Overview of the Incident
In the mid 1950s, the City of St. Albert built three sewage lagoons along the banks of the Sturgeon River where it exits Big Lake. By the 1970s, two of the lagoons had been decommissioned. They were used as uncontrolled city dumps and eventually covered over. The third lagoon was transformed into a storm water catchment basin. fOver time, the lagoon found other uses in addition to collecting runoff from St. Albert streets. It became the practice pond for the local canoe and kayak club. Soccer clubs adjacent to the lagoon irrigated their fields with the water. Migratory waterfowl were attracted to the lagoon because it provided better shelter than the open lake, as well as nourishment.
In September of 2002, contractors for the City of St. Albert began testing the lagoon water in preparation for the environmental assessment necessary to build the bypass road across the lagoon. Initial water tests were completed and results were reported to the City before the end of the year. They were not made public, but it was generally suspected that the E.coli levels in the water were extremely high.
On January 06, 2003, I expressed my concerns publicly to city council and requested release of the laboratory analyses. My presentation was not acknowledged and a follow-up written submission was not acted upon. (see correspondence below)
From: Richard Plain
To: Elke Blodgett
Sent: Wednesday, January 08, 2003 12:14 PM
Subject: RE: presentation to council re lagoon testing
Your request weasn’t “RUDELY” ignored. It was simply overlooked in the flurry of business arising from the environment related issues brought to Council’s attention. I have asked Mr. Holtby to deal with your request for information.
From: Elke Blodgett
Sent: Monday, January 06, 2003 8:19 PM
Subject: Fw: presentation to council re lagoon testing
Mr. Mayor: I made a presentation to council tonight which was rudely ignored. It deserved to be recognized at least. It was a formal request for action on an issue of public concern. Here it is in writing:
January 6, 2003
For the sake of transparency in dealing with matters that are in the public interest, I am asking that the results of the most recent testing of the waters and of the sedimentation of the canoe club lagoon be disclosed.
The drilling holes in the ice indicate that samples were taken every 20m in a north/south and east/west grid pattern. This testing was carried out when ice was safe to work on, i.e. about November 2002, by the same consultants who have carried out previous analyses of the contents of the lagoon.
There are several reasons why these lab results are of public safety concern and of liability concern for the City:
1. The use of the lagoon for boating. People, many of them children, fall into the water.
2. Contamination of the food chain: ice fishermen collect bait in the lagoon. They then eat, or possibly sell, the fish they catch with that bait.
3. The use of the lagoon water for irrigating the adjacent sports fields where children play.
4. The inevitable discharge of the lagoon contents into the open waters of Big Lake and the Sturgeon River during road construction. Even if the dyke containing the waters now is not breached, the partial filling of the lagoon will displace the contents of the lagoon and force them into the river.
I suppose I could add the many dogs that swim in the lagoon and carry any contaminants into homes…..
The appropriate reaction to my request to council would have been for St. Albert Council to alert the public immediately to the hazards contained in the lagoon. Such a responsible action would have enabled residents with pets, parents whose children played soccer, St. Albert canoeists and everyone else who used the area around the lagoon, to take appropriate precautions.
That did not happen. The mayor and city council, and the city’s contractors, who had done the original testing, continued to keep the initial as well as follow-up test results under wraps. Meanwhile, for four months St. Albert residents, unaware of the potential dangers, continued to conduct their usual activities around the lagoon, unaware of the contaminated water.
The city of St. Albert finally issued a press release, in May 2003, stating that very high levels of E. coli had been found in tests conducted on the lagoon water in September 2002.
The press release does not mention the benthic tests done for heavy metals and other contaminants of the sedimentation that has accumulated in the bottom of the pond. For a quarter of a century, this lagoon has been used as a settling pond for storm water run-off for the explicit purpose of removing environmental pollutants from the environment and to prevent the increase of of bio-accumulation of persistent toxic chemicals in a fishbearing river.
