4.4   Assessment of water quality patterns in seven Canadian rivers in relation to oil sands industrial development, 1972 to 2010


Patricia Chambers, Environment Canada




To evaluate changes in water quality in relation  to type and stage of oil sands mining activities in northern Alberta, Canada, we compiled a 38 year dataset (1972 to 2010) and used it to examine patterns in concentrations and loads of 6 water quality parameters (dissolved Se, As and B; total U, V, and As) along seven tributaries of the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers. Both type (open pit versus in situ drilling) and stage (pre-development, early land clearing and construction, and expanded development) of development affected water chemistry. Concentrations of 3 parameters (total U, total V, dissolved B) and loads of all 6 parameters were greater (P<0.05) post development compared to reference values. Moreover, loads for all 6 parameters were greater (P<0.05) during early exploration and land clearing compared to reference values; only dissolved B had loads during subsequent expansion periods that were greater than reference. Our results indicate that erosion and subsequent runoff associated with land clearing and early operational activities in the oil sands region have affected water quality, and highlight the need for continued systematic real-time monitoring of these systems.




Dr. Patricia Chambers is a Senior Scientist with Environment Canada at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington, Ontario. Dr. Chambers received her BSc from Trent University and her PhD from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. Her research focuses on a variety of scientific problems, in particular the effects of human activity such as industrial operations, agricultural land use, and sewage discharge on the chemistry and biology of lakes and rivers. Dr. Chambers has led national assessments on behalf of the Canadian government to investigate the impacts of nutrient loading on Canadian aquatic ecosystems and has contributed  to the development of science-based policies. Most recently, she was the Environment Canada co-lead of the regional water quality component of the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring Plan.