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New device will regularly monitor quality of Slave River

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 25, 2012

New water monitoring equipment was placed in the Slave River in mid-June - one at Fort Smith and the other near Fort Resolution.

The equipment is called a sonde, which is a monitoring device that can be left at a sampling site for a long period of time.

"It's a piece of equipment that has sensors on it and it can take measurements of water quality parameters anywhere from a minute interval to every day," said Erin Kelly, manager of watershed programs and partnerships with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR).

The sonde was deployed in the Slave River at Fort Smith on June 13 and near Fort Resolution - where the river turns into a delta - the following day.

"It's mainly to begin to address the concerns that communities along the Slave River have with respect to water quality," Kelly said.

The devices will take water readings on chlorophyll, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, pH, oxidation reduction potential, turbidity and temperature.

Kelly noted the sondes are underwater and attached to buoys on the surface, and can usually go between four and six weeks before they are switched out and calibrated.

"So they'll be in twice this summer," she said. "They'll go for two six-week periods."

They are not used when there is ice on a river or during spring breakup, when there is a lot of debris in the water.

Before the sondes were installed, there was no instrumentation in the water, and samples were taken by manually dipping for water.

The new monitoring is not specifically looking for contaminants from the oilsands development in Alberta.

"We'll be looking into some of the contaminants of interest to communities with additional equipment we'll be deploying later in the summer," Kelly noted.

ENR placed the equipment in the river as part of the monitoring it has been doing with the Slave River and Delta Partnership, which involves a wide variety of organizations including First Nations, Metis councils, municipal governments, territorial and federal government departments, and others.

"This is part of implementing the Water Stewardship Strategy," Kelly said.

Patrick Simon, environment manager with Deninu Ku'e First Nation in Fort Resolution, said the new equipment is part of a plan to develop a community-based monitoring program in a partnership involving Dene and Metis, government, academia, and researchers.

"This is just giving us an idea of what's really happening out there right now and based upon that we can begin to develop a real community monitoring program that factors in key things," Simon added.

Nine more sondes will be placed on other rivers in the NWT this summer, including the Mackenzie, Hay, Peel and Liard.

Kelly said ENR is still working with communities to finalize where the sondes will be placed along the Mackenzie River.

The ENR sondes are separate from the Environment Canada oil sands monitoring program, which will extend onto the Slave River.

Environment Canada has a sonde on the Slave River at Fort Fitzgerald, Alta., about 22 km south of Fort Smith.

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