What is Enterococci and Why Should I Care?

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This September I’m putting on my watershoes, zipping up my PFD, and dipping bottles into the river, all in the name of Enterococci (pronounced en-tr-oh-kaa-kai). I’m going down to Terwillegar Park and Accidental Beach every week to test the waters in which we wade, fish, paddle, and swim. Since these beaches are enjoyed by water watchers, dog owners, and gold panners alike, the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper is investigating the presence of a bacteria found in the gut of diverse mammals and birds. The reason that we test for these bacteria is because they are very useful indicators for fecal contamination (more commonly known as poop!)

 

Nobody wants to swim, kayak, or SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) in contaminated waters. Thanks to an Environmental Grant from RBC, I get to head down to the river once a week to test the water quality of our beautiful river to see if it meets federal water quality standards. To get technical, the Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality state that waters would fail to meet the standards if the geometric mean of 5 samples is greater than 35 enterococci coliform forming units (CFU) in 100 mL of water, or a single sample is greater than 70. Basically, if you’re exposed to water that has too much of this bacteria, you could get sick (it’s not a guarantee, just a probability). 

 

You may be wondering what exactly enterococcus is. This bacteria is known as a
Fecal Indicator Bacteria, or a FIB. These “FIBs” aren’t liars though, they tell the truth about what’s in the water. They are round gram-positive bacteria, which grow in chains within the intestinal flora of humans and other animals. When animals release their waste, they release these bacteria along with it. Since these bacteria are relatively easy to test for, we can fill a bottle with water and test it at a laboratory for the proportion of enterococci within that sample. 

Alberta Health Services test for these bacteria at beaches across the province. The provincial laboratories use a testing method called quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) to detect these microorganisms. Currently we send our samples to a local lab, Element, for processing. They use a method known as membrane filtration to test for these bacteria. 

 

There are lots of different microorganisms and laboratory techniques to find these FIB. Some provinces use E. coli as an indicator, others use thermotolerant fecal coliforms. Perhaps sometime soon scientists will discover a new indicator bacteria for even faster and more accurate testing! But for now we are looking at Enterococci since it is the standard used in the Alberta Safe Beach Protocol as well as the Canadian Guidelines for Recreational Water Quality. Respectively, these are the provincial and federal standards outlining recreational water quality. 

 

Follow my journey on our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to continue learning about recreational water quality and the North Saskatchewan River. 

 

Sources

 

https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/216993-overview

https://mmbr.asm.org/content/76/4/685

https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/publications/healthy-living/guidelines-canadian-recreational-water-quality-third-edition/guidelines-canadian-recreational-water-quality-third-edition-page-9.html#a412

https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/71f0b5ea-b295-4677-afc6-0905641f0694/resource/372d1058-9c90-4da6-a56e-98395dad4a59/download/alberta-safe-beach-protocol.pdf

 

Water Testing on the North Saskatchewan River

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We are very excited to announce that the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper will once again test the water quality of the North Saskatchewan River! The Edmonton Community Monitoring Program was made possible by a $10,000 Environmental Grant that we received from the Royal Bank of Canada. We will be testing the water once a week at two popular locations along the river: Terwillegar Park and Accidental Beach. This project engages the community, tests water quality, builds knowledge and awareness of the North Saskatchewan River, and fosters stewardship through citizen science. 

 

Our coordinator will be testing for Enterococci, which is an indicator of fecal contamination. Exposure to waters with high levels of Enterococci can make people very sick. You can find all of our results on the Swim Guide’s website and mobile application, as well as on our website and social media accounts (follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram). The results from these tests can help us to better understand Edmonton’s water quality and how it has changed since 2017 when we last sampled the river. 

 

During our first year of sampling, we found that the recreational water quality of the river steadily decreased as the water flowed through the City of Edmonton. The samples from Fort Edmonton Footbridge Sandbar passed 100% of the tests, Sir Wilfred Laurier Park Boat Launch passed 57%, Accidental Beach passed 50%, and Gold Bar Park Boat Launch passed 43%. With recent upgrades to the city’s sewer pipes and an increasing interest in river recreation, we would like to see if the quality of the river has improved in the past two years. 

 

Ultimately, we are aiming to start up a water monitoring hub in Edmonton to research the long term recreational water quality of the river. Swim Drink Fish has already created water monitoring hubs in Vancouver, Toronto, Zhiibaahaasing First Nation, and Lake Erie. We want to expand our knowledge of waters across Canada, particularly in Edmonton where there is a rich community of water users.  Edmonton’s water monitoring hub will work to identify sources of pollution in the North Saskatchewan River. Also, we will continue to advocate for restoration projects that will improve the quality of water.

