North Saskatchewan Water Quality

Posted on Jul 30, 2017 | Steph Neufeld, M.Sc., Watershed Specialist, EPCOR Water Services | 2010

The Edmonton Sustainability Papers - Discussion Paper 4

Water quality in the North Saskatchewan River (NSR) in the last 60 years has undergone some substantial changes. Water quality monitoring was first initiated in the 1940s in response to pollution problems in the NSR associated with the City of Edmonton. At that time municipal wastewater, which included domestic sewage and industrial wastes, received only primary treatment. Untreated sewage was discharged directly into the river during rainfall events, garbage was disposed along the river bank, and accidental oil spills at industrial sites were not uncommon. With these pressures, it is not surprising that water quality was poor. These conditions persistent until about 1960 when waste management was improved and flow‐regulation by the newly constructed Brazeau dam increased winter flows and assimilation capacity during this critical time. Although water quality conditions at the sites downstream of the City of Edmonton continue to reflect urban, industrial, and other inputs, it has improved substantially compared to the 1940s to 1960s. Improvements in water quality in recent years are largely due to wastewater plant upgrades at the Gold Bar and Alberta Capital Region Wastewater Treatment Plants. However, despite improvements, current water and watershed management initiatives call for continued improvement and/or maintenance of water quality atreaches downstream of the City of Edmonton. Moreover, trace contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, endocrine disrupting compounds, pesticides, and metals are of increasing concern and more research is necessary to assess the risks. Peak runoff conditions from upstream also result in significant contaminant loadings from non‐point sources. To maintain levels of other contaminants such that water quality degradation is avoided, management of the cumulative water quality impacts of all future development and land use changes in the region will be required. To achieve this it will be necessary to support comprehensive monitoring, watershed based planning initiatives and proposed water quality objectives and managing both point and non‐point runoff. With a focused integration of land and water planning and management we can expect the NSR to meet the needs of all users, now and in the future.

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