What’s your Watermark?

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As long as I can remember I have been coming to Turtle Lake, Saskatchewan. My mom’s family has owned land on the lake since the early 30s, and we are lucky to share a lakefront property on one of the sandy bays with my Mom’s siblings. Summers in my youth were spent fishing in a tin can boat, wading in the clean cool water with my siblings and cousins, and taking swimming lessons at public beaches. 

 

Significant memories on this body of water include boating on tubes with neighbourhood friends, seeing a tornado touch down on the water during a summer storm, and getting to see my great-grandma enjoy the cabin she spent her younger days at with her seven grandkids. If you have ever been to Turtle Lake you have surely heard of the “Turtle Lake Monster” for all the t-shirts and ice cream sundaes that refer to it in the local gas station. It is rumoured that in the lake there is a large “monster” that will eat people, and it has even had “confirmed” sightings multiple times throughout my youth. Locals chalk the story up to large sturgeon that have left the river system and grown to be massive over time in our lake. This explanation does not help when I’m swimming in the deep, as I can’t shake the idea of the “monster” lurking in the water beneath. 

 

As an adult, I still enjoy coming to Turtle Lake to fish off the dock, spend time with friends and enjoy the lake’s serenity. It’s enjoyable to watch the neighbours I used to play hide and seek with bringing their family to enjoy the lake, and to catch up with their current lives all across Canada. Throughout the years though, the lake has experienced significant amounts of pollution from extensive boating activities and increased private development which drives more visitors. Every summer my family and I advocate to the municipality and the board that manage the lake for stricter regulations on boating and wastewater dumping. We strive to ensure that our lake will stay healthy for the next generations. Turtle Lake holds so many fond memories for me. I know that I will continue to go and one day bring my family to enjoy this lovely waterbody.

 

This is my watermark. What is yours?

 

A “watermark” is a true story about you and your connection to a natural body of water. It can be a positive, negative or neutral time spent on or around a waterbody. No matter the story you have to share or the connection to water you hold, by contributing a watermark you actively participate in documenting Canada’s water heritage. A watermark is personal and powerful.

 

When you share your watermark, you are contributing to the Watermark Project. The Watermark Project is an initiative led by Swim Drink Fish Canada, started by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. The Watermark Project strives to collect one story – a watermark – from every Canadian or global citizen who wishes to participate. By having people think about water and connect to their water bodies, we hope individuals will be more empowered to advocate for waterbody protection. When you submit a watermark, your water story is stored in a digital archive which allows all the collected watermarks to be permanent, open-access and a part of the ever-growing waterbody record. Overall the goal is Canadian waters (and global waters) that are swimmable, drinkable and fishable for all.

 

You may be thinking that your water story isn’t that notable, or that you can’t think of any defining water moments to share, but I encourage you to reflect. Think about any moment you have felt at home at a body of water, a body of water that is in a childhood memory, or a waterbody you and your family return to every year for vacation. Are there any water bodies you visited recently that you and your family loved, or maybe you noticed pollution at? Any memory or experience that surrounds water, good or bad, is a watermark that we want to hear. Sharing your watermark:

  • Aids in the process of protecting your and other Canadian water bodies.
  • Documents the value of your waterbody in a national database.
  • Allows scientists and researchers to know where people like to swim, drink and fish.
  • Ensures that environmental laws be advocated for to safeguard Canadian water bodies.
  • Contributes to a legal record that can be used for waterbody protection.

 

Anybody can contribute a watermark. Feel free to submit more than one if you want! Citizens of all ages and backgrounds are welcome to engage in the project and to expand the waterbody database. Children can submit to the Watermark Project with their parents’ permission, and their last name will be removed from the public-facing site for privacy. If you wish to submit a watermark, but don’t feel comfortable having the watermark face on the public site, let us know and we can still add it to the backend archive. The submission of your watermark can be typed, filmed or recorded and sent in to us. Feel free to include pictures of your waterbody if you like! Additionally, if you attend a Swim Drink Fish event or an event where we, the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper are present, we’d be more than happy to collect it for you. The five pieces of information to complete your watermark are: 

  1. Your full name.
  2. The name of the waterbody.
  3. Where it is generally located.
  4. When did your watermark take place. If you go to this body of water often it can be the first time you went there or the most recent!
  5. The memory, story or experience details. Some helpful questions: Why is this waterbody important to you? What took place at the waterbody? How did it make you feel? Who were you with? 

 

Mark Mattson, one of the founders of Swim Drink Fish Canada shares in a 2016 blog post that “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 the 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”. 

 

I couldn’t have explained more gracefully than Mark just why the Watermark Project matters for all Canadians, and why you should submit yours today. To provide some further inspiration, I share three watermarks from across the Canadian prairies below. 

 

Battle River, AB – Danika Little Child

In the Battle River Area. Image credit: Marilynne Soveran from Flickr, unedited from original.

 

“My Watermark is Battle River located in Treaty Number 6 Territory in Alberta. I’m from the Nehiyawak Cree Nation. It is very relevant to our history and our way of life, it has a lot of spiritual, cultural, linguistic, and biodiversity ties in terms of how we live and where I am from. 

I am a lawyer, and I work with indigenous people in Canada and internationally. I have tried to create a specialty around the issue of water. I am working as an advocate for First Nations to strengthen their ties to sacred waters and to try to support the minimization of the estrangement from water that first nations have experienced over decades, especially in treaty areas.”

 

Danika Little Child’s connection to the Battle River area reminds me that all the waterbodies and landscapes we see and use are the ancestral space of First Nations people. This watermark inspires me to continue to seek out diverse perspectives on water and land issues, and to engage in dialogues with all people to gain further understanding of perspectives. 

 

Glenmore Reservoir, AB – Jeff Krehmer

Image credit: Jon Ross from Flickr, unedited from original. 

 

“This man-made reservoir provides much of the drinking water to the city of Calgary. It is also a recreational resource which I have cycled around many times from 1977-2009. My father took my brothers and me fishing there, by the docks and other areas; through the 70’s and 80’s. We have eaten Pike, Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout from there, so it is literally part of me.”

 

Jeff’s watermark of the Glenmore Reservoir brings up fleeting memories of fishing on lakes, rivers and ponds with my dad and how excited he was when my three siblings and I caught a fish (or minnow). This watermark affirms for me how valuable family time is, and especially so when it is spent fishing or paddling on or near water.