The City’s intent now is to dewater the lagoon to make way for a road. Anything contained in the lagoon will be discharged into the river. The benthic tests results are of much greater interest even than the elevated E.coli levels in the water, which to some degree are found in any body of water of this nature. The potential of major environmental damage can not be “mitigated” by withholding damaging information from St. Albert residents and anybody else living downstream of this city.
Further details may be found in the news articles that follow.
Edmonton Journal – May 08, 2003
St. Albert pond found swimming in E. coli germs
Closed after years of use for canoeing, kayaking, irrigation
Jodie Sinnema, Edmonton Journal Staff Writer
CREDIT: John Lucas, The Journal
A study done by the City of St. Albert has found that Riel Pond, used for years by a kayak and canoe club and as a source of water to irrigate nearby soccer fields, is full of dangerous bacteria.
ST. ALBERT – A popular pond in St. Albert will be off-limits to people in kayaks and canoes after a study revealed high levels of E. coli and other fecal coliforms in the water.
Signs will soon be put up around Riel Pond, warning people not to use the water for recreational purposes. The pond, east of Big Lake, has been used by the St. Albert Canoe and Kayak Club for more than 10 years. Rugby and soccer clubs have also used the water to irrigate nearby fields.
“The surprise is that they’ve only just found out that the water is contaminated and that it’s been contaminated from Day 1,” said Les Hodges, president of St. Albert Soccer Association. “We’ve been using it for 13 years.”
The water quality test found 70,000 to several hundred thousand fecal coliforms per 100 millilitres of water. The majority were E. coli, said Dr. Gerry Predy, medical officer of health. Capital Health has no reported cases of illness in relation to the water.
Canadian guidelines for recreational water put acceptable levels at 2,000 fecal coliforms per 100 millilitres.
In comparison, water treatment plants aren’t allowed to have even one coliform bacterium per 100 millilitres of drinking water.
“If they’re only just starting to find a problem now, they are potentially negligent in their services to the public,” said Hodges, who wonders how the soccer club will water its fields.
Capital Health has advised that water from the lagoon should no longer be permitted for irrigation purposes. Wading in the water is also not recommended.
Coral and Christina Dunn, walking around the pond Wednesday afternoon, said they were surprised by the results.
Christina, 18, took kayak and canoe lessons with her Grade 6 class years ago, and even though she tipped over a few times, she said she never got sick.
“Just think of all the lovely things you may have ingested,” Coral said to her daughter. “It kind of gives you the creeps.”
Cathy Hill, whose husband is commodore at the St. Albert Canoe and Kayak Club, said her daughter spends four hours a day on the pond during the summer and never gets sick.
“We knew it wasn’t a great body of water,” Hill said. “Mind you, it’s not a swimming hole.”
The club moved out of the pond last fall because a commuter highway is scheduled to plow through soon, closing at least half the pond. Club members now are training on the Sturgeon River, but don’t yet know where they will paddle this summer.
Elke Blodgett, an environmental activist who lives in St. Albert, said she knew the test results in December, but the information wasn’t made public until now.
E. coli bacteria are found in soil and feces. It was a strain of this bacteria that killed seven people and sickened 2,300 in Walkerton, Ont., in May 2000.
Riel Pond had been used as a storm water retention pond and is a popular waterfowl habitat, both of which uses have affected water quality, a press release from the City of St. Albert said. Years ago, the area was home to a sewage lagoon and landfill site.
Mayor Richard Plain said he did not know about the contamination until Wednesday morning, after an action plan had already been put in place to protect the public.
“It would be nice to know how long this condition existed,” he said. “Who wants it in their city?”
Bob Russell, vice-president of the Big Lake Environmental Society and St. Albert alderman for many years, said he has tried for years to have the water tested.
“I’ve always been concerned,” he said.
“I’ve told people if you’ve got kids playing down here, first thing you do when you get home, hit the showers. This is going to be a bombshell.”
