Neufeld is Watershed Manager for EPCOR and works on the Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and the Source Water Protection Plan. The WaterSHED Monitoring Program, which she also works on, is a basin-wide water quality monitoring collaboration with Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP), the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance, and the City of Edmonton. Locally, EPCOR has also created an initiative called the Integrated Watershed Management Strategy that looks to manage total loads of nutrients, sediments, metals, and bacteria from stormwater, wastewater and treatment processes.
When we talk about watersheds," says Neufeld, “it's the science of how and when water moves and interacts across our landscape, and what geo-biochemical processes occur as that water's moving. A watershed is about movement over time."
We need both basin-wide and urban watershed models, says Neufeld, to look at how climate change will affect precipitation patterns, which is what drives water quality and quantity. What will an earlier spring mean? Or more frozen ground? What if more of our precipitation falls as rain instead of snow? Rainfall in a forest is different than rainfall on a parking lot. When water moves faster across harder and dirtier landscapes, its quality is affected. Precipitation mostly ends up in the river, but so too does a lot of what the water picks up along the way. Changes in rainfall and snowmelt patterns would affect the movement of substances to downstream water bodies, making EPCOR's job of treating water more difficult. Edmonton's 700 square kilometre footprint is small compared to the upstream watershed of 28,000 square kilometres and the total watershed of 57,000 square kilometres. Edmonton's effect on the quantity of water in the NSR, therefore, is likely to be minimal, but the city's effect on the water's quality could be significant.
“In our Climate Change Adaptation Plan, we do identify flood as being one of the top risks of future climate change, mostly due to the increased uncertainty," says Craik. “The other one that follows is the impact on water quality and its treatability." To address this, EPCOR is at work refining barrier techniques to protect water treatment plants, as well increasingly sophisticated processes to clean and purify the water.
Climate change is also tied to population growth and development. The more people there are, the more pressure the climate is under. We are all connected to and by the river, says Craik. Which is why climate change is a shared issue none of us can ignore. Neufeld agrees. “We're a little more fragile than we think," she says. “Ecosystem collapse is a slippery slope. We need to do everything we can."
Neufeld and Craik, and EPCOR and those it collaborates with, know that to protect our water supply, we need to protect the environment. As the great Canadian writer Margaret Laurence once said, the river flows both ways.