 

Lake Metigoshe, MB – Ralph Glass.

Image credit: The Watermark Project, Lake Metigoshe.

 

“My mother grew up near there in a place called Deloraine, Manitoba and built a cottage on the lake in the 1930’s. Starting with my generation in about 1962, my family, my two brothers and I spent every summer there for 16 years. We still go back – I was there 3 weeks ago – and we just have the greatest times when we’re out there. 

It’s interesting because about 10% of the lake is in Canada and the remainder is in the United States, so the Canada-US border is about 100 feet off our dock. And the laws have changed dramatically over the years. When I was young in the ‘70’s we could boat over the US, pick up our favourite American candy bars, and return at will, anytime. Nowadays it’s more strictly enforced, for obvious reasons, but back then we really felt like kings of the world, going to another country just for chocolate bars. Things were simpler then.”

 

Ralph’s watermark displays how country relations and security has changed over time, and how these changes affect people’s lives and or small habits. From this watermark I am encouraged to keep working for swimmable, drinkable and fishable waters for all nations and peoples, no matter the boundaries. 

 

Watermarks are your personal stories and memories, but they are stories and memories that can influence environmental research, and legislative policy. Submit yours today to be a part of The Watermark Project and Canada’s water heritage. 

 

Sources:

http://www.waterkeeper.ca/blog/2016/1/13/the-watermark-project

https://www.watermarkproject.ca/watermark/a0d0B00000IJAqOQAX

https://www.watermarkproject.ca/watermark/a0d0B00000G5q4DQAR

https://www.watermarkproject.ca/watermark/a0d0B00000IJAqOQAX

https://www.watermarkproject.ca/

https://www.swimdrinkfish.ca/

http://www.waterkeeper.ca

All About Flooding

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Depending on where you live, you may have experienced floods over your life or if you’re like me, you only know about flooding and the devastation it causes from the news channel. Flooding can happen in the most unlikely of places so it is important to understand the basics of flooding, no matter where you reside in Canada. According to Public Safety Canada, floods are the most common natural hazard in our country and are an increasing threat to Canadians as extreme weather events become more common. Flooding costs Canadians more than a billion dollars in economic losses every year, and is the most expensive natural disaster to manage and clean-up. 

 

At the most basic level, flooding is an overflow of water that pushes onto usually dry land. Fluctuations in waterbody levels are natural, but when high water levels threaten homes, lives, or infrastructure, they are considered flood conditions. Floods mostly occur because of water height changes in rivers or lakes as a result of spring snowmelt or heavy precipitation. It is predicted that as the impacts of climate change increase, flood intensity and frequency will also increase across the world in the 21st century.

 

In the Canadian Prairies, the most common cause of flooding is the build-up of snow and ice over the winter. This winter precipitation collects late fall and winter, and melts into the waterways in a few short weeks in the springtime when temperatures rise. Events that can exacerbate flooding conditions in the spring include heavy rains or ice jams, which can rapidly increase the amount of water flowing into a waterbody. An ice jam is when there is an obstruction to the flow of water due to blocks of ice. Floods may also be the result of a dam breakage or failure, or excessive melting of glaciers as mean temperatures rise all around the earth.

 

Spring melting in Edmonton in 2018. Image credit: Kurt Bauschardt from Flickr, unedited.

 

River flooding can occur as a result of this spring melting and increased precipitation, but other factors can influence how much water runoff enters the river. There can be more water runoff flowing into the river as a result of increased urbanization, which can alter the landscape’s vegetation. In the process of urbanization surfaces change from soft surfaces that absorb water to hard surfaces which absorb less or no water, such as cement. Soft surfaces like grass or soil are beneficial because they decrease the runoff moving into waterways. Some cities have bylaws that outline what percentage of a house yard has to be soft surface, to reduce water runoff. Vegetation also makes a difference in runoff rates, as water moves faster over sparse land (such as cropland) than forested land. Forests have less water runoff because they have barriers such as trees and shrubs that absorb the water and slow the runoff speed.

 

The Red River in Winnipeg meeting the Assiniboine River, during a flooding event in the spring of 2017. Image credit: Murray Foubister from Flickr, unedited. 

 

On lakes there can also be a rise in the water level, which can cause damage to the shorelines, cottages, and businesses. Increases in lake water can be a result of increased water in the river that feeds into the lake or an especially snowy winter. Lakes can flood over just like a river, though lake water levels rise much slower so individuals are able to anticipate the flooding and put in place measures to prevent damage. An example of an unusually high lake this year is Lake Ontario and some of the other Great Lakes.

 

Lake Ontario in May 2017, when the high water covered what was a public beach area. The conditions of this image are similar to this year. Image credit: Lincoln Spaulding from Flickr, unedited.

 

Flash floods can occur quickly when heavy storms or spring melt significantly increase the amount of runoff. In Canada, flash floods are a risk for many citizens as they can occur nearly anywhere. In Canadian landscapes the depth of the snow, snow water content, time the snow takes to melt, and local topography can be determining factors for a flash flood in the spring. Flash flooding in urban areas is especially a concern, as many Canadian cities and towns were built around rivers, lakes, and harbours due to the ease of commerce and transportation in the past, among other reasons. 

 

A flash flood in Quebec in 2017. Image credit: Gone Coastal from Flickr, unedited. 

 

Traditionally, policy makers have responded to flooding by attempting to control the water flow with dams or dikes to move the water away from the area with high flood risk. A dam is a barrier constructed to hold back water on a river to suppress floods, and may also be used to generate electricity or hold water for water supply or irrigation. A dike is a long wall or embankment that is built to prevent possible flooding from a river, lake, ocean, or sea. There is limited evidence to suggest that these are the best ways to manage floods, as floods are unpredictable and extremely low-probability floods occur. An example of a low probability flood occurring recently is the Calgary flood of 2013. Heavy rainfall on the melting snow of the Rocky Mountains combined with steep and rocky terrain facilitated the perfect mix of conditions for flooding in several southern Alberta watersheds. This was the largest flood Calgary had seen since 1932, and cost $6 billion in financial losses and property damage. Since this flood, Calgary has invested in flood mitigation and resilience projects to be ready when the next flood strikes.

