Water Testing on the North Saskatchewan River

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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