 

Both Terwillegar Park and Accidental Beach are extremely popular locations for people looking to enjoy the North Saskatchewan River. Terwillegar Park is one of Edmonton’s major hubs for water recreation. It is the launch point for open water swimming groups with a hand launch for canoes and kayaks. As an off-leash dog park, Terwillegar Park is also a place where dogs and their owners cool off in the river on warm days. Meanwhile, Accidental Beach, also known as Cloverdale Beach, drew record numbers to the shores of the North Saskatchewan River in 2017. This beach is appealing for Edmontonians looking for a place to wade in the river with a view of the downtown skyline. 

 

It is important to recognize that the waters in the North Saskatchewan River can change very quickly. Once the results are published, the water quality can have already changed drastically from when it was tested, since it takes the lab 48 hours for Enterococci to process using the membrane filtration method. Also, fecal contamination is one factor of river safety, but there are several others to consider before you head out on the river. Flow rates, debris, temperature, and pollutants can cause problems while out on the river. Be aware of water conditions and recognize your own abilities before heading out on the water. 

 

Despite the river’s hazards, the Edmonton Community Monitoring Program will bring together a community that celebrates the river. One of the most surprising discoveries of our water monitoring program in 2017 was how often the water quality upstream of Edmonton passed the federal standards. Many people in Edmonton have the perception that our river is not clean enough to paddle, fish, or even swim in. However, we would like to use science, education, and community engagement to share how clean our river is. We will also be sharing the best times and locations to enjoy the river. The Edmonton Community Monitoring Program provides an important opportunity for people in Edmonton to connect to their watershed, improve their water literacy, and contribute to meaningful science.  

Stay up-to-date with Riverkeeper’s water quality test results on our website and social media pages. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and sign up for our newsletter for more information about this exciting project. If you have any questions about the program you can reach out to sadie@swimdrinkfish.ca.

Smoke on the Water: Wildfire Impacts on Water Health

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Throughout the day, I kept looking outside as a haze of smoke slowly enveloped the city. Edmonton started disappearing around me. My lungs began to feel heavier and heavier as the smoke encroached from all directions. The river disappeared from view, then the river valley was obscured, finally the neighbouring buildings seemed to be erased from the horizon, until all I could see was grey.

 

Edmonton is hundreds of kilometers away from the nearest forest fire, and yet it was surrounded by thick smoke. There have been hundreds of forest fires this spring, several of which are deemed out of control. Clearly, there will be astronomical impacts on the trees, animals, and people in the areas hit by these fires. As these fires rage on, Riverkeeper can’t help but wonder: will the water be impacted by these fires as well?

Morning of May 30th vs. 3 hours later

When we associate water and fire it’s usually due to water’s fire-quenching abilities and water’s perseverance over the devastation caused by fire. But allow us to turn the tables and consider fire’s impact on water. Anyone who has experienced poor air quality due to fires has realized that smoke and ash have an impact on your health. I was wheezy, sneezing, coughing, with watery eyes and a headache. Even though I would not be considered someone at risk (like people with heart or lung conditions, pregnant women, or young children), the health impacts were noticeable. Wildfire smoke can damage your lungs, heart, and even your brain. The fine particles of smoke can be destructive on our bodies, even extending to our bodies of water.

 

The water that we drink can be impacted by the ash and fine particles that settle after wildfires. Last year’s wildfires caused the waters running through Cameron Falls in Southern Alberta to turn a muddy brown, highly concentrated with ash. These waters were unusually high in nitrogen and phosphorus, causing green algae concentrations to spike in the moving waters of Cameron Creek. Our waters can be inundated with sediments and nutrients from wildfire smoke. These nutrients can change the water’s chemistry, along with it changing the composition of aquatic plants, insects, amphibians, and fish. Increases in mercury, iron, dissolved organic carbon, turbidity, and debris can all potentially affect waterbodies in Western Canada following these serious forest fires. What this means for us is that the beaches where we swim, the water that we drink, and the fish that we eat could all be seriously influenced from the smoke, ash, and fire ravaging our lands.

 

Not only does the ash from forest fires affect water quality, so does the rapid loss of trees. Trees, bushes, and small plants dig their roots into the soil, binding it together to prevent erosion. When forest fires wipe out a whole area of trees, the soils and nutrients within them can move more quickly, seeping into bodies of water. The North Saskatchewan River is home to diverse soils, but a sudden, dramatic influx of soil could be damaging to our source of drinking water, making it much more challenging and expensive to treat.