 

The Bow River is nearly touching the Calgary Peace Bridge in the 2013 Floods. Image credit: Ryan Reynolds from Flickr, unedited.

 

In 1975, the federal government announced a flood damage reduction program for Canada. The main project within this plan was the creation of publicly accessible flood-risk maps to identify hazardous areas. These maps are used by flood-plain managers, urban planners, property developers and the public when deciding projects or buying a home. In 2020 we can look forward to the government releasing new floodplain maps which will be easily accessible to the public online, and updated with the latest geospatial data. These maps are a valuable tool that can steer the decision-making of developers, businesses, and landowners when looking at properties in and around flood-prone areas. Choosing how, where, and when to develop around water can affect your community. By keeping flood hazard areas in mind, infrastructure flooding can be prevented and reinforce the natural environment around your waterbody.

 

Canadian flood events of the past were what inspired the government to create a program to encourage informed building in high-risk flood areas. Many of these historic flood events happened on large river systems which passed through urban areas, with one particular flood taking place with North Saskatchewan River running through Edmonton. In June of 1915, the North Saskatchewan River rose steadily in Edmonton peaking at 10 meters above its usual height! The water swept away lumber mills, brick yards, a brewery, and many houses that lie in the river valley. The image below shows how the Canadian Northern Railway parked train cars on the Low Level Bridge to protect the bridge against the debris hitting its piers. No lives were lost in this flooding, but it did cost an estimated $647 M dollars in damage (adjusted for inflation) and left around 2000 people without homes. This event shaped Edmonton’s future as people moved inland to redevelop their businesses and homes, and therefore slowed development in the river valley. This flood is one of the reasons why Edmonton has such an extensive park system, rather than human development today.

 

Image Credit: City of Edmonton Archives (Image EA- 160-1399).

 

Another more recent flood event experienced in the prairies includes the 1997 Red River Flood, which affected Minnesota, North Dakota, and Southern Manitoba. This flood was the result of abundant snowfall in the winter and unusually high temperatures speeding up the spring melt. South of Winnipeg, Manitoba has an extensive dike and diversion system called the Red River Floodway. This system collects the floodwater moving in from the Red River and diverts it around the city of Winnipeg, where it is released back into the Red River, preventing flooding of the city.  Even with these flood protection measures in place, the river flooded from the south through the dike system, all the way up to Winnipeg. This flood event was deemed a 100-year flood, which means it is a flood event that has a 1% chance of being equalled or exceeded in any given year!

 

The Red River Floodway depicted on a map. Image Credit: Karl Musser via Wikipedia, Red River Floodway.

 

The Red River Floodway, also known as Duff’s Ditch, in the Flood of 1997. Image Credit: Robert Linsdell on Flickr, unedited.

 

If you know your residence lies in a flood plain or you live near a waterbody, there are some things you can do to mitigate the impacts of flooding. Floods are unpredictable and they can happen in all corners of our country. The Canadian government has suggestions you can read up on, on what to do before, during and after a flood event to ensure safety. Some examples of things you can do prior to a flood:

  • Be sure the windows at ground level have waterproof seals.
  • Have downspout drainage installed a sufficient distance from your house so water flows away from the structure.
  • Store important documents in a waterproof container and on high ground.
  • Consider investing in a sump pump with zero reverse flow valves which can pump the water out of your basement.
  • Have an emergency bag ready to go with some clothes, provisions, essential medications, etc. if you need to evacuate your home.
  • If you have livestock, know the best way to leave them in flood conditions and make the necessary design changes to your structures to ensure the safety of your animals. 

 

Seeking out your provincial and local flooding guidelines is also important, as there may be specific instructions for your area. The prairie provincial flood information websites are linked here: Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan

 

Understanding common flood conditions and educating yourself on best practices for before, during, and after a flood can help you prepare for when the unexpected happens. Flood events are severe and life-changing, taking a physical and mental toll on individuals, but with proper flood preparation negative impacts can be reduced. Water is essential for life but also has the ability to be extremely dangerous and unpredictable, it’s best to always be prepared.

 

Sources:

https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/floods-and-flood-control

https://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/edmonton_archives/the-flood.aspx

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Saskatchewan_River_flood_of_1915

https://www.ready.gov/floods

https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/great-lakes-water-problems-1.5230158

https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/red-river-flood

https://www.getprepared.gc.ca/cnt/hzd/flds-ftr-en.aspx

https://www.gov.mb.ca/flooding/index.html

https://www.alberta.ca/flood.aspx

https://www.saskatchewan.ca/residents/environment-public-health-and-safety/environmental-health/flooding

https://ec.gc.ca/eau-water/default.asp?lang=En&n=0365F5C2-1

https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/mrgnc-mngmnt/ntrl-hzrds/fld-en.aspx

https://www.calgary.ca/UEP/Water/Pages/Flood-Info/Flooding-History-Calgary.aspx

https://www.calgary.ca/UEP/Water/Pages/Flood-Info/Mitigation-and-Resilience/Flood-projects.aspx

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_River_Floodway

Banner photo credit: Terima Kasih 0 via Pixabay

 

9 Prairie Waterbodies That You Must Visit This Summer

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When you think about the Canadian prairie provinces, beaches and swimming are probably not the first things that come to mind. But Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba do, in fact, have some amazing waterbodies that you will want to be enjoying on your unicorn floaty. Keep reading to learn about nine prairie beaches you’ll want to be planning a trip to this summer!

 

Alberta

Aspen Beach on Gull Lake

Image from Swim Guide.

This day-tripping hotspot is an hour and a half south of Edmonton and two hours north of Calgary.  It’s located in Alberta’s first provincial park, Aspen Provincial Park. The sandy, flat, and shallow beach is ideal for swimming and is easily accessible from the main parking lot. Unfortunately, Fido has to stay at home as no dogs are allowed at this beach. Behind the beach area, there is a well-maintained playground as well as a concession that serves your typical beach fare, such as burgers and ice cream. If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, this beach would be the perfect day trip from any of Alberta’s major cities.

Pro tip: Would recommend bringing a beach umbrella as shaded areas are minimal.

 

Kinbrook Island Beach

Image from Swim Guide.

