Urban growth raises the issues of municipal storm water management, outfalls into the North Saskatchewan and other rivers, and the use of lawn fertilizers and pesticides. Several villages, towns, and cities in the watershed have wastewater treatment plants or wastewater lagoons that discharge their treated effluent into the North Saskatchewan River or its tributaries. The lakes and streams of the watershed have also suffered water quality degradation and fish habitat loss as a result of loss of riparian lands, increased agricultural and septic nutrient effluent such as phosphorus and nitrogen, and human development. All of these cumulative effects have caused increased algal growth and vegetation and increased demand on the fresh water resources. (Source: Case study - North Saskatchewan Watershed in Alberta)
Other resources for details on the state of water quality and threats to the North Saskatchewan River and Watershed:
- North Saskatchewan River Basin (Summary of the state of the watershed and issues),
- Saskatchewan River Basin. (Summary of the state of the whole Saskatchewan River basin)
- North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance. (Publications and Studies on the State of the Watershed, Water Quality, and Cumulative Effects)