 

While water is not the most vulnerable environmental feature that fires affect, the impacts can be quite severe. Fire and smoke threaten the waters that we need and love. This includes the water cherished for swimming, drinking water that is clean and affordable, and the water supporting healthy fish and wildlife. Our environment is complexly interconnected. Clean water and clean air are extremely important for our health and well-being yet both are vulnerable to smoke and fire. Forest fires are a natural part of forests cycles, but are becoming more common and more intense in our changing climate. As they continue to impact us, it is increasingly important for our health and the health of our favourite waterbodies to prevent wildfires whenever possible.

 

How can you help prevent wildfires

  • Always dispose of cigarettes, matches, and other smoking accessories properly
  • Avoid smoking in forests and parks during dry conditions or fire bans
  • Don’t have bonfires during dry conditions or fire bans
  • Always pay attention to bonfires, keeping water and/or flame retardants on hand in case the fire gets out of control
  • Call 911 if you see a fire that is unattended and/or out of control

Sources:

https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/wildfire-its-effects-drinking-water-quality

https://www.cdc.gov/features/wildfires/index.html

https://globalnews.ca/news/5336828/health-effects-of-wildfire-smoke-research/

https://e360.yale.edu/features/how-wildfires-are-polluting-rivers-and-threatening-water-supplies

https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/newsreleases/2018/march/wildfire-intensity-impacts-water-quality-and-its-treatment-in-forested-watersheds.html

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/wildfire-safety-tips/

https://www.mdpi.com/1999-4907/10/5/384/htm

https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/hard-on-water-smoke-not-the-only-long-range-effect-of-wildfires 

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/forest-fires-impact-mountain-water-alberta-1.4794451 

Music of the Water

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Water’s beauty is almost indescribable. It provides us with more than words can encompass. Water reaches deep into our feelings and emotions. The joy of splashing in the waves, the calm of fishing, and the bliss of canoeing are all powerful memories that can inspire us. Many artists, poets, and musicians use that inspiration to create. Unsurprisingly, water is an ongoing theme in music. Bodies of water across the world are often referenced in songs. Songs can access a part of us that can nearly describe the indescribable and hone in to a part of ourselves rarely accessed. Next time that you are visiting a waterbody, take the time to look, listen, and feel the water, and maybe put on a playlist of music about water to fully encapsulate feelings uncovered by water. Here’s a playlist of music inspired by water: 

 

Reeling It In: Can Fishing Be Sustainable?

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Fishing. For me, it sparks foggy memories of sitting with my grandfather on a small metal boat in Lac-des-Sables, Quebec, waiting impatiently for any sign of movement. I kept busy playing with the bucket full of wriggling worms. I’ll never forget how peaceful it was, just us, out on the water watching for a nibble on the line, listening for the soft hum of the reel as the line dragged across the water. He caught something. My fuzzy mind remembers it to be a brightly coloured angelfish, but looking back, it was more likely a small perch or bass, simply coloured grey or brown. I wanted him to throw the fish back in the water and save its life. But he knew the opportunity to eat a freshly caught fish was a valuable chance for me to learn where food comes from. Floating out on the calm lake, my grandfather showed me the hard work it takes to put something fresh on the table. That night, my family and I shared stories and bonded while we devoured the fresh catch. That’s the power of fishing—connection. Connection to yourself as you wait. Connection to nature as you study patterns and behaviours of the water, rocks, plants, and animals. Connection to each other as you sit together, and perhaps get to share a meal at the end of the day.

 

When the topic of fishing comes up, the first thing that may come to mind for many people is the unsustainable overfishing practices currently happening across the world. Globally, fish populations are declining. Locally, fish populations in the North Saskatchewan River watershed are also dying off. Many native species across the watershed are endangered or vulnerable. This is a result of habitat degradation and fragmentation, over-harvesting, invasive species, industrial activities, stream flow fluctuations, poor water quality, climate change, and more. Species like the Lake Sturgeon nearly disappeared from the North Saskatchewan River. But thanks to the improvement of sewage treatment processes and fishing regulations, local fish species have been given a chance.

