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










Wastewater Overflow: What, When, and Where does this happen?

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For the most part, my experience with the river has been a clean one. The river can be a very safe and enjoyable place to swim given the point of entry and under the right conditions. In this blog I’d like to point out certain spots around the river to be aware of when choosing where to go in, as well as to inform people on when our sewage and stormwater may be entering the river.

Sewage and wastewater in Edmonton go to the Gold Bar Water Treatment Plant where it is treated and cleaned before entering back into the river. However, on periods of heavy rainfall or snowmelt some of the main trunks cannot handle all of the excess water, resulting in an overflow which sends raw wastewater into the river. This mostly happens in older city neighborhoods due to the combined sewer system where stormwater and sewage run on the same line.

When these pipes “overflow” the wastewater is sent to Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO). There are 18 CSO’s stationed along the river, starting at the Walterdale Bridge and ending at Hermitage Park. Some of these overflows are more active than others leading to greater discharge volumes in those locations. Below are the names of each CSO in order of highest to lowest discharge volume and number of days of overflow from 2017. Volume is measured in cubic metres (m3) – 1 m3 is about the size of a washing machine.

Gold Bar Treatment Plant 1 – 4,233,900 m3 over 79 days

Rat Creek – 437,239 m3 over 31 days

Highlands & Beverly 1 – 24,097 m3 over 6 days

Calder 1 (Hermitage Park) – 13,785 m3 over 36 days

Gold Bar Treatment Plant 2 –  2,540 m3 over 5 days

Strathearn 1 & 2 – 527 m3 over 1 day

Calder 2 –  46 m3 over 2 days

Cromdale – 26 m3 over 1 day

The other 10 CSO’s did not have any overflows in 2017, meaning no raw wastewater was released at these locations.

Recently, Epcor completed a new tunnel system under the river as well as sewer gates to hold more water and limit overflows during heavy precipitation events. This is intended to reduce the amount of raw wastewater entering the river. The project was completed last fall so it will be interesting to see if the amount of discharge volume will be significantly less this year compared to previous years, of course taking into account that years differ depending on amount of rainfall and snowmelt as well. Below is a table comparing 2016 and 2017 total discharge volume.

As shown above there was more overflow discharge in 2016 then there was in 2017. A total of 5,724,439m3 of wastewater was discharged in 2016 and a total of 4,712,160m3 was discharged in 2017. Hopefully with the new tunnel system in place the volume amount will be less in 2018.

The Edmonton Journal recently released an article about sewage displacement in the river. They provide an interactive map showing where all the CSO locations are in Edmonton as well as data from those locations over the last 5 years. Be encouraged to check out these locations and the data history to have a better idea of where it may be good to swim/interact with the river.

Precipitation is the leading cause to poor water quality because it can cause overflow and wastewater to runoff into the river. Remember the 48 hour rule – swimming should be avoided 48 hours after a significant rain event.

We encourage people to enjoy and appreciate the North Saskatchewan River. When doing so it’s important to take precaution and to be aware of potential hazards when planning your next excursion.


Watermark: North S. River, Edmonton AB

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Ever since I can remember water has been a huge part of my life. It sparked from my childhood obsession with dolphins that soon grew to a love and respect for the ocean. Obviously having been born in Edmonton my interaction with the ocean was limited growing up, but the passion grew along with my passion for other recreational activities related to water. Trips to nearby lakes, dog walks in the local Millcreek Ravine, and visits to the river valley parks played a big role in my life. It opened my mind to the unique opportunity that Edmonton offers even if its no where near the ocean.

The first time I truly realized this potential was a couple years back while taking a canoe trip through the Edmonton area river valley. I was surprised and struck by the beauty and the fun that was so close to home. The water was clear, clean, and refreshing. The river cuts through lush green forest and over many years has carved out an impressive valley surrounded by large cliffside banks. It is beautiful and to experience such a natural setting in an urbanized area was super cool and rare. The Edmonton River Valley truly provides a natural escape from the rush and business of the city that surrounds it.

Since that canoe trip my summers have been filled with more river floats, cross-river swims, beach fires, and exploring new places to enjoy the river. One of my favourite spots is at one of Edmonton’s river valley parks called Terwillegar Park. The bank of the river rises abruptly creating a steep, 10 ft drop into the river. A perfect place for a little “cliff jump”. There is a nearby tree that you can climb and jump from as well creating more air time and making things a little more interesting. The water is about 5 ft deep so bracing for a shallow entry is helpful, although the riverbed is mostly sand here so that makes for a softer landing. Just a warning – not a place to dive in head first.

The river valley meanders through the very middle of the city.  Although it physically divides our city in two, it seems to bring people together. Historically, this was a gathering place for Indigenous communities. The abundance of park space along the river today creates a communal gathering place for all residents and visitors and it’s cool to see it still carries that tradition.

I am currently a student at the UofA in a combined degree in Environmental and Native studies. Through my studies and interests i’ve recently realized the importance of protecting and sustaining the river because it gives our city life. I feel that if we use the river for our benefit, we have the responsibility to protect it and to keep it natural.

I am also the Swimmable Water Intern this summer for the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper Program, a Swim Drink Fish Canada Initiative. I am super excited to be given the opportunity to work with such a cool organization. I’m looking forward to spread the love and respect I have for the river here in Edmonton so that others can enjoy and acknowledge one of the greatest aspects of our city.