Understanding Water Treatment + Wastewater Treatment

Posted in: Water Quality | 0

If you live in Edmonton, there is a strong chance that you already know that your drinking water comes from the North Saskatchewan River and that your wastewater gets discharged into it following treatment. You also probably know that Edmonton has two water treatment plants that the river can pass through on the way to your taps, the E.L Smith and the Rossdale Treatment Plant, and that the wastewater treatment plant is called the Goldbar Wastewater Treatment Plant. 


If you’re like me and most Edmontonians, beyond naming the water treatment facilities, more specific details of the water treatment processes are a mystery. In this blog I will explain the water treatment process in layperson’s terms for both drinking water and wastewater. I hope this blog will help in understanding how our river water becomes our drinking water and how our wastewater is returned to the river! Throughout I also ask some questions that I’d like you to answer in your head. These questions will allow you to connect the water treatment process with your everyday life and to think about how activities going on in these EPCOR plants affect your day. 


From the North Saskatchewan River to your Tap.

Image credit: Screen capture from EPCOR Treatment Handout. 


  1. Pre- Water Treatment: Water intake of the River

The intakes for the water treatment plants are in the deepest parts of the North Saskatchewan River. This is so that oil (naturally occurring and from human activity) and floating debris on the river’s surface do not come near the intake and obstruct it. The intake depth is also helpful during winter when the surface of the river is ice, so water below can still come into the intake. The intake structure at the E.L. Smith water plant has a fish return so the fish are gently deposited downstream if they come near the intake. There are also screens with small holes just before the low-lift pumps to strain out debris which may enter the plant such as sticks, fish and leaves. 


  1. Chemical Addition + Rapid Mix + Flocculation 

Once the water is in the treatment plant via the low-lift pumps, the first chemical treatment is the addition of Alum (aluminum sulphate) and powdered activated carbon. These chemicals are added from feed pumps, and are adjustable to supply the correct dosages based on the river water properties. Alum is added to remove suspended solids and powdered activated carbon is added to absorb taste, odour and colour-causing compounds. 

The rapid mix is necessary to mix alum and carbon chemicals thoroughly with the water to treat the water. Rapid mix is the process of the water and chemicals being rapidly mixed or shaken together in an enclosed basin. 

After the rapid mix, a polymer is added to the water to encourage the formation of “flocs”. The polymer acts like a glue to bind particles together and when Alum, polymer and dirt combine they become heavy and settle to the bottom of a basin. This mixture is then called sludge. This process, which removes dirt, silt and micro-organisms from the raw water supply drawn in from the river, is known as flocculation. At this stage up to 99% of the sediment has been removed from our drinking water.


  1. Sludge gets the Residuals Treatment

After the floc is formed, it settles to the bottom of the clarifying basin as sludge.

The sludge is removed from the basin and clear water is decanted from the surface. The sludge is treated in residuals treatment, where as much water as possible is recycled, and the remaining silt and debris collected are sent to the landfill. The clear water, which has undergone the clarification process by the removal of sludge, moves on to disinfection.


  1. Clear Water gets Disinfected

Free chlorine is added to the clear water after clarification to kill any remaining harmful bacteria and microbes. Ultraviolet (UV) disinfection also occurs to render the microorganisms harmless. The UV light is similar to what shines down from the sun or a tanning bed, it disrupts processes (such as DNA) in the microorganisms rendering them unable to do any cellular functions. Humans exposed to UV light without protection can also experience cellular damage, so be sure to follow sun safety when you’re outside.

Ammonia is then added to the water, to combine with the chlorine to form a disinfectant called monochloramine. Monochloramine can destroy harmful bacteria in the water system and keeps the water safe from any bacteria that happens to enter the water or pipes.


  1. Clear Water undergoes Filtration

The clear and disinfected water is then filtered by moving it through a layer of anthracite coal and a layer of sand, where any remaining particles in the water will get stuck. The coal and sand filters are cleaned regularly by pumping air and water back up through the sand and coal to dislodge any particles that have been stuck, and they are removed for disposal. After the water is filtered, fluoride is added. Flouride is the only chemical added to drinking water in Canada for medical treatment. A concentration of 0.7 mg/L is recommended by Health Canada guidelines for dental health. Fluoride has been a federal recommendation since 1967!