 

It may come as a surprise that fishing can be an important tool for protecting fish species. Sustainable fishing, that is. Local, sustainable fishing is a time-honoured tradition passed down by generations of people living in Canada. Those who regularly visit their waterbodies, cast out their line, and follow fishing regulations are some of the greatest water stewards. By spending periods of time out on the water, watching and learning from their surroundings, people begin to notice changes that are much more subtle to others. Fishers are often more aware of changes in the health of local fish, the populations of the fish in the water, and the biodiversity of other aquatic life. Indigenous peoples have been fishing in the North Saskatchewan watershed for tens of thousands of years at rates that haven’t depleted fish stocks. Since fishing is an activity that is directly correlated with a healthy environment, fishers often take on the responsibility to advocate for strong environmental protections, ensuring thriving fish populations for future generations.

 

Sustainable fishing is fishing at a rate that allows the fish to reproduce, maintaining their populations in the long term (or even improving them). One of the ways that local fishers can help to balance fish populations is by following fishing regulations. There are diverse regulations in place throughout Alberta that you absolutely need to be aware of before casting your line. One of the most important regulations is to clean, drain, and dry all equipment (including fishing rods and boats) to help prevent any invasive species from taking over our waterways. Another important regulation is to keep shorelines intact and natural. This helps to prevent erosion, as well as algal blooms that are very common in Alberta’s mineral-rich soil. Blooms of blue-green algae cover the surface of Alberta’s beautiful lakes with toxic cyanobacteria threatening the swimmability and fishability of our waters.

 

Thriving aquatic biodiversity helps ensure a fishable future for all. Fishers wanting to enjoy fishing for years to come will make sure not to take more than they need. This is especially important since our waterbodies have many threatened species that are only allowed for catch & release fishing. When you catch and release fish properly, it can be a conservation strategy and spare the lives of endangered or threatened species including Lake Sturgeon, Walleye, and Sauger. Fishing regulations like catch & release, size limits, and catch limits give fish species an opportunity to recover, and hopefully to thrive once again. Be sure to know your local fishing regulations and get your fishing license to become a sustainable fisher yourself!

 

Another way that fishers can help to ensure thriving fish populations and a safe, secure environment is by reporting problems in the watershed. When the fish populations are unstable, it’s best to report to your local Fish and Wildlife representative, or call the toll-free Alberta number at 310-0000 and Saskatchewan number at 1-800-567-4224. If you notice an environmental emergency in Alberta, call the 24 hour line at 1-800-222-6514. 

 

Fishers are incredibly knowledgeable on the fish status in the watershed. Stewards that can protect aquatic biodiversity need to be able to recognize the different species within the waterbody, when those species are plentiful or scarce, and when there’s a threat to the health of the waterbody. If you’re a fisher with knowledge to share, please write a watermark story about your fishing experiences for Watermark Project, an initiative to collect and share true water stories. Years ago, I was fortunate enough to learn the value of fishing and found it to be an incredible way to connect to water. For those looking to try fishing for the first time, be patient, experience the world around you, and follow your local regulations. Happy fishing!

 

 

Sources:

 

Alberta, Environment and Parks, Fish and Wildlife. “2019 Alberta Guide to Sportfishing Regulations.” 2019 Alberta Guide to Sportfishing Regulations, 2019. www.albertaregulations.ca/2019-Alberta-Fishing-Regs.pdf.

Horton, Jennifer. “5 Ways To Fish Responsibly.” How Stuff Works, www.adventure.howstuffworks.com/outdoor-activities/fishing/fish-conservation/responsible-fishing/5-ways-to-fish-responsibly5.htm.  

“Lake Sturgeon FSI.” Alberta.ca, www.alberta.ca/lake-sturgeon-fsi.aspx.

MacDougall-Davis , Robert. “Fishing and the Environment: Why the Two Are Inextricably Linked.” Ecologist: Journal for the Post-Industrial Age, 15 Oct. 2010, www.theecologist.org/2010/oct/15/fishing-and-environment-why-two-are-inextricably-linked.

“Regulations.” Tourism Saskatchewan, 2019, www.tourismsaskatchewan.com/things-to-do/fishing/regulations.

“Saskatchewan Angler’s Guide 2019.” Edited by Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Fishing, 2019, www.publications.gov.sk.ca/documents/66/89778-2017%20Anglers%20Guide.pdf.   

“Species at Risk.” Alberta.ca, www.alberta.ca/species-at-risk.aspx.

“The Dependable Online Resource For Fishing In Alberta.” AlbertaFishingGuide.com, 2019, www.albertafishingguide.com/location/water/north-saskatchewan-river-downstream-drayton-valley.

