Water Quality

Water quality, quantity and aquatic ecosystems health data in the Athabasca region is collected through various federal and provincial agencies.

Industrial activity on land has the potential to impact water quality. Both mining and in situ oil sands operations must be carefully managed to avoid affecting the quality of surface water (rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and other fresh water sources) and groundwater (provides the base for surface water).

All new oil sands projects require producers to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment as part of the regulatory approvals process. These detailed reports require an assessment of cumulative environmental effects and plans to mitigate any adverse effects. Extensive water studies are carried out as part of the process and operators must perform ongoing monitoring of surface and groundwater resources that may be impacted by operations.

Water data is collected through various federal and provincial agencies to detect any effects of oil sands development on water quality. The Government of Alberta has been monitoring water quality in the region since the early 1970s.

Water quality and testing

A Surface Water Quality Management Framework was developed as part of the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP). Water quality triggers and limits are identified to give advance notice of less favourable trends and establish minimum quality limits that must not be exceeded. A management response is required if triggers or limits are exceeded.

The Surface Water Quality Management Framework builds on, but does not replace, existing provincial legislation and policy on water quality, wastewater and the aquatic environment. It will not replace existing management systems such as spill reporting or drinking water surveillance. It will, however, fill a key gap by providing a framework in which to monitor and manage long-term, cumulative changes in water quality within the lower Athabasca River.

The Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP) is an industry-funded initiative focused on water quality testing in the oil sands region. RAMP is a multi-stakeholder environmental monitoring program, with the intent to integrate aquatic monitoring activities across different components of the aquatic environment, different geographical locations, and Athabasca oils sands and other developments in the Athabasca oil sands region so that long-term trends, regional issues and potential cumulative effects related to oil sands and other development can be identified and addressed.