Water Quality

Surface water quality varies naturally throughout Alberta according to local conditions such as climate, geology and vegetation, and is also subject to human influence. There are three major factors that affect water quality:

  • Water quantity – the amount of water available affects its quality. The less water there is, the lower the capacity to assimilate wastes;
  • Point sources – These are "end-of-pipe" sources of contaminants (e.g., discharge of treated wastewater) known as effluents. Because these sources are easily identified, they are fairly easy to monitor and regulate; and
  • Non-point sources – These are sources of contaminants that cannot be easily traced (e.g., contaminants that enter water bodies through storm drain networks).

Each of these factors represents an opportunity for water quality management. Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) is responsible for policy and legislation that protects water quality to ensure healthy aquatic ecosystems and public health. The department also collects and analyzes surface water quality data.

In Alberta, surface water quality guidelines protect aquatic life, agricultural uses (stock watering and irrigation), and recreational and aesthetic purposes.

Water Quality Monitoring

The Alberta River Water Quality Index (RWQI) provides a general assessment of water quality at 24 Long-Term River Network (LTRN) sites on the province’s major river systems. In most cases, the sites represent conditions upstream and downstream of areas of significant human activity.

Index measurements include the volume of river flow, climatic conditions, local geology, the degree of development along rivers, non-point sources of runoff (such as non-cropland), and point sources of effluent that discharge into rivers. A number of natural and human factors can influence these index values. Alberta's Water for Life strategy intends that all these factors will be considered in the protection of water quality and aquatic ecosystems as part of the watershed approach. In keeping with this approach, continuous improvements to river water quality are being made, such as upgrades to municipal wastewater treatment facilities and infrastructure, and enhanced land use practices.

Drinking Water

In addition to managing water resources, Alberta has a long history of providing safe drinking water to Albertans. Assuring the safety of the public's regulated drinking water supply is a priority for AEP. For more information about Alberta's regulated drinking water program, visit:


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Updated: Dec 11, 2015