The North Saskatchewan begins its journey in the meltwaters of the ancient Saskatchewan Glacier, high in the Columbia Icefields of the Rocky Mountains. But Kisiskatchewan, or “swift-flowing river,” travels far beyond the mountain peaks and forested foothills of the Eastern Ranges. Our river forges a 1,200-kilometre path across the province of Alberta, mostly through Treaty 6 territory, and through the heart of Saskatchewan, where it joins its South Saskatchewan sister to create the Saskatchewan’s mainstem.
Draining an area of 122,800 square kilometres, the North Saskatchewan moves from mountain to prairie. Its 48 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 rich historical association with mountain explorers such as David Thompson.
But history is the hallmark of the North Saskatchewan, from the Kootenay Plains and the grave sites that remain important to Aboriginal peoples today, to 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 and 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, waiting to be explored by paddlers, fishers, campers, and naturalists.
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 North Saskatchewan 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, 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 flow in rivers and streams. The cumulative impact of land use and water demand is an emerging area of concern, with research exploring our impact 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 stormwater 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 degradation of water quality and habitat loss in critical riparian lands. Agricultural expansion, human development, and septic nutrient effluent containing phosphorus and nitrogen are threatening the health of our watershed. Cumulatively, this has caused increased algal growth and demand on our freshwater resources.
The following resources provide more information on our watershed, including history, threats, and conservation efforts.
▪ North Saskatchewan River Watershed Atlas – a summary of the state of the watershed and issues
▪ North Saskatchewan River Guide – a summary of the state of the watershed and issues
▪ Saskatchewan River Basin – a 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