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Summer 2011

Science information for water professionals, policy and decision makers, and others interested in effective management of Canada’s water resources

In this Issue:

Science Notes

Recent Publications

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Science Notes

International Watersheds Initiative – Souris-Assiniboine-Red River Watershed

The International Joint Commission (IJC) hosted a scoping workshop in Washington, D.C., late May, in support of its International Watersheds Initiative. Through this initiative, it is expected that all transboundary watersheds between Canada and the United States will be modelled for water quality. Challenges of modelling transboundary and international Geographic extent of the International Joint Commission’s International Watersheds Initiative on the Souris-Red-Assiniboine River Watershed | © International Joint Commissionwatersheds include harmonization of geospatial datasets and comparability of water quality datasets. A modelling tool, SPARROW, for regional interpretation of water-quality monitoring data was created by the U.S. Geological Survey.

A pilot bi-national application of this model will be implemented in the Souris-Assiniboine-Red River watershed, which includes portions of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, North Dakota, and Minnesota. Dr Glenn Benoy and Ms Erika Klyszejko (Environment Canada), Dr Wayne Jenkinson (National Research Council), Ms Elaine Page (Manitoba Water Stewardship), Dr Terry Hanley (Saskatchewan Watershed Authority), and Dr Ted Yuzyk (IJC Canadian Section) represent Canada in developing the transboundary SPARROW model. Depending on the success of work in this watershed, the model may be applied in other transboundary basins.

Monitoring Impacts of Municipal Effluents in Representative Canadian River Systems

Environment Canada technologists retrieving freshwater mussels after field exposure to municipal wastewater effluents | © Environment Canada, 2010A research initiative to develop cost effective means of monitoring the impacts of municipal effluents was recently launched and funded by the Canadian Water Network. The initiative is led by Dr Chris Metcalfe of Trent University, in collaboration with other universities and with Environment Canada’s Dr François Gagné and Dr Patricia Gillis. Three representative river systems in Canada are targeted: the Grand (Ontario), St. Lawrence (Québec), and North Saskatchewan (Alberta) rivers.

Semipermeable membrane devices and caged freshwater mussels and fish (Fathead Minnow) were placed at sites upstream and downstream of municipal effluent outfalls to detect the presence of contaminants (pharmaceutical products) and potential toxicological effects, particularly endocrine disrupting activity and drug-related effects. Preliminary results revealed that mussels caged at sites along the St. Lawrence River downstream of Montreal’s municipal effluent dispersion plume had elevated levels of cytochrome P4503A-activity. This enzyme complex is involved in degrading and eliminating xenobiotics (chemicals foreign to an organism), including pharmaceutical products. The semipermeable membrane devices corroborated an increased presence of pharmaceutical products (such as carbamazepine) at the downstream sites. However, the increased enzyme activity was not associated with any significant increase in tissue damage such as oxidative stress or DNA damage after two week’s exposure time. Future research will include longer exposure times of 4 to 7 weeks to quantify long-term effects of municipal effluents on aquatic biota.

Research on Metals in the Athabasca River

Suspended sediment traps and passive samplers were deployed along the Athabasca river | © Environment CanadaAn agreement between Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN) and Environment Canada, launched in 2010, combines expertise to conduct research on the natural cycle and fate of target substances, such as metals, in the Athabasca River Basin and determine how they are influenced by bitumen oil production. Funded by the Clean Energy Fund and led by Philippa Huntsman-Mapila and Carrie Rickwood, CANMET(Canada Centre for Mineral and Energy Technology), this collaborative study will evaluate the fate of metals by determining the type and forms in both tailing ponds and the Athabasca River, as well as the abiotic and biotic factors influencing their cycling in various environmental compartments (water, sediment, and suspended solids). As part of this initiative, Dr Christian Gagnon and Patrice Turcotte recently participated in a field trip to the Athabasca River, with researchers from NRCAN-CANMET, visiting several sampling sites along the river from Fort McMurray to downstream Fort McKay.