  1. Last additions + Dechlorination

Caustic soda is added to the water near the end of the treatment process to raise the pH of the water, making it more alkaline than acidic. The pH is raised to minimize corrosion problems in the distribution system and customers home piping system. It can also help deter lead, iron, and copper from entering the water from plumbing pipes and fixtures. 


  1. Reservoir Storage + High lift pumping for distribution

After filtration, the water will move to on-site reservoirs where it will be stored until it is needed. This is to allow the treatment plant to handle variations in water demand all day. High-lift pumps move the water into pipes to homes, and businesses based on need.


Connection Questions

  • What were three new things you learned, or are curious to learn more about in your water treatment process? I encourage you to explore on the internet, and share your thoughts with your family and friends. 
  • Did you know that fluoride was added to your water to protect your, and your families dental health? Further reading on water fluoridation in Canada. 
  • When you use your tap water to make morning coffee, how many hours before turning on your faucet do you think the water was in the North Saskatchewan River? 7-15 hours!
  • Did it surprise you that the treatment plant adjusted the pH of the water to protect your home piping system? 
  • Can you think of the two highest times for water demand during a day? It is the morning before work and then mid-afternoon when everyone gets home from work to make dinner, and spent time at home.
  • Do you ever notice a smell to your tap water in Edmonton? EPCOR conducts regular odour tests of their water, and adjust their treatment processes accordingly with the odour. They especially do so during spring run-off!


Now that we know how the water moves from the North Saskatchewan River to your tap, let’s cover what happens when you flush your toilet. Where does the water go and how is it treated?


From your Toilet, Sink or Shower to the River.

In Edmonton, the Gold Bar wastewater treatment plant houses complex processes that remove contaminants from the water, allowing it to be released as effluent into the North Saskatchewan River. 


Image credit: EPCOR Goldbar Treatment Plant Website.

Image Credit: EPCOR Website


  1. Pre-Treatment

In this stage, the wastewater from homes and businesses enters the plant. The plant equipment is protected as large materials (such as wood, sticks or leaves) are removed to limit the wear and tear on the plant, while also improving the quality of organic solids to be treated. This eases the wastewater treatment process later on. Wastewater moves through large tanks that slow down the flow, so solids can settle to the bottom. Grit (sand-like particles mixed with debris and mud) drop to the bottom of the tank and are removed. The wastewater exits the tanks through screens so plastic, rags and wood are trapped. These trapped materials and the grit will be disposed of at a local landfill. Once through the aerated tanks, the wastewater moves to the primary clarifiers.


  1. Primary Treatment

This step is a physical process that relies on waste settling via gravity. Similar to the water treatment process outlined above, alum and polymer are added to attach to dirt and debris to form flocs. The process of flocculation catches small debris that could not be caught in pre-treatment or through the screens. Heavier particles will sink to the bottom and lighter particles will float to the top. There is a rake that will move the flocs and particles along the bottom to a collection point, and then rake will also come to the top and remove the floating scum to a collection point. 

The solids and scum are piped away for solids handling and the primary effluent (the water left over) moves on to secondary treatment.


  1. Secondary Treatment 

The remaining organic matter in the water will not settle out by gravity, therefore the effluent is moved into fermenter and digester tanks for treatment which create “biosolids”. The digesters used are microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, and protozoa) and organic matter. Microorganisms feed on the dissolved organic matter and nutrients such an ammonia and phosphorus, breaking them down. It is important the microorganisms remove nutrients from the treated wastewater as high nutrient concentrations could harm the fish in the river or cause uncontrolled algae growth. 

Following digestion, the water goes through a settling process in the clarifiers where the well- fed microorganisms bind together as ‘flocs’. These flocs will sink and be raked away to be moved to solids treatment. At the end of this stage 95-97% of the organic impurities have been removed. 