This provincial park beach is just over two hours southeast of Calgary and has more than one public beach, multiple walking trails, and lots of wildlife to spot. There are a few clean and shallow beaches to choose from that are all within walking distance from the campsite and main parking lot. Your dog can come on this day trip, as the main beach has a dog-friendly area! For a mid-day treat there is usually an ice cream truck on site and a concession serving burgers, fries, and other snacks. There is also a marsh area nearby with a boardwalk where you can often spot a few pelicans or cormorants!

Pro tip: The bottom of some of the public beaches are a little rocky, so I’d recommend bringing water shoes.

Pro tip 2: The park store has a free air compressor for use to blow up your (probably unicorn) floaty!

 

Cascade Ponds Beach in Banff

Image from Swim Guide.

No list of must-visit beaches would be complete without one located in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Alberta. This location is a 10 minute drive from the Banff townsite, and looks like a painting with its clear shallow waters and mountain backdrop. At the rest stop that leads down to the beach, there are public washrooms and a small picnic area that many people use for packed lunches. 

Pro tip: Choose a sunny day for this swim since the water can be very chilly, as is the case for many mountain lakes or streams. 

 

Saskatchewan

Good Spirit Lake Provincial Park 

This beach was named by Maclean’s as one of the top 10 beaches in Canada, and they made no mistake. The provincial park is located 30 minute northwest of Yorkton and is known for its sandy beaches and warm water. One of its key highlights is rolling sand dunes that are accessible nearby via walking or motoring trails. On-site there is fun for the whole family with a mini-golf course, volleyball and basketball courts, and a food concession equipped with ice cream.

Pro tip: This area has been under a boil water advisory since 2017, so pack as much drinking/cooking water as you’ll need for your trip.

 

Regina Beach on Last Mountain Lake

Image from Swim Guide.

This beach has golden sand with some small rocks, and the water is clear with little to no weeds. There is a long public beach for you and your family to lounge at, but this beach is not pet friendly. If boating is more your thing, a marina and public boat launch are accessible. This beach is a 45 minute drive northwest of Regina, and the main parking lot is a short walk to the beach area. There is also a beach volleyball court, a playground, and picnic tables for use, all with trees throughout this area for you to catch some shade.

Pro tip: There are tons of restaurants close to the beach, and many people agree that the fish and chips are a must-try from Blue Bird Cafe!

Pro tip 2: Go early, as this beach fills up fast on sunny weekends when people are trying to get out of Regina. 

 

Danielson’s Visitor Center Beach on Lake Diefenbaker

Image from Swim Guide.

This beach and lake were formed as the result of the damming of the South Saskatchewan River. Lake Diefenbaker has cold and clear waters, and three Saskatchewan provincial parks on its shorelines. At this site the beach is several kilometers long, and mostly sandy. Potash and other minerals are common here, so within the sand you can often see different colours caused by the sparkling minerals. As you get deeper into the water it can get quite rocky, so I’d recommend swimming shoes. Behind the beach is a grassy park and small playground to keep your young ones entertained. There are also washrooms, a concession, and a day use area open to the public! 

Pro Tip: there is next to no shady spots, so be sure to bring sunscreen and a beach umbrella!

 

Manitoba

Gimli

Image from Swim Guide.

Ever since visiting Gimli a few summers ago, I have shared this quaint yet exciting beach town with many of my friends and family. Gimli Beach is a long freshwater beach just over an hour drive north from Winnipeg and is one of many beaches on Lake Winnipeg. There are public washrooms, picnic tables, a playground, and many food options near this beach. A must-see is the pier near the marina, where local artists have painted beautiful art pieces along the pier. 

Pro tip: There is commercial fishing out of a local marina and the fresh fish is available in many restaurants in Gimli, so stop in for some fish and chips anywhere!

 

Grand Beach West 

Image from Swim Guide.

This beach is also located on Lake Winnipeg, and on a sunny summer day there can be up to a thousand visitors. The beach is three kilometers long, providing lots of room to find a spot for your family and friends and spread out with your umbrellas, blankets, and coolers. There are small shops, public washrooms,  food concessions, beach volleyball courts, and lifeguards on site. If you are up for a bit of exploring there are trails leading off the beach that showcase some of Manitoba’s rolling sand dunes. 

Pro tip: This beach has many cute local vendors selling beach cover-ups and hats in case you forget anything at home. 

 

Brereton Lake Beach

Image from Swim Guide.

This clear water and sandy beach is located in Whiteshell Provincial Park, which is just under two hours east of Winnipeg. There is great swimming, fishing, canoeing, and hiking located on and around this lake. There is a 5.5 kilometer hiking trail north of the lake named Amisk Loop trail that most visitors recommend. The trail takes you through a scenic forest and over to a rocky edge of the Rennie River. Also close to this beach is the Alfred Hole Goose sanctuary where you can see goslings from spring through fall, and visit their interpretive center!

Pro tip: This location is much quieter than many other Manitoba beaches, so you won’t have to scramble to find a spot on the sand!

 

I hope you make out to any of these or other prairie beaches this summer, and share your beach adventures through our social channels: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. If you’re ever curious about the water quality of a waterbody, don’t forget to check out the Swim Guide app or website for the latest water quality monitoring updates across the prairies, Canada, and 7 other countries. And finally, if you happen to see pollution on any waterbodies that you’re visiting, please report it here to contribute to an important citizen science initiative.

 

Sources:

https://www.theswimguide.org/beach/330

https://www.theswimguide.org/beach/1132

https://www.theswimguide.org/beach/1154

https://www.tourismsaskatchewan.com/provincialpark/1811/good-spirit-lake-provincial-park

https://www.theswimguide.org/report/

https://www.theswimguide.org/beach/2591?set_language=en

https://www.theswimguide.org/beach/2406

https://www.theswimguide.org/beach/5590?set_language=en

https://www.theswimguide.org/beach/5606?set_language=en

https://www.theswimguide.org/beach/5674

https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g815510-d8774082-Reviews-Lake_Diefenbaker_Tourism-Outlook_Saskatchewan.html

https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g2155130-d287945-Reviews-Grand_Beach_Provincial_Park-Grand_Marais_Manitoba.html

https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g4604593-d12689721-Reviews-Regina_Beach_Recreation_Site-Regina_Beach_Saskatchewan.html

https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g154911-d186990-Reviews-Cascade_Ponds-Banff_Banff_National_Park_Alberta.html

Cover Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Prairie Edition: “Is the Water Okay to Swim In?”

