Surface Water Quality Guidelines and Objectives

Water Quality Guidelines

Water quality guidelines are science-based numeric concentrations or narrative statements that are recommended to protect various water uses. These uses include:

  • Agriculture (livestock watering and irrigation)
  • Aquatic life
  • Recreation and aesthetics

The updated Environmental Quality Guidelines for Alberta Surface Waters were released in April 2014. In addition to guidelines for water quality, sediment quality guidelines for the protection of aquatic life and tissue residue guidelines to protect wildlife consumers are now included. The document is intended to be regularly updated and these updates will be noted on this webpage. If you have any questions or would like to be added to an email list to receive notifications regarding guideline updates, please contact:

The revised guidelines for Alberta include ones developed by the Government of Alberta, Canada Council of Minister’s of the Environment (CCME), the USA (US EPA), and other provinces. They are used to evaluate and report on the condition of surface water quality throughout Alberta, to develop water quality based approval limits for wastewater discharges and as the basis for site-specific water quality objectives. General guidance on the application of the guidelines can also be found in the guidelines document.

More detailed information and background on the Canadian guidelines and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criteria for the protection of various uses can be found at:

Site-Specific Water Quality Objectives

Site-Specific Water Quality Objectives (SSWQOs) are numerical concentrations or narrative statements that have been established for specified waters, and which have action or management commitments. In addition to science, they may consider other factors in their derivation. SSWQOs are often used to provide the quantitative outcomes for regional planning initiatives. Alberta Environment and Parks has prepared scientific guidance material to support the derivation of site-specific water quality objectives for rivers in Alberta, which is contained in the following document:


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Updated: May 25, 2018