The City of St. Albert is working with the provincial and federal governments, as well as Capital Health, to find solutions to the situation.
St. Albert Gazette – May 10, 2003
Riel pond closed to users
High concentrations of E. coli and other bacteria make pond unsafe for humans
By Glenna Hanley, Staff Writer
Riel Pond, where for years kids canoed and splashed in playful water fights, was declared a health hazard this week.
A dangerous mix of E. coli, fecal coliforms and other bacteria forced the Capital Health Authority (CHA) to order a ban on any recreational use of the storm water pond. Use of the water for irrigating nearby soccer and rugby fields was also banned after testing found levels of fecal coliform were 36 times higher than federal guidelines and exceeded provincial guidelines even more. The city posted warning signs around the water body this week.
Public health investigator Elson Zazulak said a report supplied by the city showed water samples contained 72,000 to 830,000 coliforms (colony forming units) per 100 millilitres of water. Environment Canada guidelines for recreation use set a limit at 2,000 coliforms per 100 millilitres and the province only allows 40 coliforms for manmade beaches and lakes.
“When you look at the levels of what would be deemed safe for a beach there is a dramatic difference,” said Zazulak.
High levels of Giardia (the cause of beaver fever) and cryptosporidium, both parasites that cause gastrointestinal illness, were also found.
Water quality tests were conducted eight months ago, on Sept. 4 and Sept. 30. It’s not clear why the results were only made public this week. The city’s environment co-ordinator Derek Richmond said more testing was done this year and denied the report was withheld.
The testing was conducted by engineering consultants in conjunction with planning for the west regional road and an anticipated environmental assessment, said Richmond.
Dr. Gerry Predy, the CHA’s medical officer of health, said although the E. coli and fecal coliforms can survive in the cold and ice, there would not have been any recreational activity on the pond over the winter.
“So even though the information was not coming out in a very timely fashion, I don’t believe there was any health risk as a result of that,” said Predy.
E. coli in drinking water killed seven people and made many more sick in Walkerton, Ont. two years ago. Predy said testing was not done to distinguish the types of E. coli.
“There are many different types of E. coli (bacteria) and the measurement was just generic E. coli. So it doesn’t mean it was H70157, which was the type that occurred in the Walkerton outbreak.”
Richmond said waterfowl attracted to the Big Lake habitat also visit the pond nearby and, along with beavers and other animals and the storm water run-off, likely all contributed to the poor water quality.
Recreation groups that used the pond now wonder if water quality testing should have been done on a regular basis over the years. The Canoe and Kayak Club has used the pond for 10 years and there has been some testing. But Commodore Rick Hill doesn’t believe there were any regular records kept.
“I’m sorry we didn’t have it tested every year to see a pattern. Probably we should have tested it or perhaps the city should have as well.”
The president of the St. Albert Soccer Association is also wondering who was responsible for testing the water that has been used to irrigate the soccer and rugby fields for the last dozen or more years.
“I always had a concern with the soccer balls going in there and the kids going in there to retrieve them,” said Les Hodges. The association asked the city to put up a fence and, although one is there now, it only blocks off part of the pond.
Zazulak said E. coli could live for up to 30 days on the fields.
Hodges and Hill were not aware of any outbreaks of illness among their members, other than some swimmers’ itch among the paddlers. The CHA also has no record of illness related to the pond.
Zazulak said Edmonton does not allow any kind of recreational activity on its storm water ponds. And he said the St. Albert sports fields were using 90,000 gallons a night. Irrigation guidelines for agriculture allow only 1,000 fecal coliforms per 100 millilitres.
Use of the pond is almost a non-issue for the canoe club, because the city already planned to fill in part of the pond to make way for the west regional road. The club has been looking for alternative sites in Edmonton.
The club began some activities on the Sturgeon River this month but now Hill wants to check with the city about the river’s water quality. The same study also found high coliform counts in the river, although not as high as the pond.