Posted in: Uncategorized | 2

There’s nothing quite like taking a dip on a hot summer day in the cold water of a natural body of water. But unless it’s a chlorinated pool, I always think about whether the water I swim in will make me sick or give me swimmers itch. In this blog I discuss how the prairie waterbodies are tested for recreational use, and how to access this information to be sure you remain healthy and happy when enjoying the natural lakes and rivers we have. Here are the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on water quality. 

 

How do I know is the water is okay to swim in?

  • If you’re planning on visiting a specific waterbody, head to the Swim Guide app or website to see the latest recreational water quality testing results. 32,000 Canadians have used Swim Guide across the prairies *since* Canada Day!!

 

What if my lake, or waterbody is not on Swim Guide and/or I notice incorrect information on Swim Guide?

  • Please do not hesitate to check out our contact information here, and let us know which waterbodies we should add, or what information we should update! 

 

How do I understand the symbols on Swim Guide?

  • The Swim Guide team has a streamlined system of symbols so that you can quickly understand what is going on with the water. Check out the symbol descriptions below. 

What is being tested in recreational water quality tests?

  • The main risk in Canadian recreational waterbodies used for primary or secondary recreational activities is contact with pathogens. Primary recreation activities include swimming and wading in the water and secondary activities include on-the-water activities like sailing and paddling, where the chance of water getting in your mouth is low. Pathogens are bacteria, viruses, or microorganisms that can cause disease.
  • The federal government recommends testing for E. coli, Enterococci., pathogenic microorganisms, cyanobacteria, other biological hazards, pH, temperature, and chemical hazards. There are also testing recommendations for the water’s turbidity, clarity, colour, oil and grease and litter.  
  • E. coli and Enterococci levels are used as indicators of fecal matter, as they are fecal coliforms found in the intestines of animals and humans. Their presence in the water could indicate disease-causing bacteria, viruses and protozoans. Fecal matter in the water could be the result of improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, leaking septic systems, or runoff from manure, among others.
  • When there is evidence of  blue-green algae, it is recommended that microcystins be tested in the water. Microcystins are a natural toxin that occurs when there is a large bloom. Upon entering the body, they travel to the liver and cause serious damage to humans and animals. 

A Lake with a Cyanobacteria Bloom in July 2018 (Image Credit: Alberta Health Services)

  • If deemed necessary by the provincial or local governing body, other microorganisms or biological hazards may be tested for as well.

 

Is there Federal legislation for testing recreational waters? 

  • No, the Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality is a federal document which outlines recommendations based on research for provincial and local policymakers to consider when managing their water bodies. As stated above, this document recommends testing for E. coli, Enterococci., pathogenic microorganisms, cyanobacteria, other biological hazards, pH, temperature, and chemical hazards. The provinces set their water quality testing parameters based on these recommendations.
  • They suggest testing for E. coli and for blue-green algae with the following criteria. When a water sample exceeds these parameters, they fail to meet the water quality standard.
    • No single sample result is greater than 400 E. coli organisms in 100 milliliters (mLs) of water for primary contact recreation.
    • The geometric mean of five samples is ≤ 200 E. coli/100 mLs for primary contact recreation.
    • Cyanobacteria or their toxins is less than 20 µg/L.
  • This document also suggests a multi-barrier approach to recreational water safety. This means there would ideally be an integrated system of procedures, actions and tools in place, that collectively reduce the risk of human exposure to water quality hazards. They suggest having multiple barriers in place to prevent water quality degradation (source protection, monitoring on multiple levels, hazard control, communication, consultation when necessary), rather than one single barrier.

 

What does Alberta test for and how can I access the results?

  • Alberta Health Services (AHS) have a monitoring program called the Alberta Safe Beach Protocol for freshwater beaches across the province. Water samples are taken by AHS staff and processed by Alberta Public Laboratories. The sampling frequency and beaches tested can vary per season, and the numeric results are currently not available to the public.
  • The AHS program tests for Enterococcus as of 2019, prior to this year they tested fecal coliforms. Recent studies have shown Enterococcus to be a better indicator organism for fecal contamination than total fecal coliform tests. When a potential blue-green algal bloom is spotted, blue-green algae/cyanobacteria and microcystins are also tested. AHS uses the following parameters for water quality thresholds before issuing a public health advisory.

  • AHS follows the same parameters for recreational water quality as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Any public health advisories that are issued for fecal contamination,  blue-green algae blooms, or other water quality concerns will be listed on the AHS Public Health Advisories website, which can be found here. They are also updated daily on the Swim Guide app and website.

 

What does Saskatchewan test for and how can I access the results?

  • The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health has launched the Healthy Beaches Program, which provides water quality testing results to the public for 67 waterbodies across the province. This program monitors the health of beaches on a regular basis (which can be weekly, monthly, annually, etc. depending on the beach), and monitors water quality to inform citizens on potential risks. The beaches chosen for testing are based off recreational use statistics and other parameters. Private beaches are not included in this program. 
  • The Healthy Beaches program releases results for E. coli and for blue-green algae. They currently use the following federal recommendations for determining the quality of recreational water. When a water sample exceeds the parameters stated below, it fails the water quality standard. 
    • No single sample result is greater than 400 E. coli organisms in 100 milliliters (mLs) of water
    • The geometric mean of five samples is ≤ 200 E. coli/100 mLs
    • Cyanobacteria or their toxins is less than 20 µg/L.
  • Advisories will be issued to the public if beaches exceed the recommended levels of E. coli or blue-green algae. Nicole White, the Ministry of Health Zoonotic/Environmental Health Consultant for the Healthy Beaches program shares that citizens should follow the instructions on signage at the beach. The local signage at a beach might state to not ingest the water, or to keep yourself and your pets away from a blue-green algae bloom. 

 

What does Manitoba test for and how can I access the results?

