Flow shaping the health of the North Saskatchewan River
The North Saskatchewan River has played a large part in Canada’s history, acting as a significant east-west link across Canada for explorers, traders and settlers since 1807. Owing to that, a section of the river which runs through Banff National Park has been designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS). It joins the South Saskatchewan River in Prince Albert, and then continues on as the Saskatchewan River until reaching Lake Winnipeg. The North Saskatchewan River basin contains 17 parks (four national parks, 10 Alberta provincial parks, three Saskatchewan provincial parks), 35 First Nations reserves, and several ecological areas and wilderness reserves. It is home to over 1.2 million people, the majority of whom live in the Edmonton metropolitan area. It is also home to the lake sturgeon, one of Canada’s largest freshwater fish and a species at risk.
WWF-Canada evaluated the health of the North Saskatchewan as part of our most recent round of Freshwater Health Assessments. It received an overall health score of fair. Scores were good for both fish species and water quality and there was insufficient data to assign as a score for bugs. What negatively impacted the score was that water flows were found to be poor.
There are many water demands on the river including those for hydro power generation, agricultural uses and industry (e.g. oil and gas, mining). If not managed sustainably, these withdraws can have significant impacts on the health of the river. It is now more important than ever that we have as strong understanding of the health and potential impacts on this watershed, as the proposed route of the Northern Gateway pipeline will start at in Bruderheim, which is right on the North Saskatchewan River.
Fortunately there are many local groups in the area working to ensure the river is healthy, including the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance , North Saskatchewan RiverKeeper, North Saskatchewan River Basin Council, Battle River Watershed Alliance – and Partners for the Saskatchewan River Basin. Our hope is that the Freshwater Health Assessment will help bring attention to the status of this river and complement the work done by these groups to improve the overall health.