 

Battle of the H2O: Bottled vs. Tap

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Bottled water is incredibly convenient. You can purchase it almost anywhere nowadays. When out and about, bottled water is the healthy choice among the sugary sodas, juices, and energy drinks that fill up the aisles of grocery stores. For many people across the world, bottled water continues to be the only safe source of drinking water. In a place like Edmonton, clean tap water is available in abundance. However, it is not uncommon to encounter people who refuse to drink anything but their favourite brand of bottled water. Is bottled water better than tap water? Let’s examine the difference in taste, quality, cost, and environmental impact of bottled vs. tap water.

Taste

Many people also would argue that bottled water tastes better and is cleaner than tap water. I had a friend in university that refused to drink tap water and would buy cases of bottled water instead. To see if he actually preferred bottled water we put the tap to the test. Without telling him which glass was bottled water and which glass was tap water, we got him to choose the water that he thought tasted the best. Believe it or not, he was certain that the glass full of tap water was of superior taste. After that experiment he finally accepted that tap water was not actually so bad, and may even taste better than the bottled water that he was constantly buying. This test has been replicated many times by scientists, classrooms, and curious citizens and there is no definitive answer. Some people prefer the taste of bottled water and some people prefer tap water. One study looking directly at premium water brands (including Fiji and Evian) found that people preferred the regular tap water to these brands, which are relatively expensive. Taste preference is extremely personal, so try your own blind taste test to see if you actually preferred bottled water or tap water. The answer may surprise you.

Quality

Surprisingly, bottled water is often of lower quality than tap water. Municipalities have very strict standards for tap water and test on a regular basis. Bottled water does not have the same standards or testing, and might not meet the same safety regulations as tap water. While bottled water is not allowed to have arsenic, lead, coliform bacteria, or poisonous substances in it under the Food and Drug Act, there are no regulations on any other water contaminants. Tap water undergoes much more rigorous and long-term testing to ensure that the water is contaminant-free under the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water. One of the contaminants that is becoming more common in bottled water is microplastic, which is being studied for impacts on the liver and the endocrine system. Also, up to 45% of bottled water in Canada comes from the same sources as municipal tap water, so you might actually be drinking tap water that has been bottled. There is very little evidence to suggest that bottled water is higher quality than tap water.
That being said, there are approximately 1000 drinking water advisories across Canada on any given day. In these communities there is a significant threat to the drinking water, meaning that you either cannot drink the tap water or that you must boil the tap water prior to drinking it. First Nations communities are disproportionately affected by drinking water advisories in Canada. Also, Canada has been home to a massive drinking water catastrophe in Walkerton, Ontario, where 7 people died and thousands of people got sick from E. coli contamination in the tap water. Since this event from 2000, Canada has stricter testing to avoid other potential contaminations. It is worth noting that historically there have been problems with Canadian tap water and safe, clean tap water is not available to all Canadians.  

Cost

It will come as no surprise that bottled water is more expensive than tap water. It costs about $0.001 per litre of tap water, and anywhere from about $0.16 to $5.00 per litre of bottled water. People are paying 160% to 5,000% more for bottled water! When the tap water is not potable (meaning not good to drink) it can be very expensive for a family or a community to purchase bottled water instead.

Environmental Impact

There are many factors that demonstrate that bottled water has a greater environmental impact than tap water. First off, it takes at least twice the amount of water to make a plastic bottle of water than it does to fill a bottle with tap water since it takes water to make plastic. Second, bottled water takes over 2000 times more energy to produce than tap water. Third, bottled water produces billions of bottles every year, and only about 10% of plastic waste is recycled in Canada, meaning that the other 90% is sent to landfills or is in the environment on land or in waterbodies. It takes about 500 years for a plastic water bottle to decompose, and instead of breaking down, plastic breaks up into little pieces of microplastic, which are shown to have significant impacts on ecosystem health.

 

Where To Fill Up

If you want to drink tap water but don’t like the taste you can use a water filter, such as an activated carbon filter, to remove impurities and soften the water. But when out and about, it is becoming easier to fill up your own bottle. Airports, schools, and malls are starting to have more bottle stations where you can fill up. When leaving the house make sure that you have your keys, wallet, and water bottle. By making your reusable water bottle the regular habit instead of buying plastic water bottles, you are saving money, reducing your environmental impact, likely drinking better quality water, and you may actually prefer the taste without realizing it! Next time that you purchase bottled water, ask yourself why you prefer bottled to tap and reassess your drinking water preferences.
PS: if you need a new water bottle, there are Swim Drink Fish bottles available here

Sources

https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/bottle-vs-tap-7-things-to-know-about-drinking-water-1.2774182
https://www.watercalculator.org/water-use/the-hidden-water-in-everyday-products/
https://get-green-now.com/tap-vs-bottled-water-comparison/
https://www.businessinsider.com/blind-taste-test-tap-water-premium-fiji-water-evian-2017-5
http://www.watertoday.ca/index.asp
https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/marketplace-canadian-bottled-water-microplastics-1.4606182

Wildlife Corridors: Pathways for Biodiversity

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Humans have adapted diverse forms of transportation over the years. We have travelled by boats, horses, bicycles, cars, airplanes, skateboards, ATVs, segways, and SO many more. Personally, I’m still waiting for the true Back to the Future-style hoverboards. Evidently, there is a plethora of human strategies for moving around.