Soccer and rugby clubs may have to shell out for city water now to irrigate their fields, said Hodges.
The city wants to drain the polluted pond into nearby wetlands and Richmond said staff will work with Alberta Environment to see if and how that can be achieved.
St. Albert Gazette Editorial – May 10, 2003
Points of View
Lagoon holds murky questions
Mention E. coli and the minds of most of us jump immediately to the tragic events in Walkerton. But the discovery of the bacteria in St. Albert’s canoe and kayak pond just can’t be compared to Walkerton, where E. coli contaminated the community’s drinking water and resulted in seven deaths and 2,300 reports of illness directly attributed to the bacteria.
Still, it’s odd that Mayor Richard Plain didn’t know about the Tuesday evening press conference until Wednesday morning. And it’s also bizarre that an error in the news release on the contact phone number for the city’s environment co-ordinator Derek Richmond took press enquiries to Fin Fairfield, a prominent member of the Big Lake Environment Support Society (BLESS).
The optics are not good. When you gather together for a meeting prior to a press conference representatives from the Canoe and Kayak Club, St. Albert Soccer Association and the rugby club, as well as people from the Capital Health Authority and two provincial departments, we’d have thought the mayor and other council members would be told so they’d be well-prepared to field phone calls from stakeholders and the media. Of the seven council members, five insist they were not made aware of the press conference and two ’ Lynda Moffat and Curtis Stewart did not return phone calls by press deadline. Some observers have even suggested there might be some sort of conspiracy, but Gazette staff didn’t spot anyone on a grassy knoll by the pond and city manager Bill Holtby confirmed Friday that there had been a communications problem.
However, there are some important questions being asked about the discovery of E. coli in the lagoon off Riel Drive. The most important is whether the city had been negligent in not regularly testing a body of water used during the spring and summer for recreation and irrigation purposes. Clearly, a storm water run-off pond would be expected to harbour contaminants of all kinds. Perhaps the error was in even allowing the water to be used by the Canoe and Kayak Club and sports groups.
At this point there have been no reports of sickness due to the bacteria in Riel Pond, but we will likely never know if there were any incidents because E. coli can be picked up from other sources, such as undercooked hamburger, and sometimes what is an E. coli exposure may be written off as stomach flu or food poisoning. While the concentrations are worrying, most of us recognize that we should avoid drinking water in a storm water catchment basin. But when kids in kayaks end up in the drink, some will invariably ingest water. The soccer and rugby clubs have been drawing water from the pond to irrigate their pitches for many years. Kids, particularly very young children, are highly susceptible to E. coli bacteria.
Capital Health and the city have made the right decision in closing off the pond to recreational users, erring on the side of caution and preventing the sports clubs from using the water for irrigation purposes. But there’s still many questions to be answered, including how the whole issue has been dealt with by city hall. If internal communication between administrative staff and elected officials is such a big problem, it puts in question the ability of staff and council to effectively communicate with residents.
What’s troubling, however, is that this whole fiasco leaves many of us wondering what’s really going on.
St. Albert Gazette – May 10, 2003
E. coli in pond “storm in a teacup”
Retired Alberta Environment expert says E. coli’s presence in former sewage lagoon is no surprise
By Glenna Hanley, Staff Writer
No one should be surprised that a 25-year-old storm water pond and former sewage lagoon contains E. coli and bacteria, says a former Alberta Environment employee who helped write the government’s water quality guidelines.
And the Big Lake Environment Support Society (BLESS) says what’s at the bottom of Riel Pond is a bigger issue than the E. coli in the water.
The city announced this week that it had to ban the St. Albert Canoe and Kayak Club from Riel Pond and stop using its water for irrigating the sports fields in Riel Park. Testing done last fall and confirmed earlier this year found extremely high counts of E. coli, fecal coliform and other bacteria in the storm pond water.