  1. Tertiary Treatment 

The final water treatment step is disinfection and the removal of any leftover phosphorus and ammonia. 

Around 5% of the water bypasses UV light treatment, and instead passes through porous synthetic strands, which allows water to pass but acts as a barrier to even the smallest bacteria. This produces high-grade process water for industry, as this water will have zero bacteria or contaminants present in it due to the membrane filtration process. 

The other 95% of the water undergoes high intensity Ultraviolet (UV) light to disinfect the water in a few short minutes. This chemical-free disinfection treatment allow the wastewater to be safe for contact in recreational activities when it leaves the plant outfall. 


The sludge, known as biosolids, that are generated in the processes can be digested in a chamber without any oxygen (anaerobically) to reduce the organic components in the solids. This process produces biogas, which the Goldbar Treatment Plant uses for their boiler and heating systems, which saves the plant money. The remaining sludge is hauled to the Cloverbar sludge lagoon. After the solids and liquids separate the solids can be used for composting material or as fertilizers for farms and gardens in the Edmonton area.


Edmonton still has combined sewers in older neighbourhoods built before 1960. During wet weather conditions, such as this summer, the combined sewers often capture more runoff from the rain that they can handle and this can result in wastewater overflowing into the river. In recent years there has been work to enhance the primary treatment capacity so the plant can take in more in seasonal flows, reducing untreated overflow into the river. The Goldbar Wastewater Treatment Plant has one of the river’s major combined sewer outfalls, and actually undergoes the primary treatment processes outlined above before entering the river!


Connection Questions: 

  • Were you surprised by any of the processes outlined, or motivated to explore something you read further? I encourage you to look up things you found interesting, or programs you could engage in such as the biosolids fertilizer for your garden!
  • Did you know that Edmonton had combined sewers, especially in older neighbourhoods, that in heavy rainfall bring diluted sewage into the river? What do you think of this? In recent years EPCOR has worked on this in their primary treatment area of the plant, even with the heavy rainfalls we have had this year it is improving!
  • Did the lack of heavy chemicals in the wastewater treatment process surprise you? It sure surprised me! I think it is very interesting how the treatment plant uses limited chemicals, natural microorganisms, UV light and synthetic screens to purify the wastewater!
  • How much of the water that you flush and send down the drain makes it back to the river? As much as 90%!
  • Did you know that microorganisms played such a large role in purifying your wastewater? Where else do you think microorganisms play a role in your everyday life? Microorganisms are great for breaking down organic matter, they multiply fast and by mixing oxygen in the digesters, can be very productive at their job of digesting waste. Microorganisms are used in making dairy products, bread and many beverages. This is just one example among many of how microorganisms play a role in your everyday life.  


Every time you turn on a tap, take a shower or flush the toilet you are interacting with the water treatment processes outlined above. In the questions I shared I hope you learned something new and considered how water treatment process affects your life. I hope this blog drew you to consider how essential water treatment facilities are, and to appreciate the processes in which tap water arrives at your house or how wastewater is whisked away. Share this article with friends and family to educate and inspire them to learn more about water treatment. 











Cover Image by kubinger from Pixabay 

Sustainability: Water Edition

All the buzz right now about sustainability is great, but if you’re like me, it can be challenging to understand what sustainability really means and how to achieve it. Therefore, in this article I try to break down this common buzzword into bite-size chunks, focusing on water sustainability in Canada, and in our everyday lives. 


According to the Cambridge English dictionary, the word sustainability means: the quality of causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore (the practice is) able to continue for a long time. Within a subsection of this definition specific to natural resources and the environment, sustainability is defined as: the idea that goods and services should be produced in ways that do not use resources that cannot be replaced and that do not damage the environment. This definition is more applicable to practices that we hear people talking about, such as bringing their own food containers to avoid using single-use plastic, and choosing public transit over personal transportation to reduce carbon emissions. Overall, I think sustainability for the individual is being conscious of the steps we take today, and working to uphold a future we wish to have for the Earth tomorrow. This is especially important when thinking about the sustainability of water, as it is an essential resource for all life.