  • The Government of Manitoba also has a Clean Beaches Program. This program monitors the beaches, takes samples, and provides open data on water quality testing to the public. Sixty beaches are tested for water quality. The beaches are selected based on previous recreational use statistics and historical health of the waterbody. 
  • The program tests for E. coli levels, as well as blue-green algae and microcystins when a bloom is spotted. Their water quality criteria aligns with the federal recommendations. When a water sample exceeds the parameters listed below it has failed the standard.
    • No sample result of E. coli with the geometric mean exceeding 200 bacteria/100 mL
    • No single sample result of E. coli contains more than 400 bacteria/100 mL
    • No sample of blue-green algae/cyanobacteria should exceed 100,000 cells/mL. 
  • When a sample is taken and exceeds these parameters,  it is re-sampled as soon as possible until it meets recreational water standards.
  • The health advisories for fecal contamination, blue-green algae blooms, or other water quality hazards will be updated here on a regular basis. 

 

How can I report pollution if I see it in the water?

 

What is swimmer’s itch?!

  • Swimmer’s itch, also known as lake itch or duck rash, is an allergic reaction as a result of your skin coming into contact with parasites in a body of water. It is caused by a parasitic flatworm that grows in snails, not by blue-green algae, which is a common misconception. These flatworms, known as schistosomes, are present in many lakes across the prairies.
  • The rash itself can look like mosquito bites, pimples, or blisters and is not contagious between people. Children are especially susceptible because they may play in shallow waters. To help prevent getting swimmer’s itch towel-off immediately after leaving the water and avoid swimming in high vegetation areas of lakes. In high vegetation areas or shallow waters there may be more snails present, and potentially more parasitic flatworms (as they use snails as their host).
  • Check out a new swimmers Itch reporting tool to report your ‘itch’, see how you can treat it, and see where others have experienced the ‘itch’ this summer.

 

How do I know if the water is safe to swim, drink or fish in?

  • For swimming guidelines check our Swim Guide app and website to see the most updated recreational water testing results across Canada. 
  • For drinking water consult your provincial governing body to see what water quality processing they use, and to learn about where your tap water comes from. They can be found here: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba.
  • For fishing information consult your provincial guidelines on angling practices and eating fish. They can be found here: Alberta guidelines, Saskatchewan guidelines and Manitoba guidelines.

 

Have other questions we didn’t answer? Feel free to reach out to the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper through our website, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook! Have a great time swimming, and enjoying the water this summer. 

 

Sources:

https://www.theswimguide.org/

https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/canada/health-canada/migration/healthy-canadians/publications/healthy-living-vie-saine/water-recreational-recreative-eau/alt/pdf/water-recreational-recreative-eau-eng.pdf

https://open.alberta.ca/publications/9781460145395

https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/news/Page1926.aspx

https://www.saskatchewan.ca/healthy-beaches#utm_campaign=q2_2015&utm_medium=short&utm_source=%2Fhealthy-beaches

https://www.620ckrm.com/2019/07/11/ministry-of-health-to-post-beach-water-quality-results-through-new-monitoring-program/

https://www.alberta.ca/drinking-water-legislation.aspx

http://www.saskh2o.ca/MyDrinkingWater.asp

https://www.gov.mb.ca/sd/water/drinking-water/index.html

http://www.albertaregulations.ca/fishingregs/

https://www.saskatchewan.ca/residents/parks-culture-heritage-and-sport/hunting-trapping-and-angling/angling

https://www.gov.mb.ca/sd/pubs/fish_wildlife/angling_guide.pdf

Image: SplitShire via Pixabay

Canada’s Water History in Policy

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When you think about policy documents you probably think about dense legal jargon that usually has no consequence to you or your life. In my blog this week, I share with you some key Canadian water policies and events since Confederation, in the hope of making complex water policies easily understandable. Water policy documents govern the water of the country we live in and have a role in the accessibility of our (and our neighbours) water. By understanding Canada’s water history and the current legislation today, I hope you take action in your own community for swimmable, drinkable and fishable water for all. 

 

Late 15th Century to 1867– 

  • Colonization of Indigenous peoples took place on “Canadian” soil.

1867– 

  • Canadian Confederation is founded on July 1, and the Department of Marine and Fisheries was created to oversee the seacoast and inland fisheries.

1868– 

  • Fisheries Act was established. It prohibited ‘prejudicial or deleterious substances’ to be released in waters, that could result in injuries to fishing grounds or pollution.

1873– 

  • Parliament prohibits the discharge of lumber mill waste, including sawdust and its byproducts into navigable waterways. This is to maintain water quality as the sawdust effects the fish and fish habitat. 

1880s– 

  • Debate on the water management of rivers begins with John A. Macdonald and Ontario premier Oliver Mowat, disagreeing on the building of harmful river facilities to push along Canada’s timber trade. This is the first of many debates on public versus private economic interests on waterbodies.

1890s– 

  • Ottawa decided they were to “protect, preserve and propagate the fish” and that the provinces were to “have the sole right to catch the fish so preserved and protected”.

 

I feel it to be my duty to inform you, that unless more stringent measures are adopted immediately, our God Fishing business with become depleted as the Lobster Fishery has reached”- Excerpt from J.O Morrisons Letter in 1894. Source: Collections Canada.

1900s– 

  • Administrators and others who manage water learned that they could protect drinking and household water through chlorination more affordably than caring for the groundwater source directly. 

1910s— 

  • Senator Napoleon Belcourt stated that “the individual and the public as well, have an inalienable and indefeasible right to pure water”, during fatal typhoid outbreaks affecting vulnerable populations.

1920s— 

  • Chlorination use increases, and was used as a “magic bullet” by health officials in water quality maintenance. This disengaged activism in protecting sources of water supply by water managing bodies. 

1930s— 

  • Drought affected many within the Great Depression era, and new programs to enhance water storage or make flows regular were developed provincially and locally. 
  • In Ontario, water hydroelectricity was explored due to the need for increased energy generation. There was disagreement on how internal water diversions for energy would affect boundary waters, and how the energy that was produced would be shared among boundary stakeholders. 

1940s– 

  • There was an expected post-war reconstruction era, including expansion and development of water and sewage infrastructure across Canada which was provincially and federally funded. 
  • Post-war automobile traffic also increased, and more citizens became aware of the water bodies and natural wonders of Canada. 

Postcard of Maligne Lake, AB (misnamed as Liard River in the Rockies, Alcan Highway) with stamp dating to 1950. Source: Explore North.