“This is a big storm in a teacup,” said John Shaw, a St. Albert resident who retired recently from the government service. “These (bacteria) are present in natural waters anywhere.”
The conditions could be even worse in the middle of Big Lake because of the high concentration of birds during the fall migration. Concentrations are higher in winter because the bacterial cultures are preserved by freezing, Shaw said, adding much of the bacteria is killed off in summer by sunlight and natural predators such as bugs.
“Sewage effluent is used for irrigation of golf courses all over the province. They (the bacteria) will dehydrate and become ineffective on the ground,” said Shaw, a candidate for mayor in the last civic election.
Shaw and BLESS president Louise Horstman say the heavy metals detected in the same study that found the high E. coli counts should be of greater concern. “Nobody is talking about this really dangerous stuff, which is from the old land fill,” said Horstman.
The environment group worries about plans to fill in the pond to make way for the west regional road.
Horstman said applying that kind of pressure to the sediment in the bottom could squeeze out leachate into Big Lake and the surrounding wetlands. North of the pond, under the sports fields, there are two other sewage lagoons, which residents used as their dump until they were shut down in the mid-1970s. “To me that is a more serious problem. You’ve got all kinds of stuff in there.”
Shaw said the heavy metals could also come from years of storm water run-off and are a threat to aquatic life. The toxins can accumulate in invertebrates that make their way into the food chain via the fish.
A spokesman for Capital Health Authority said the city’s tests found acceptable levels of heavy metal in the pond, except for magnesium. But that is not a human risk, said Elson Zazulak.
The pond tests were first done in September of last year and more were done earlier this year. Local environmentalists were aware of a report but the city refused to let them see it.
BLESS vice-president Bob Russell said they asked for it as recently as April 14, when they met with the west road consultants, Infrastructure Systems Ltd. “As soon as they found out about it they ought to have been placarded to let people know about it,” said Russell.
Over the Easter weekend, when the weather was warm, there would have been lots of people down there with their children and dogs, he added.
Meanwhile, city staff hope to be able to drain the pond but don’t know how long it will take. But they don’t believe it will mean a delay in plans for the west road. The city hopes to get the environmental approvals for the four-lane road in time to begin tendering and construction in the fall.
The contaminated pond has to be further investigated by Alberta Environment and the mitigating measures approved by the provincial department, said Larry Galye of the engineering department.
“They will be reviewing the circumstances and will be getting back to us as to what we have to do to deal with it.”
Saint City News – May 9, 2003
Tainted Water Closes Sturgeon River, Riel Pond
Capital Health declares pond, river health hazards due to high E. Coli levels
by Darrell Winwood
Capital Health is warning people to stay off the Sturgeon River and the Riel Pond after hazardous levels of E. Coli and fecal coliform bacteria have been found in both areas.
All forms of recreational water use should be officially banned from the river and pond, says Medical Officer of Health Dr. Gerry Predy. Tuesday evening the city announced that hazardous levels of E. Coli and fecal coliform have been detected in the Riel Pond located next to Big Lake and several sports fields forcing the city to ban all recreational and irrigation use of the pond, a decision that has sent sports groups scrambling.
The signs have already gone up warning people away from the pond, but Predy says the same hazardous levels exist in the Sturgeon River. “We’d also extend that (warning) into the Sturgeon,” he told the SCN on Wednesday. “We don’t advise any recreational use of the water.”
The river is used extensively during the summer by people canoeing or sometimes fishing. Thousands of fish live in the river and were killed this winter by an unrelated sediment blockage. Riel pond is used heavily by the Canoe and Kayak Club, and the water is used to irrigate nearby soccer and rugby fields. The announcement comes at a bad time for the sports groups who are getting ready to start their seasons.
Predy says the water is too dangerous to risk any human contact. “The level of bacteria in that water would be a hazard for the sports fields,” he says.