Natural resources are materials or substances that are found in nature, and can be used for economic gain. Water is the world’s most abundant natural resource, with other natural resources including soil, oil, natural gas and wind. Even though water is the largest natural resource on Earth, with water covering 70% of the earth’s surface, only 3% of water available is freshwater. Of that 3%, only 1/3 is readily available for use, the other ⅔ is locked away in glaciers and icecaps. Freshwater sources that are available to us can be surface waters (such as rivers, lakes, springs), atmospheric water and groundwater. This freshwater is what we use in everyday activities such as cleaning, bathing, watering our plants and cooking. There has been the same amount of freshwater on earth since the dinosaurs, but as a result of the human population expanding, the world water demand has increased. With increased demand and the same resource supply, the competition for clean water to sustain all aspects of life intensifies. A question you’re probably wondering: Why don’t we just desalinate the salty water if 97% of the water on earth is salty? And though that’s very innovative thinking, very high energy and advanced technology is required  to remove salt from water, and therefore this method is relatively inaccessible as a freshwater replenishment strategy. 


Canada is lucky to have around 20% of the world’s freshwater, but of which only 7% is renewable. Renewable resources are replenished naturally over time, where nonrenewable resources, like coal and oil have limited amounts available on Earth. Even with an abundance of freshwater in our country, there is still inequality in water access with some communities having limited or no access to safe drinking water. This is especially true for remote communities and Indigenous peoples in Canada, who are disproportionately affected by the water inequality crisis as a result of poor resource planning and/or infrastructure. Another question you may have, is why do Indigenous peoples have poor resource planning, or water infrastructure? Following colonization, Indigenous peoples were taken from their traditional lands and placed on federal land reserves where all the infrastructure, including water, is the responsibility of the federal government. On these reserves there is no legislation – as there is in the provinces – governing drinking water standards and accessibility (2005 Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development report).


Now that we understand what sustainability means, and know some freshwater facts about Canada, I share some actionable steps you and I can take everyday to ensure water sustainability for our collective future. Many of the recommendations I list below are based on that in Canada, many of us have unlimited, uncontrolled access to clean water. As a result of this, it is important as global citizens to consider how best we should manage this privilege, and how we should encourage others to manage it as well. 


Some small things you can start doing today:

  • Skip the bottled water. The water quality testing for tap water from your municipality is often tested at a higher quality threshold than bottled water, therefore there is no reason to be seeking out bottled water as a ‘cleaner’ water. The plastic bottles each actually uses one litre of water to make, and also create unnecessary waste that often contribute to the microplastics found in Canadian water bodies today. (On that note: skip plastics when you can and try to bring reusable containers to limit the plastic waste you make in general. Check out Plastic Free July to commit.)
  • Consider what is necessary + change daily practices. Do you have automatic lawn watering, let the tap run while you brush your teeth, have super long showers, have a leaky faucet you haven’t got around to fixing, or do you wash laundry with only two items? Think about the unnecessary ways you and your community use water, and change your ways today. Our growing population is putting an unnecessary demand on the limited water resources of the world, and many of us are so lucky to have unlimited access to it so our responsibility to be sure we’re not wasting a precious resource.
  • Some thoughts for homeowners. 
    • Consider investing in high efficiency machines that use water sustainably, not only will you reduce greenhouse emissions, but you will also save money on your utility bills! The City of Edmonton even has a bylaw for the promotion of the use of high efficiency fixtures.
    • Think about using a rain barrel to catch rainwater, for watering your plants or lawn rather than using freshwater from the tap or hose. 
    • Consider low-impact development (LID) for your garden, a great example from EPCOR is a rain garden.  If LID is not for you, consider eco-landscaping, which is a design technique for your yard to use water efficiently, involving selective planting to reduce water use.
  • Think about the river (or other waterbody). Think about what you flush down the toilet, and consider if it may have harmful effects. Check out the City of Edmonton’s “ways to keep the river healthy”, such as how to wash your car and dispose of chemicals while being mindful of the river.
  • Support water sustainability initiatives. Another key step as a global citizen is engaging water sustainability in your communities, and seeking out like-minded individuals can be very motivating. Some Edmonton-specific examples include the Master Composter Recycler program, Waste Free Edmonton, Northern Climate and Stewardship and Sustainability Society and Climate Justice Edmonton.  