 

Now for a moment, imagine that you do not have access to any of these strategies. Instead, picture that you have a specific physiological adaptation that influences how you get from place to place. Maybe you have specialized fins, or wings, or move around on 4 legs, or 100 legs, or slither around without legs. Once you have imagined yourself as another creature, now think about moving around. How do you find food? What barriers do you encounter? How do you avoid predators? Where do you sleep? How do you get from place to place?

 

During this little exercise, where were you picturing yourself? Most of the time, we imagine that wildlife lives exclusively in the wild. But our world is not separated into wilderness and not. Wildness is integrated with the non-natural almost everywhere on Earth.

 

Edmonton is no exception. Edmonton is home to many diverse creatures. Some of them you might see on a daily basis. Animals like magpies, pigeons, and squirrels are very well adapted to city life. But many other creatures have a more difficult life in the built environment. It is especially challenging for these critters to move around in cities. Many species require soil, water, trees, bushes, etc. for defence, food, sleep, and displacement. Fortunately, animals in Edmonton have large natural spaces to roam around right in the city. These regions are pathways for biodiversity known as wildlife corridors.

 

 

Wildlife Corridors

 

A wildlife corridor is a type of nature pathway for animal habitats. Like a highway, flightpath, bike trail, or hallway, these are the paths that critters use to move around, particularly in urban locales. These corridors are becoming increasingly important as cities continue to encroach on what was once considered natural terrain. Pockets of nature are absolutely essential for plants and animals to thrive in cities. Edmonton has one of the largest continuous urban wildlife corridors: the North Saskatchewan River Valley. Edmonton’s River Valley is home to some fascinating species. Animals like coyotes, porcupines, deer, and peregrine falcons live in the river valley, where the abundance of green space makes for easy travel.  

 

When visiting the river valley, you are likely to stumble upon some of these creatures. There are some prime photo ops along this wildlife corridor. Watching and photographing animals is definitely encouraged, but there are some things that you should and shouldn’t do when in contact with animals.

 

Don’t feed them

Wild animals might seem really happy to gobble down treats, but in the long run it’s not good for them or us. Unfortunately many birds in urban areas that are fed by people eat too much and cannot fly long distances. This means that they would be unable to migrate for the winter, which is a threat to their lives. Many animals including squirrels, coyotes, and geese can become over-reliant on humans for food. When people feed wild animals, it can lead to aggressive behaviour, malnutrition, overpopulation, and an increase in fecal matter in the water and on land.

 

 

                                                                 Give them some space

Getting too close to wildlife can stress them out and put you at risk. For their wellbeing and for yours, don’t approach wildlife. Animals can hurt people when they get too close, often acting in self-defence. While on the other hand, some animals become too accustomed to human interactions. Over time they lose their natural instincts when becoming too comfortable with human contact. They might lose vital instincts that keep them from predators, that help them to hunt, or that allow them to reproduce. Experts recommend staying 100 meters away from wildlife like cougars, coyotes, and wolves (about the length of a football field) and 30 meters away from other large wildlife like deer (approximately the width of a hockey rink). For smaller animals, avoid touching them and give them a wide space bubble so as to not stress them out. Animal selfies might sound like a good idea, but are detrimental to the long-term health of the wildlife. Selfies are great, animal pictures are great, just try not the mix the two!

 

 

 

Keep track of your pets

While exploring wildlife corridors, make sure that you know where your dog is at all times and make sure to keep your dog on a leash. Coyote-dog interactions can become quite aggressive, and either animal can get injured in these encounters. To ensure that your pet and the wild animal remain free from harm, keep your dog on a leash and always make sure that you have an eye on them. It is also a good idea to keep tabs on your cats. Cats are responsible for an estimated 200 million bird fatalities in Canada. When they are off hunting, cats can do serious harm to local bird populations. Make sure to always keep track of your pets when they are off exploring the homes of our diverse wildlife.

