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Does Edmonton Need a River Monitoring Program?


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Yes. Yes we do.

Published in: Environment
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Does Edmonton Need a River Monitoring Program?

  1. 1. Does Edmonton Need a River Monitoring Program? (Yes, yes we do) North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper, a Swim Drink Fish Initiative
  2. 2. In 2017, the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper ran a community-based water quality monitoring program in Edmonton at four different sites along the river. The locations tested were Fort Edmonton Footbridge Beach, Sir Wilfred Laurier Park Boat Launch, Cloverdale Beach (Accidental Beach), and Gold Bar Park Boat Launch. The data obtained from the water quality monitoring program demonstrated differences in water quality in these locations along the North Saskatchewan River. Riverkeeper tested for E. coli as a bacterial indicator for fecal contamination since the discharge of untreated sewage and stormwater into the river and its tributaries poses a major threat to Edmonton’s water quality.
  3. 3. The river was not actively tested in 2018, so the data available for this year’s water quality are much more limited. The sites selected for testing in 2017 are all popular locations for recreational water use, including activities such as canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and swimming. Statistics from the Swim Guide, a comprehensive beach information website and mobile application, demonstrate that there is an increase in online interest of these beach locations. There is a greater population seeking information about places across Edmonton to access the North Saskatchewan River.
  4. 4. The North Saskatchewan River is a popular location for recreational water users. The city of Edmonton offers year-round activities on the river, including canoeing, kayaking, jet skiing, jet boating, fishing, gold panning, and more. Many clubs and organizations encourage recreational water use on the river, such as dragon boat racing, stand up paddleboarding, and rowing. Additionally, there are hundreds of people visiting Edmonton’s beaches every year for swimming. With this great interest in the river comes interest in water quality. People recreating on the water are seeking information regarding the cleanliness and swimmability of the North Saskatchewan River. While we were able to deliver this information in 2017, there was still great demand in 2018. We recommend further testing in 2019 to deliver water quality information to the public.
  5. 5. The construction of the Tawatinâ LRT bridge over the North Saskatchewan River in 2017 caused a sandy beach to appear in the Cloverdale community, which is locally known as Accidental Beach. Hundreds of people visited the beach during the summer of 2017. The following year, the sandy beach returned, but with different conditions. The river level fluctuated significantly in 2018, causing the sand to be submerged for much of the summer. When the beach resurfaced in late August, the city had been affected by very poor air quality from forest fires, followed by a period of low temperatures and high precipitation. Due to the weather and beach conditions, Accidental Beach had fewer visitors in 2018. The attendance of Accidental Beach did not surpass 50 people in a day in 2018. Because of this poor attendance, the city of Edmonton decided not to pursue constructing permanent beaches, as they had been previously debating. The city of Edmonton has proceeded with improving amenities at the site. In 2018 there were more garbage cans, bike racks, and portable toilets, more patrolling by peace officers, and set beach hours of 5AM-11PM. As the North Saskatchewan River continues to change, so will Accidental Beach. Once the construction of the LRT bridge finishes, it is likely that the beach will disappear.
  6. 6. Accidental Beach is not the only beach in Edmonton, there are other locations to access the river across the city. While exploring different potential locations for a permanent beach in Edmonton, the municipal government considered 6 different sites along the North Saskatchewan River. These sites included Rundle Park Beach, Wayne Gretzky Bridge Beach, Accidental Beach, Fort Edmonton Footbridge Beach, Terwillegar Park Beach, and Big Island Archipelago. Ultimately, there will not be any permanent beaches constructed; however, these beaches are still open to the public as they develop along the river.
  7. 7. Photo Credit: Kurt Bauschardt - Flickr
  8. 8. North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper’s water quality monitoring data provided a good overview of water quality for the summer of 2017. The Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality advise caution when E. coli levels exceed 200 colony forming units per 100 millilitres of water (CFU/100mL). The tests exceeding 200 CFU/100mL failed, and tests lower than 200 CFU/100mL passed. Using these metrics, the Fort Edmonton Footbridge beach passed 100% of the time, Sir Wilfred Laurier Park Boat Launch passed 57% of the time, Accidental Beach passed 50% of the time, and Gold Bar Park passed 43% of the time.
  9. 9. As the water flows through Edmonton, the E. coli levels increase, posing a risk to the health of recreational water users. As the North Saskatchewan River flows towards Edmonton, it is relatively clean, but as it travels through the city the water quality diminishes. People recreating on the river could be exposed to urban and sewage pollution, but without testing we are unable to quantify water quality data and share it with the public.
  10. 10. To understand the public interest in urban beaches and water quality, we can look to online search statistics. Statistics from the Swim Guide show the amount of clicks per beach on the website and mobile application. In 2017, Accidental Beach had the most clicks of any beach in Edmonton at 3042. In 2018, the Fort Edmonton Footbridge Beach had the most clicks at 3473, over double the 1538 from the previous year. Overall, the clicks for beaches across Edmonton increased by 2660. This demonstrates that people are seeking out information regarding the beaches in Edmonton.
  11. 11. Due to the high silt and sediment deposits that accumulate along the North Saskatchewan River, sand bars and sandy beaches form. While Accidental Beach may be a temporary accident that disappears following the construction of the bridge, other beaches along the North Saskatchewan River, like the Fort Edmonton Footbridge Beach, provide other locations for beachgoers to visit. Further water quality monitoring programs will provide information on impacts of water runoff and combined sewer overflows on the North Saskatchewan River. This data would be available to inform the public of the quality of their waters, providing them with options of where and when to access the river. We recommend further testing of the North Saskatchewan River at the six sites that the city of Edmonton considered for permanent beaches. These sites are popular beach locations in the summer and require adequate water quality monitoring information for the many recreational water users that currently utilize the river, and the future water users who have yet to discover the opportunities on the river.