I hope this article drew you to consider how you use water every day, to learn some new water sustainability practices, and to think about how you can include them in everyday life. I encourage you to share this article with friends and family to continue the conversation on water sustainability in your community, and to ensure the future entails water that is swimmable, fishable and drinkable. We should not take the clean water accessibility we have for granted, and should work for change on a global level, so all can have access to clean safe water. 














Image by Alain Audet from Pixabay

Watermark with Kevin Lowe

One of North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper’s directors, Kevin Lowe’s interest in clean water grew out of his original bond with the Shuswap Lake. As he became educated on everyday practices that were threatening our watersheds, Kevin felt a pull to take responsibility for stewardship of this lake and other waters. Along with his wife Karen, Kevin has developed a leadership role as a Canadian Trustee in the Waterkeeper Alliance. They have worked hard in collaboration with other Canadian waterkeepers to make the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper program a leader in the protection and preservation of our watershed.

As the President of Hockey Operations for the Edmonton Oilers and long-time resident of Edmonton, Kevin demonstrates commitment and dedication to making Edmonton a great city. Other endeavours include his support for fundraising efforts by the Stollery Children’s Hospital and leadership role with the Edmonton Oiler Community Foundation.

I grew up about an hour northwest of Montreal in the small city of Lachute, nestled in the foothills of the Laurentians, in Quebec’s cottage country. My family didn’t own a cottage back then; my father and uncles worked together running the family business and I think that sort of forced us to stick close to town during the summer months. But that never stopped us from loading the whole family up in our cars on hot, humid summer days and taking the 20 minute drive north to picnic at a place we used to called ‘Flat Rocks’. It was a spot where a stream (whose name escapes me now) flowed over a series of little waterfalls, forming small pools that were perfect for swimming. I’ll always remember the instant relief I felt jumping into those cool clean waters, and the great times we had together on the banks.

Now my family does have a cottage. It’s on Shuswap Lake in Southern B.C., where the summers are often scorching. On some of the hottest days, my wife and I would take our kids on hikes through Herald Provincial Park to Margaret Falls so we could all cool off in the spray from the waterfall. The comparison feels a bit funny now, but standing in the mists of that thundering waterfall with my kids would always bring me back to those days splashing around at the Flat Rocks with my family. I guess that’s probably why I care so much about safeguarding swimmable, drinkable, fishable water today; so everyone has a place to beat the heat and enjoy some good times with the people they love.

North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper is proud to be a part of the Watermark Project! To learn more about the Project and to check out Karen’s Watermark, visit the Watermark Project Archive.

To submit a Watermark of your own click here.

Watermark with Karen Percy Lowe

Born and raised near the Bow River in Banff, Karen has always felt a connection with water and passion for global water issues. An Olympic and professional downhill skier, Karen’s interest and concern grew when she was asked to ski with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at the Annual Waterkeeper Alliance fundraiser in Banff six years ago. Wanting to bring her passion to the watersheds of her home province, Karen forged a lasting relationship with the Alliance.

Two-time Olympic Bronze Medalist, recipient of the Order of Canada, and mother of five; she is now an active Waterkeeper Trustee, and dedicates ongoing time and support to the efforts of the Waterkeeper Alliance as President of North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper.

I ski-raced for a long time but now I am a mother of four and I do a lot of charity work – which includes being the president of North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper.

Water has been a special part of my life for a really long time. I grew up in Banff, Alberta. The water was so cold there it took your breath away. I used to go canoeing a lot but I was a really big windsurfer. A group of us would take our boards and go to Jack Lake and windsurf. Growing up, I spent my summers by the water. My family would pile in the station wagon and go on trips, and my dad always insisted that we had to park the trailer by a lake.