 

 

Appreciate the wonders of nature

To get the most out of your nature explorations, make sure to take in all of the beauty that exists in our world. Spending time outdoors surrounded by plants and wildlife is proven to improve our physical and mental health. There are fantastic trails across Edmonton for biking, jogging, hiking, and birding, as well as excellent spots to get down to the water for paddling and swimming. Get outside whenever possible, whether it’s to visit the river valley, the rocky mountains, the boreal forest, the badlands, or the plains. The prairies are home to diverse plants, animals, and terrain that are just waiting to be explored. The only thing missing is you.

 

Sources

https://www.edmonton.ca/residential_neighbourhoods/pets_wildlife/geese.aspx

https://www.edmonton.ca/residential_neighbourhoods/pets_wildlife/Coyotes.aspx

https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/nature/landholderNotes15WildlifeCorridors.pdf

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/cats-the-no-1-killer-of-birds-in-canada-1.3130437

https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-is-a-wildlife-corridor.html

 

Featured image Jeff Wallace / Flickr

Deer photo Robert Walsh / Pixabay

Pigeon photo Rudy and Peter Skitterians / Pixabay

Cat photo rihaij / Pixabay

Why Do Humans Love Water?

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Seeking out waterbodies is built into our DNA. They bring us joy, calm, fascination, and memories. My favourite moments are spent by the water. Like watching waves crash and slither back with the tides. Feeling the force of a river push back on my fingertips as I dip them in the water. Treading water in a lake until my legs get sore and tired.

 

Water is beautiful, water is precious, and water is life. Without water, humans can only survive two days to a week. We need water to survive, so of course we inherently like it. But that fact alone doesn’t explain our fascination with coastlines, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. About 90% of all people live near a body of freshwater. While the need for something to drink is clearly a leading reason for our proximity to freshwater, there’s something else at play.

 

Spending time by water has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, to make people feel happier, and to improve health.

 

Why?

How can water have such a strong power over us?

 

There are lots of different theories as to why people are drawn to H2O. Potentially, we feel a strong kinship to water as it’s our home. Water is the reason life exists and the location where all life on Earth originated billions of years ago. Therefore, returning to water is comparable to returning home. Much like the joy of coming home after being away for a long time, we experience happiness and health when we return to the water.  

 

 

Another reason could be the benefits that our ancestors profited from when their lives were heavily tied to waters. It’s hypothesized that our big brains were able to grow due to our heavy reliance on omega-3 rich seafood. During human evolution fish, crabs, and molluscs provided human ancestors with exponential brain growth, enabling us to thrive.

 

 

Regardless of the reasons, we are forever bonded to water. By our desire to swim, skate, paddle, and spend time near water. By the need to drink water to live healthily. By the benefits that fish have provided us with as we have evolved and continue to evolve. Swimmable, drinkable, fishable waters are a part of who we are, and absolutely essential to protect for our future.

 

 

Sources

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3110782/

https://www.livescience.com/32320-how-long-can-a-person-survive-without-water.html

https://www.livescience.com/7342-hit-beach-humans-love-water.html

https://www.cntraveler.com/story/why-being-near-water-really-does-make-us-happier

https://watermark.silverchair.com/milmed-d-14-00246.pdf

Trash Tales

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A plastic water bottle falls upon the river valley trail. Its owner was aiming for the recycling bin, but missed, initiating this bottle’s journey to new lands. A wind gust pushes the cylinder down the steep valley. It rolls uncontrollably, smashing into trees on its journey through the forest. Tall grasses trap the bottle on a ledge overlooking the North Saskatchewan River. Rain starts to pour down, dislodging the bottle from its new home and it falls into the river with a splash. Slowly, very slowly, it breaks down over the next 450 years. As pieces break from the bottle, inquisitive fish taste the small shards of plastic, while other fragments settle in with the sand along the banks of the river as the bottle’s remains journey over 1,000 kilometers towards Lake Winnipeg, and eventually the Hudson Bay.

 

 

This story is made up, yet water pollution is a very real threat. The banks of the North Saskatchewan River are beautiful places to be enjoyed. However, they are also home to plenty of garbage that threatens the quality of the North Saskatchewan River. Plastic pollution is a particularly large threat to the diverse aquatic species living in the river. Microplastics have been found in almost every waterbody, have been consumed by almost all aquatic species, and have been found in tap water in Europe, Japan, and Russia. These plastic pieces 5mm or smaller come from microfibers in clothing, plastic pellets for manufacturing, microbeads that used to be in toothpaste and body wash, and break from larger pieces of plastic. Plastic harbours harmful microbes as well as chemical pollutants including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyls (PBDEs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which can be harmful to the aquatic species consuming them, as well as humans ingesting impacted water and fish.