In physical sports like rugby athletes can often develop small cuts or abrasions. If someone falls on a field irrigated with infected water the bacteria could infect them. Athletes can also fall on the field, contaminate their hands and then drink some water on the bench infecting the water or anyone they contact. “It’s too dangerous,” he says. Common symptoms of E. Coli poisoning can include diarrhea, vomiting, and skin infections.
The pond does have a small pipe connecting to the Sturgeon River and is the likely cause of the spread of bacteria. The bacteria is commonly found in any water source, says Predy, but levels in the Sturgeon River and pond exceed national and provincial safety levels. The city’s Environment and Safety Coordinator Derek Richmond says the bacteria is likely caused by birds from Big Lake using the pond as a toilet. Still he says the discovery bacteria is a good thing.
“This is not bad news,” says the city’s Environment and Safety Coordinator Derek Richmond. “We’ve seen an opportunity to step up to help the user groups.”
Some sports groups, however, are very nervous. “It definitely has a serious impact on us,” says St. Albert Minor Soccer President Les Hodges. “If we don’t have irrigation we might as well shut down.”
Hodges says the soccer club has invested $350,000 in its fields within the last two or three years. That money could now go to waste unless a new water source is found. Connecting to city water, however, could break the club’s budget Hodges says.
The city will meet with sports groups in the next few weeks to help them get around the problem. Predy says the hazardous levels can drop over time if action is taken to filter or clean the water.
What does this mean for the road?
In addition to sports groups being affected by the unsafe water, the city is also planning to build the west regional road directly through the Riel Pond and across the river. Project Manager Dennis Gray from Infrastructure Systems Ltd. says plans will still go ahead, but construction practices could be changed to include safety suits for workers. “The road is really not impacted by this,” he says. “We’ve always been aware some safeguards would have to be taken.”
Some people, however, hope this spells the end of the road project. “This is a bit of a bombshell. This truly supports what we’ve been saying,” says Big Lake Environment Support Society (BLESS) Vice President Bob Russell. “When you hear about E. Coli it makes you think of Walkerton.”
The morning after the announcement the phone was ringing off the hook at Russell’s home as the environmental advocate tried to learn more about the health hazard. He was upset that sports groups were informed of the problem, but BLESS, as area stewards, weren’t notified.
“We’ve been concerned for a long time,” he says. “We’re very upset we weren’t told.”
Early construction plans call for the pond to be drained and half filled in for the road’s path. Gray says he’s still waiting for environmental approval from the federal government, but blamed approval delays on the extensive work and red tape tie ups.
“There have been no surprises to us,” he says of the initial findings. The construction plan has always called for the water to be dealt with separately, and Gray is confident the project won’t be halted for delayed.
Russell isn’t so sure. “I think it could cause a long delay, hopefully.”
Vue Weekly, May 15-21, 2003
By Dan Rubinstein
St. Albert’It’s only May, but it’s already been a bad year for environmental apologists in this commuter city northwest of Edmonton. Still snarled in a long-running dispute over a bridge developers want to build across sensitive wetlands on the edge of Big Lake, the community had to deal with another eco-controversy this past winter when a strange-coloured sludge appeared on top of the frozen Sturgeon River. And last week the pond at the end of that river was closed to the public when health officials found E. coli and other potentially dangerous bacteria in the water.
For years Riel Pond has been used by kayakers and canoeists and its water has been used by local soccer and rugby organizations to irrigate area fields. Now that fecal coliform levels more than 35 times the acceptable limit have been measured, however, authorities are calling for a stop to all recreational use of the pond. The contamination could be the result of many factors: waterfowl use the pond, it retains storm water and both a landfill and sewage lagoon were once located at the site. But several St. Albert residents appear less upset about the pollution than at the way they were informed about the problem.