There are two waterbodies that have made a big impact on my life. The first is the North Saskatchewan River. Twenty-five years ago I married Kevin Lowe. We lived in Edmonton and in New York for a few years and then found ourselves back in Edmonton when he was traded. This is where we raised our four children. My family has lived by this river for a long time. It is important to me that the river is protected because it is Edmonton’s source of drinking water. I want people to have drinking water from the North Saskatchewan River for generations to come. I also run a lot. There are a lot of great trails that run along the river. Years ago I was training for a marathon and I would run down one trail beside the river and back up on the other side. It really is beautiful.

The other water body that I am connected to is Shuswap Lake in British Columbia. We have spent our summers there since 1992. All my kids come – but so do other family members and it ends up being 20 people by the lake. My kids love going there. We swim, fish, jump off the dock, waterski, make waterski pyramids, have canoe races, and paddleboard races. When my kids were young I used to put them to bed and wake them up when it was dark so we could jump in the lake at night. It was a tradition. Its beautiful to be able to jump in the lake. I want my kid’s children to be able to experience that.

Every year I want to do one special thing when the kids come to Shuswap Lake. In the past, we have had seven people waterski behind the boat at one time, we made a water ski pyramid. Then the following year, we made a bigger water ski pyramid. We do it every year, so next year’s pyramid will be even bigger.

I got involved with protecting water when Kevin and I became trustees for Waterkeeper Alliance. We helped raise money and brought people we knew to the events. People kept asking me what was Waterkeeper Alliance, so rather than just explain it, I decided to walk the talk and do something. I wanted to do something local, so that people could understand what Waterkeeper was and see that the money was going local. It was a big project, but I just wanted to explain to people what we were doing and to help grow clean water in Canada. I wanted to protect the water we have since it is our drinking water.

North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper is proud to be a part of the Watermark Project! To learn more about the Project and to check out Karen’s Watermark, visit the Watermark Project Archive.

To submit a Watermark of your own click here.

The Watermark Project is Here!

North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper, in partnership with the National Water Centre and Waterkeepers across Canada, is proud to announce the official launch of the Watermark Project!

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 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.

That is why we created the Watermark Project: to collect and archive Canadian water stories to demonstrate why swimmable drinkable fishable water matters.

When you think about your favourite body of water, what comes to mind? When you recall your most powerful memory of being on the water, what is it?  Everyone has a story – a Watermark – that connects them to a waterbody; provides them with another reason to protect it. That story often becomes the most powerful reason for protecting swimmable, drinkable, fishable water. And so it should.

Watermark’s are personal and powerful. Whether your Watermark is a positive or negative story about water, it is also valuable information about your environment, at a specific place, at a specific moment, with real people. In addition to being a powerful reminder of your connection to water, it also records and archives important information that can be used to protect water from future threats. Your Watermark is a ripple in a project intended to keep Canada a place where everyone and everything can safely swim, drink, and fish.

Recording and sharing your Watermark is an incredible personal experience. You can learn so much about yourself by submitting a Watermark, making that connection to a waterbody, causing that ripple. Help us protect your waterbody.

Try it. Build a force strong enough to cause a shift in our water culture so you can’t ever forget again.

Click Here to Discover the Watermark Project!


Reblogged from The National Water Centre



Watermark with Rachel Schoeler

Posted in: Case Studies, News, Recreation, Water Quality | 0

North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper is excited to be partnering in the Watermark Project in 2016!

The Watermark Project is a digital archive that preserves and protects Canada’s water heritage through storytelling. It acts both as a registry for the waters that Canadians love to use, as well as a unique clearinghouse for people’s powerful and personal experiences on those waterbodies.

Check out this awesome video featuring a Watermark from Rachel Schoeler with our friends at Fraser Riverkeeper in Vancouver, BC. Back in August of 2014, Rachel took on the challenge of swimming solo across the Georgia Strait without a wet-suit to raise awareness of recreational water quality issues; becoming the first woman in over 40 years to make the crossing!