 

 

Less than 9% of all plastic that’s ever been made has been recycled. Therefore, the remaining 91% are housed in landfills, are incinerated, are found in bodies of water, or are located in other environments. Instead of dwelling on the plastic that’s not recycled, let’s shift our focus towards recycling. Edmonton has a massive waste processing facility called the Edmonton Waste Management Centre (EWMC) which offer free tours of their recycling and garbage processes. To learn about how recycling works and what happens to waste that’s being diverted from the river, Riverkeeper joined a tour of the centre.

 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

 

Who knew recycling could be so complex? Recyclables collected at the EWMC are sorted at the Materials Recovery Facility into the different categories including paper, cardboard, glass, metal, and plastic type. It was eye opening to learn that the recycling industry is driven by its own market and economy. When there are people willing to buy the items being recycled they will get recycled. But there are challenges in finding demand for some types of hard-to-recycle (or expensive-to-recycle) materials. When there is no demand for a recyclable, they often end up in landfills or sent to other facilities at the EWMC. 

 

 

The 3 Rs that we are taught in elementary school are increasingly important as the quantity of waste continues to grow. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It’s no mystery that the order matters. Reducing consumption is the most important R. Rethinking every time we make a purchase might make us reconsider what we need in our lives. Reducing comes next but is also super important. For example, using a reusable water bottle saves water since plastic water bottles take over double the water to make. But finally we can recycle and properly dispose of our waste to make sure that our amazing river can be trash-free!

 

Join Riverkeeper this Spring and Summer for river valley cleanups to make sure that the garbage making its way towards the river is diverted and properly disposed of. Sign up for our newsletter above to stay informed of upcoming cleanups. The next time you are visiting the river valley, bring a garbage bag to keep our source of water (and life) clean. If you find pollution that you can’t clean up, report it on the Swim Guide and participate in an exciting and important citizen science initiative

 

 

Sources

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/07/microplastic-pollution-revealed-absolutely-everywhere-by-new-research

https://www.efe.com/efe/english/portada/un-warns-globally-only-9-percent-of-plastic-waste-is-recycled/50000260-3638548

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Daniele_Miranda3/publication/296333336_Are_we_eating_plastic-ingesting_fish/links/5bf52fcc299bf1124fe262e2/Are-we-eating-plastic-ingesting-fish.pdf

http://www.waterkeeper.ca/cases-microplastics

https://www.edmonton.ca/programs_services/garbage_waste/edmonton-waste-management-centre.aspx 

Is There An Unlimited Supply of Water?

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It’s no secret that the Blue Planet has a lot of water. Approximately 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, amounting to about 1,386,000,000,000,000,000,000 L. This amount is so large, it’s hard to even imagine. The amount of water on Earth is equal to 554 trillion Olympic-sized swimming pools and could cover the surface of the moon 9 times.

 

Now that’s a lot of space for breaststroke!

 

Despite this astronomical quantity of water, only a tiny proportion of that water isn’t salty. An estimated 3.5% of all water on our beautiful blue planet is freshwater. This water can be found in lakes, rivers, water vapour, ice, glaciers, and groundwater. However, less than 1% of Earth’s water is considered accessible freshwater, since water locked away in icebergs and glaciers is not easy to get to.

 

 

Human bodies are 50-65% water and rely on it to survive and thrive. Water is a vital resource to all forms of life. Without freshwater, we (along with countless plants and animals) would cease to exist.

 

Water is life.

 

20% of the Earth’s freshwater is located in Canada. However, when considering renewable water in Canada, that piece of the freshwater pie shrinks dramatically. Canada houses about 7% of the world’s renewable freshwater. Water can be renewable or nonrenewable since water is replenished at different rates. Waters from rivers and some sources of groundwater are barely depleted, as they are rapidly regenerated by the water cycle (flashback to elementary school science class). But Canada is also home to deep underground aquifers, glaciers, and lakes that take a long time to replenish through the water cycle, specifically longer than a year. These types of water are not always where we want them when we want them, and are therefore considered nonrenewable.

 

 

Where is Canada’s water? While 85% of the population lives in the South, over half of Canada’s water flows North towards the Hudson Bay and Arctic Ocean. Suddenly this seemingly endless supply of water starts to appear more and more scarce to those who need it. It may be easy to take water for granted as it flows continuously from our taps. But water is precious, and is extremely important to protect.