1950s– 

  • Washing machines became more common place, and phosphate detergents were used  without an understanding of their effects, which stimulated excessive algal growth in waterbodies. This problem of excess nutrients in waterways still permeates today. 
  • Provincial agencies for pollution control were formally established. Provinces were solely responsible for safeguarding water quality, even though many premiers urged the Prime Minister to take preventative policy action, as a result of the diverse and regular pollution occurring in their provinces. 
  • Environmental public interest groups also formed during this time, engaging with politicians to seek change to water policies and management.

1960s-

  • This decade is filled with discussions of potential water export to our southern neighbour, the US. Of these proposals include NAWAPA (North American Water and Power Alliance), which was a “continent-wide plan for the collection, redistribution and efficient utilization of water running off to the seas totally unused or partially used”. 

Proposed diversion of natural flows of the Yukon, Copper, Kootenay, Fraser, Peace and Columbia Rivers headwaters, to provide water to the south. Source: NAWAPA Website

  • Critical responses to NAWAPA surfaced after the proposal, where Canadian policy makers were sharing that it is our (Canada’s) resource to use with our discretion, and stressed the need to safeguard our water for the generations of Canadian citizens to come. 
  • At the same time this US-Canada water debate was occuring, interprovincial boundaries of prairie water resources were determined by the Prairie Provinces Water Board.

1970s– 

  • The Canadian government established the Canada Waters Act (CWA) in 1970, and the Department of Environment in 1971, to address Canadian citizens’ concern with freshwater security. The CWA is to “address any aspects of water resource management that relates to restoring, maintaining or improving the quality of water” where in parts of the country water quality management has become a “matter of urgent national concern”. There has been criticism to what the CWA has actually done to intervene when water quality management has become a national concern. 
  • The province of Manitoba tried to assert that mercury pollution coming from their provincial neighbours affected their fish, therefore their water policy laws can be used in court against the companies; the Supreme Court did not rule in their favour. 
  • Indigenous groups emphasize their rights in resource use through their connection to the environment in proposals on hydroelectric dams, and other water projects on their lands (Ontario hydroelectric dams are one example). 

1980s– 

  • In 1987 the Federal Water Policy came into place following extensive discussions and consults across Canada in 1984-1985. The Federal Water Policy’s overall objective is “to encourage the use of freshwater in an efficient and equitable manner consistent with the social, economic and environmental needs of present and future generations”. Twenty- five specific policy recommendations were made for five strategic directions: water pricing, science leadership, integrated planning, public awareness and legislation. 

1990s– 

  • Free trade negotiations (now NAFTA) between the US and Canada, and later Mexico had Canadians anxious of the possibility of water exports. (Canadians are still anxious today regarding NAFTA and water trade, with the political climate in the US having changed hands.)
  • Some news articles stated that Canadians anxiety was ‘truly strange’ as water is so abundant a resource “it falls from the sky”. Many Canadian scientists scoffed at the naive reporters sharing that Canada should export their water to willing buyers. In the end water found in Canada remained in the hands of Canadians. 

2000s–

  • Canadians thought that safe drinking water access for all had been achieved in Canada, but with communities like Walkerton, North Battleford and Kashechewan experiencing water quality crises; the public’s eyes opened. Without national drinking water standards, provinces replied to the separate crises and invested in technological changes and structures to ensure drinking water safety. (Note: First Nations reserves are under federal jurisdiction for infrastructure including water infrastructure, not provincial).

Source: CBC Video: Is Canada’s Drinking Water Safe?

2010s– 

Source: Government of Canada: End long term drinking water advisories.

  • In 2017, the federal government committed an additional $49 M over three years, and in 2018 an additional $173 M to improve water infrastructure, operator training and innovative First Nations-led technical service delivery models. 
  • In 2019, an additional $739 M each year over 5 years was committed to maintaining no long term drinking water advisories via the federal government.
  • As of July 10, 2019 eighty-five long term drinking water advisories (water advisories over a year) had been lifted, with 58 remaining to be resolved by March 2021. Short term drinking water advisories (less than a year) don’t have any federal commitment to address. 

Today–

  • When the Liberal government was elected into Parliament they made commitments to infrastructure development across Canada, including the commitment to lift the long term drinking water advisories detailed above. Critics state that the roll-out of these initiatives and the funding has been slow across the country and, they question if non-disclosed internal reasons are the result. The federal government shares it is external reasons that have slowed the process, such as excessive paperwork from accepting community proposals and on-the-ground construction delays. 
  • Make it Safe is one initiative by concerned citizens, that shares stories of First Nations communities who lack access to reliable and clean water. This initiative calls for more prompt and widespread action from the federal government in addressing their citizens concerns.  
  • The Council of Canadians advocate for new, updated Federal Water policy, that looks at water security and protection more seriously. The image below is some of their concerns with the existing water management, and steps they see need to be implemented by government.

Council of Canadians Alternative Federal Budget 2019- Federal Water Policy. Source: Council of Canadians

  • Global Water Futures, is another activist group that recognizes the need for new federal water policy to address the changing needs of our country within the current climate crisis.

 

As the 2010s come to a close and the 2020s open a new decade in a few short months, what do you want to see in federal, provincial, or local water policy? What within this article strikes a chord and really pushes you to get involved in any aspects of water rights, policy or join water groups? I invite you to research the history and/or policies shared above further, and to use this new knowledge to engage in your community and country. Happy change-making my friends. 

 

Sources

Benidickson, J. (2017). The Evolution of Canadian Water Law and Policy: Securing Safe and Sustainable Abundance. McGill International Journal of Sustainable Development Law & Policy, 13(1), 59-104.

https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/water-overview/governance-legislation/provincial-territorial.html

https://www.ec.gc.ca/eau-water/default.asp?lang=En&n=E05A7F81-1&wbdisable=true

https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-11/index.html

http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/R2-445-2006E1.pdf

https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/canadian-state/023012-1615-e.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napol%C3%A9on_Belcourt

http://www.explorenorth.com/library/roads/images/alaska_hwy-pc-liard_river-maligne_lake.html

http://www.ec.gc.ca/grandslacs-greatlakes/default.asp?lang=En&n=6201fd24-1#a2

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_Water_and_Power_Alliance

http://www.applet-magic.com/NAWAPA.htm

https://www.ppwb.ca/

https://canadians.org/factsheet-nafta-water

https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1780868877

http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/docs/c20050905ce.pdf

http://publications.gc.ca/site/eng/298371/publication.html

https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1313426883501/1313426958782

https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1506514143353/1533317130660

https://www.canadianbusiness.com/business-news/liberals-infrastructure-program-problems-detailed-in-internal-documents/

https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/06/07/make-it-safe/canadas-obligation-end-first-nations-water-crisis

https://canadians.org/waterpolicy

https://gwf.usask.ca/articles/2019/canada-water-policy.php

Image by roegger via Pixabay.