Be sure to keep an eye on our blog for news about the launch of the Watermark Project website and more Watermarks from North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper’s Directors and other great Canadian water leaders coming in the new year!


Source: Fraser Riverkeeper – http://www.fraserriverkeeper.ca/watermark_rachel_schoeler

Federal Government Declares Proposed Mine Site To Be Critical Habitat

Last week, the federal government declared that dozens of streams and rivers in southwestern Alberta are critical habitat for endangered trout species.

On December 2nd, the Alberta Wilderness Association said that it would drop a lawsuit against Ottawa which sought to force the federal government to issue the order. Under law, critical habitat for native cutthroat trout was supposed to have been declared more than a year ago under the previous Conservative government.

“We’re happy that we likely do not have to follow through with it,” said Brittany Verbeek, the association’s conservation director.

Verbeek said the order lends protection to the creeks, streams and tributaries draining into the Oldman and Crowsnest rivers that are home to the trout. The fish were already protected under the Fisheries Act; now their home is protected under the Species At Risk Act.

“It just means that the area surrounding where the fish live has that increased protection.”

Changes to the stream, such as increasing its sediment load, are now forbidden.

The Alberta government is considering an application from a subsidiary of an Australian company to build a coal mine on a mountaintop in the protected habitat. Benga Mining proposes to turn 12 square kilometres on the top of Grassy Mountain near Blairmore into a terraced site.

At the same time, the province’s energy regulator is investigating the company for a release of coal into Gold Creek, one of the streams included in the critical habitat declaration.

A recent survey by a fisheries biologist found virtually all southern Alberta streams that spawn native trout are threatened by industrial development or overuse.

Lorne Fitch studied 54 small rivers and streams that flow into the Oldman River and which hold bull and cutthroat trout, largely in the area now considered critical habitat. He found nearly all of them face damage from logging roads, energy development and off-highway vehicle trails.

Scientists suggest land that contains trout streams shouldn’t have more than just over half a kilometre of trail, cutline or road per square kilometre. The disturbance density in parts of the Oldman watershed is nearly 10 times that.

Cutthroat populations are estimated at five per cent of historic levels.


From Bob Weber – The Canadian Press

Source: http://www.ctvnews.ca/business/feds-say-proposed-alberta-coal-mine-site-a-key-fish-habitat-1.2684688

Photo credit: Robert Berdan



The Best and Worst Beaches of 2015

Posted in: Recreation, Uncategorized, Water Quality | 0

As swimmable water season comes to a close here in Alberta, North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper and Swim Guide are taking a look back at some of the best and worst beaches from the summer of 2015.

The top 5 beaches of 2015 were:

All five of these beaches remained safe for swimming throughout the entire 2015 sampling season, with zero days of unsafe swimming.

On the other end of the spectrum, 2015’s worst beaches were:

While these four beaches suffered the highest closure rates, they were far from the only ones to experience extended closures during the 2015 season. Without question, the most common cause for beach closures in Alberta this summer was contamination from blue-green algae blooms.

Blue-green algae is a cyanobacteria present in all Alberta lakes. It grows best in still or slow-moving water when the weather is warm, which is part of why we saw so many blooms during the hot and dry summer of 2015. Add nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen to the mix, and the bacteria will reproduce even more rapidly.

You can help to reduce beach closures due to blue-green algae contamination. Here are a few simple actions you can take to limit the flow of nutrients into Alberta’s streams, ponds and lakes:

  • Don’t use more lawn fertilizers than the recommended amount, and keep fertilizers out of storm drains and off driveways and sidewalks.
  • Maintain or plant native plants around shorelines and streams. Native plants don’t require fertilizers and they help filter water.
  • Properly care for and maintain your septic system.
  • Do not allow livestock to drink or defecate in streams or lakes. Don’t overfeed waterfowl.
  • Avoid clearing riparian vegetation to help prevent soil erosion.

Keeping informed about the water quality at our favourite beaches is an important step toward protecting public health and preventing the spread of waterborne illnesses. Make sure that you’re ready for 2016’s swimmable water season. Download Swim Guide today!