“The surprise is that they’ve only just found that the water is contaminated and that it’s been contaminated from day one,” St. Albert Soccer Association president Les Hodges said to the Edmonton Journal. “We’ve been using it for 13 years. If they’re only just starting to find a problem now, they are potentially negligent in their services to the public.” St. Albert alderman Bob Russell, who’s also vice-president of the local Big Lake Environmental Society, told the Journal he’s “always been concerned” about Riel Pond. Mayor Richard Plain said it would’ve been nice to know how long the pond has been like this. “Who wants it in their city?” he asked.
Saint City News – May 16, 2003
No clean up yet planned for Riel Pond
City waiting for more road work before making a decision
by Darrell Winwood
Plans for the west regional road could be the deciding factor in whether or not St. Albert will attempt to clean up the Riel Pond which was revealed last week to be contaminated with E. Coli bacteria.
The city has issued a total ban on water use in the pond, no fishing, swimming, boating and it has also banned local sports clubs from using the water to irrigate nearby sports fields. Water tests conducted by the city revealed hazardous levels of E. Coli and fecal coliform in the water. The bacteria can cause vomiting, diarrhea and in severe cases has killed people across Canada.
As the city tries to find alternative water for the sports groups affected most by the ban, Derek Richmond, environment and safety coordinator for St. Albert says there might not be any clean up attempted on the pond.
The water tests were initially done as part of the environmental impact assessment required for road construction.
“We thought it would be good to get ahead of the game,” he says.
With the hazardous results now known the city is taking it slow an easy and waiting for recommendations from Infrastructure Systems Ltd., the consultants managing construction.
The west regional road is planned to cut directly through the pond, essentially destroying it. The city has talked about using space left to create smaller wetland-style areas.
Richmond says there might not be any point to cleaning the water if road construction will cut through the area.
The water will still have to be dealt with somehow he says and some early ideas include draining the pond and then treating the water elsewhere.
“All of those options are still on the table,” he says.
Right next to the Riel Pond is the Sturgeon River and a small overflow pipe connects the two water bodies. Capital Health last week stated that water testing in the river show it has the same contamination as the pond and water use in the river should be banned as well. Richmond, however, says the city has received no such warnings and couldn’t do anything if it did. All provincial waterways are controlled by Alberta Environment, the city has no jurisdiction, he says.
Mike Lupien, spokesperson for Alberta Environment, says there are no plans to ban water use on the Sturgeon River.
“Most lakes and rivers in the province have these (E. Coli) levels in them anyways,” he says.
There are three ways water is mainly used in the province and each has its own safety guidelines, says Lupien.
If the water being tested is used for drinking the toughest safety standards apply, the next usage is for irrigation and finally recreational use with the safety guidelines dropping for each use. The Sturgeon River is used for some recreation and irrigation outside city limits, but there are no plans for a ban, he says.
“We don’t have any concerns from people drawing water from the river.”
Lupien says Alberta Environment supports the city’s plan to divert some of the pond water in a wetlands area before it goes to the river to be filtered that way.
St. Albert Gazette – May 17, 2003
Sturgeon River won’t be posted with signs
Mother Nature will eliminate E. coli, says Alberta Environment
By Glenna Hanley, Staff Writer
There won’t be any signs posted along the Sturgeon River to warn people of the presence of E. coli. Alberta Environment expects Mother Nature to take care of the bacteria on her own.
“The bacteria dies out after a while. It has a limited life span and gets diluted so it shouldn’t be a problem,” said Environment communications officer Mike Lupien.
Last week the city posted signs around Riel pond banning any recreational activity, including use by the St. Albert Canoe and Kayak Club which has used the storm pond for a decade. Testing showed E. coli bacteria and fecal coliforms, giardia and cryptosporidium, far exceeded both federal and provincial guidelines for recreation use.
The river, tested near the outflow from the pond, also had high counts though not as high as the pond.
Lupien said the Sturgeon is like any other river. Those bacteria counts go up and down and the water is still safe for boating, fishing and other activities.