 

Rachel’s Five Favorite River Valley Adventures

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I didn’t grow up in Edmonton around the North Saskatchewan River, but instead on a grain and cattle farm where the river was a five minute drive away, and was inhabited by more wildlife than humans. Growing up, the river represented a place where fun was had; a place where I’d spend the day fishing with family friends and where my siblings and I would chase each other through the river brush trying to catch birds and each other.

Since moving to Edmonton to attend the University of Alberta to study Biology and Anthropology, I have experienced the river in a much different way. My new Edmontonian friends called the river “dirty”, and were shocked when I shared my love and fond memories of the banks on which my childhood was spent. They couldn’t believe I had ever swam in it, or eaten the fish from its waters.

Though I respected my friends concern for safety around the river, I didn’t let the negative view they had taint my love of the waterbody. Throughout the five years I’ve lived in Edmonton I continued to regularly engage with the river, and it has become an essential part of my life in Edmonton. As a result, I am very excited to be the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper’s Swimmable Water Intern for the summer, and to share with you my five favorite ways to interact with the River this spring and summer!

(1) Run (or Walk or Wheel) Next to It

No need to head to the gym to get your exercise in, as the Edmonton River Valley has over 150 km of multi-use trails, many of which follow the river or give way to stunning perspectives of it. I highly encourage you to gather up friends or family, and check out the running and biking trails right in your backyard. My personal favorite running route that I have found since exploring, is crossing the High Level bridge and looping back on the Groat bridge to get two different, yet equally gorgeous perspectives of the river valley and the river. As for wheeling, I prefer exploring the multiple trails within Mill Creek Ravine as I always find new critters and sights, and many fellow cyclists enjoying the view.

(2) Stop and Stare

I know as a busy student involved in multiple extracurriculars myself, that taking time for yourself to enjoy the environment around you is something that can easily get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday tasks. But finding small slivers of time and seeking out a quiet place on the bank of the river with loved ones or a book, can make for a nice relaxing session you may not have even realized you needed. Studies have shown that by spending time in natural settings, it can lead to increased mood, cognition, and mental health through the connection one feels with nature. These benefits could help you in mastery of your daily work and life tasks, and I cannot think of a better place in Edmonton to get your nature fix than the river valley!

(3) Take Ownership (and Clean Up)

Serving my community in multiple capacities is something I’ve always been passionate about, and the river and its ecosystem are no exception. All you need is garbage bags, some gloves and maybe some water-inspired tunes to get out and clean up your community. The North Saskatchewan River is a natural resource we are very lucky to have, and by taking a few minutes within your nature walk to pick up litter, you can contribute to the health of the river and the city. Be sure to report any other pollution you see by calling the Alberta Environmental Hotline to report a spill (1-800-222-6514), and 311 for other pollution reporting inquiries. You can also report pollution through the SwimGuide app (available through IOS and Android).

If you think that picking up garbage in the river valley can’t be fun? Check out one of the world’s newest ‘sports’ called “Plogging”! It originated in Sweden and involves running while picking up garbage, and there’s even a Plogging Canada group you can join for the latest updates/meetups

(4) Fish (Sustainably)

Fishing in the North Saskatchewan was something I thought of as commonplace growing up. I enjoy how it taught me patience and always left me with a good tan. With your fishing gear and knowledge of Alberta Fishing guidelines, you can head down to many of the common fishing spots within and outside Edmonton, and you can catch up to eight different species of fish. July Family Fishing Weekend is coming up on July 6-7, and is a great time to try out fishing for free, as no fishing license is required during this weekend.

As for eating fish from the river, it is recommended by the City of Edmonton that you should eat no more than one fish a week and not consume any if you are pregnant, a woman of child-bearing age or children below fifteen. This is due to safety precautions surrounding the naturally occurring mercury content possibly present in the fish tissue.

(5) Enjoy an Event on It

If you have never floated down a river on floaties all tied together, soaking up the summer sun with friends, you must. It is easily one of my favorite memories on the river. Be sure to do your research beforehand on the route you wish to float, and the safety equipment you should bring along. If you don’t already own equipment, consider going through a company to rent the equipment and enjoy the added benefit of their shuttle service.

If floating down the river on floaties isn’t for you, there are other events on the river that I have enjoyed, such as those put on by the Edmonton Riverboat! The Riverboat’s rides are around 90 minutes and they host various seasonal events. A trip on the Riverboat will allow you to see Edmonton from a whole new perspective.

Another event that offers you a chance to get on the river is Epcor’s Riverfest in Edmonton and Devon, coming up on Saturday August 10th. The whole event is a celebration of the North Saskatchewan River and River Valley park system, and they have ticket sales on right now for a float down the river on a raft or voyageur canoe. Throughout the day, there will also be a bunch of free river-centered land activities located in Laurier Park to check out, and the opportunity to connect with river-valley related businesses and clubs!

I hope you enjoyed my favorite Edmonton river valley activities and are inspired to get out and about in and around the river this spring and summer. I also encourage you to explore the river valley in any way you dream up, and to share your river valley experiences with friends and family.

 

Sources:

Knight, T. M., Bowler, D. E., Buyung-Ali, L. M., Knight, T., & Pullin, A. S. (2010). A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural environmentsBMC Public Health10, 456.

https://www.edmonton.ca/activities_parks_recreation/parks_rivervalley/river-valley-trail-maps.aspx

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/plogging-jogging-trash-pick-up-1.4594739

https://epcorriverfest.ca/

https://www.edmontonriverboat.ca/

https://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/environmental_stewardship/environmental-release-reporting.aspx

https://www.edmonton.ca/activities_parks_recreation/parks_rivervalley/fishing.aspx

http://www.albertafishingguide.com/resources/rules-and-regulations

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
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