Cyanobacteria / Blue-Green Algae – Facts & Information. (2015). Vermont Department of Health. Retrieved from: http://www.healthvermont.gov/enviro/bg_algae/bgalgae_fact.aspx#do

Swim Guide. (2015). http://www.theswimguide.org/

Mapping Swimmer’s Itch Across Alberta

Many of us have had it.


I’m talking about the red, itchy rash we sometimes get after swimming in a lake.

Commonly called “Swimmer’s Itch,” Alberta has seen a considerable rise in the amount of cases reported this year.

Swimmer’s Itch is caused by the small larvae of parasites, known as schistosomes, which are transported by infected snails and deposited into fresh and salt water. These parasites are found in lakes and ponds across Alberta and the rest of Canada.

When the schistome larvae come into contact with your skin, they can penetrate the surface and cause your body to have an allergic reaction in the form of a red, bumpy rash. The rash can last up to two weeks (and will probably drive you crazy).

This summer, Alberta has seen more outbreaks of swimmer’s itch than normal, but it isn’t entirely clear why or how many people are affected each year. This has made it challenging for Alberta Health Services (AHS) to notify swimmers when and where there is a high risk of an outbreak.

This year, AHS teamed up with the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta to dig deeper into the life history and range of this common parasite. Through research and surveys, they’re mapping Swimmer’s Itch in our province. Eventually, the researchers are hoping to be able to predict where and when outbreaks will be the most prevalent. They’ve come up with this risk map, which they’ve put together with the help of swimmers like you documenting when and where they came into contact with the parasite.


Have you had swimmer’s itch? Some of the symptoms include the following:

  • tingling, burning, or itching of the skin
  • small, reddish pimples
  • small blisters

Often, the rash will go away gradually in a week or so, but itching the affected area can cause pimples to develop into small blisters. To learn more, you can read the U of A FAQ on Swimmer’s Itch here.


You can support this project, and help keep Albertans informed, by filling out this survey.



Swimmer’s Itch. swimmersitch.ca.

What is Alberta’s Water Future?

You might have read our blog post back in July talking about WWF’s Canada-wide assessment of our most prominent watersheds. Or our post about the drought-like conditions affecting much of Alberta. WWF’s ambitious Canadian watershed project, along with flooding, wildfires, and drought across our province this summer, have gotten us thinking – what is Alberta’s water future?

Agriculture, urban development, and industrial needs all put pressure on our reserves or ground and surface water. So does your and my personal use.

Of course, water supplies replenish themselves, but our growing population along with climate change are making this cycle, and the availability of our water supply, more variable. With Alberta’s population expected to almost double by 2040, the majority of which will be seen in the Edmonton-Calgary corridor, where will the water we need come from?1

The University of Alberta’s Water Initiative is already working on a project mapping Alberta’s water future, and their research is looking at water supply under various climate variability and climate change scenarios. The Government of Alberta runs the Water for Life strategy, which is committed to managing and safeguarding our water resources. Alberta Innovates, Energy and Environment Solutions (AI-EES) committed $10 million in 2013 to water research projects dedicated to a number of water areas, from drinking water and security to ecosystem management and conservation.

Climate change is perhaps the most challenging component of this to map: we already know that the water cycle is becoming more uncertain due to climate change, and extreme weather is increasing in frequency. Some of these changes include changes in the duration and intensity of precipitation, decreases in snowfall and shorter, warmer winters (like the one we saw this year). We’re also seeing 100-year storms increase in frequency. But it’s not entirely clear how these changes will proceed in the future, and what we can expect over the next generations in conjunction with development, agriculture, and our own everyday needs.

Understanding our sources of ground and surface water in the province will be critical to managing it and ensuring availability for decades to come. It’s important we understand our relationship with water and how our actions will shape it, as it shapes us.



Government of Alberta. (2013). Water for Life. Retrieved from: http://environment.gov.ab.ca/info/library/6364.pdf.