New Project to Assess Biodiversity in Wood Buffalo National Park and the Peace-Athabasca Delta

Mamawi Lake, Peace-Athabasca Delta | © Environment Canada, Photo: Donald BairdDr Donald Baird delivered the inaugural Parks Canada-Aurora College Speaker Series public lecture, Biomonitoring 2.0: Revealing the hidden biodiversity in natural ecosystems through genomics, on June 23 at Aurora College campus, Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. He discussed his work on a new project to develop a comprehensive assessment of biodiversity in wetlands using multiple gene markers, focussing on Wood Buffalo National Park and the Peace-Athabasca Delta.

Improving Water Quality using Microbial Source Tracking

Dr Tom Edge was a key note speaker at the Environmental Health Conference hosted by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care in Toronto. The conference was attended by around 200 public health and medical professionals including public health inspectors and members of local Boards of Beach closure | © Environment Canada, Tom EdgeHealth and Public Health Units. He presented recent scientific advances on the ecology of E. coli and microbial source tracking techniques that have implications for public health officials making decisions to protect water quality for drinking, recreation, and food production. He was also invited to chair a session on recreational water where representatives from Health Canada, Ontario Ministries of Health and Environment, and the Toronto and Niagara Public Health Units discussed their efforts to improve water quality and reduce public health risks at beaches.  The representatives from Toronto and Niagara Public Health highlighted their recent microbial source tracking collaborations with Environment Canada that have guided remediation actions to improve water quality, and reduce beach postings and beneficial use impairments at beaches in the Great Lakes Areas of Concern.

Understanding the Lake Simcoe Ecosystem

Sampling of groundwater discharging along the shore of Lake Simcoe in Barrie, ON | © Environment Canada, Jim RoyEnvironment Canada co-organized the first biennial Lake Simcoe Science Forum in May 2011, focussing on water quality, stewardship and community engagement, landscape perspectives, infrastructure technology with an emphasis on innovation and emerging technologies, and climate change. Dr Véronique Hiriart-Baer presented work on the phosphorus and productivity sediment record in Lake Simcoe, and on tracing phosphorus sources and cycling using phosphate oxygen isotopes. Dr Jim Roy discussed joint Environment Canada–McMaster University Lake Simcoe projects involving groundwater contaminants, including phosphate and nitrogen compounds, discharging to urban streams and lakeshores. These projects have repercussions for lake phosphorus budgets and management, and for the protection of aquatic life.

Autocalibration Methods for Lake and Watershed Models Decrease Time and Improve Accuracy

New methods have recently been developed that will greatly reduce time and increase accuracy in priority Environment Canada modelling programs, including the Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative. Several models being applied to Lake Winnipeg were used to test various autocalibration methods against new machine learning methods. The new methods proved to be much more accurate and more efficient in calibrating the complex environmental models. They were developed by Dr Markiyan Sloboda, who recently defended his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Guelph. A study of autocalibration of complex environmental models using machine learning approaches was co-supervised by William Booty of Environment Canada.

Recent Publications

New Resources for Water Utilities!

Taste and odour bugs | © Environment Canada, Sue WatsonAlgae and cyanobacteria are commonly encountered in surface water supplies and can affect water quality and challenge water treatment facilities. Environment Canada’s Dr Sue Watson, an expert in this area, contributed to two reference works that water utilities can use in managing this challenge:

Watson SB. 2010 Algal Taste and Odour. Chapter 2 In:AWWA Manual M57: Algae: Source to Treatment.AWWA publications, Denver Colo.

This American Water Works Association publication is quoted online as “a powerful reference work for identifying and treating algae from drinking water sources” that “addresses the identification of algae species and genera, monitoring programs and treatment to manage such problems as taste and odor and toxins.” Dr Watson and other authors were awarded runner up for the Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association for their contributions to this manual. 

Burlingame G, Booth SJ, Bruchet A, Dietrich A., Gallagher D, Khiari D, Suffet M, Watson SB. 2011.Diagnosing Taste and Odor Problems Field Guide. AWWA. ISBN 978-1-58321-824-2. 114p.

This field guide is quoted online as providing “all the information water utilities need to diagnose and remove objectionable tastes and odors at the tap.”

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