“When people are doing anything around rivers and lakes we don’t recommend people drink that water. They shouldn’t be drinking water that’s untreated anyway,” said Lupien.
Testing of Riel pond was done in conjunction with plans to build the west regional road through the area. Along with the E. coli, consultants also found heavy metals and three-spined stickleback fish. The fish is not native to Alberta and Fish and Wildlife is anxious to see the exotic fish does not get into the river and multiply.
“Our main concern is that they don’t compete by maturing and spawning,” said Paul MacMahon of Sustainable Resources’ fish and wildlife branch.
The stickleback species is native to the west and east coasts and “are not preferred by predatory fish here,” said MacMahon. That could allow the stickleback to flourish and deplete the food and oxygen of native fish.
It is not known how the fish got into the pond but MacMahon said it’s reasonable to assume it was human intervention.
Last fall, numerous fish died and thousands more were transported to the North Saskatchewan River when they became trapped in the freeze up and lacked oxygen. Many of them surfaced near a storm water outlet near the children’s bridge in Red Willow Park.
MacMahon said there were no stickleback found in the river at that time.
There is one Alberta lake, Hastings Lake near Sherwood Park, that has become populated with stickleback. They may have filled a niche or overwhelmed local species. They now make up 95 per cent of the fish population of that lake, MacMahon said.
The city wants to drain Riel pond into the nearby wetlands and that should help prevent the stickleback from moving into the river. Staff are waiting for approval from Alberta Environment and Lupien said he didn’t know when that would happen.
Some people are angry the city and its consultants did not post the pond last September, when the E. coli was first detected. Although it was late in the season the canoe and kayak club was still using the pond and was not notified the bacteria counts were high.
The Big Lake Environment Support Society (BLESS) is more worried about what will happen to the heavy metals in the bottom of the pond, found by the same testing, and what will happen to them if the west road is built through the pond.
St. Albert Gazette – May 24, 2003
New city program to monitor water quality
Process is a follow-up to discovery of E.coli in Riel Pond
By Glenna Hanley, Staff Writer
As a fall-out from the discovery of E. coli bacteria in Riel Pond, the city is now going to start a new water quality program for all storm water and other ponds in the city. “The city is in the process of developing a city-wide testing program. All the storm water ponds and Lacombe Lake will be included in a city-wide water quality testing and water monitoring program,” said environment co-ordinator Derek Richmond.
Testing of the Riel Park pond in September of last year and repeated again this year found high counts of E. coli bacteria as well as some other bacteria that can make people sick. The city banned any recreational use of the storm water pond including its use by the St. Albert Canoe and Kayak Club which had trained there for a decade.
Some people criticized the city for not releasing the test results earlier. And the Big Lake Environment Support Society (BLESS) also raised concerns about heavy metals detected in the pond, a former sewage lagoon.
The testing was done in conjunction with plans to build the west regional road through the area.
Richmond said no one expects water in a storm pond to be pristine but the testing program will give the city an opportunity keep a check on what is contained in the system.
“It is always good to know if E. coli exists and what is within our storm water pond so that if there was a concern we would be able to advise accordingly.”
Other cities test their storm water ponds and Edmonton tests monthly. The program will allow the city to establish a basis of comparison, to watch for trends and changes in water quality and to use it to monitor other city programs. Run-off from streets and roads is collected in the storm ponds and Richmond said the new program could be a tool for testing the efficiency of the street cleaning program.
“There are going to be more of these ponds coming into the city as we grow and there are going to be policies developed around them, not only as to what they look like physically but the restrictions there might be in terms of overall usage around them.” Since the results of the Riel Pond tests were made public, residents have raised concerns about water quality in Lacombe Lake which is a stocked pond popular for fishing.
The program might lead to the city deciding to post signs around ponds. After the E. coli bacteria was discovered in Riel Pond the city put up signs prohibiting any swimming, boating and fishing.
Richmond said people should likely be discouraged from swimming or wading in storm water ponds.