The Medicine River Watershed Society (MRWS) is embarking on a new water quality testing program for the Medicine River and its major tributaries this year. 

The MRWS water testing program is based on a citizen science program administered by CreekWatch, a program led by the RiverWatch Institute of Alberta. CreekWatch provides the portable laboratories, volunteer training, and data management for many groups monitoring creeks throughout Alberta. 

The CreekWatch water quality testing program tests river water for seven parameters and compares changes throughout the year. Physical parameters monitored include water temperature and turbidity (clarity) and chemistry parameters include dissolved oxygen, ammonia/nitrogen, phosphorous, pH, and chlorides. 

MRWS volunteers participate in the new water quality testing program

Water quality changes throughout the year may be influenced by factors such as temperature, sunlight, runoff, land use, and agricultural practices. Analysis of the readings and how they change throughout the year can help the MRWS determine more about the overall health of the river and whether more extensive testing may be required to locate point sources of contamination. 

For the 2022 testing program, the MRWS will frequently sample three locations during the open water months. Two of the locations are on the Medicine River upstream and downstream of Eckville, and the third is the major tributary of Lasthill Creek which includes sub-tributaries of Horseguard, East and West Lobstick, and Blueberry Creeks, which together comprise the largest sub-watershed within the Medicine River watershed. 

The water testing of the Medicine River also follows the recommendations of the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance (RDRWA), which recommend more thorough and frequent testing of the tributaries within the Red Deer River watershed to develop baseline water quality testing data. This baseline data can be used as a benchmark to monitor subsequent changes in water quality. 

Alberta Environment and Parks has a continuous fixed monitor station on the Medicine River near Hwy. 54, which monitors the Medicine River downstream of all fourteen tributaries in the sub-watershed. Otherwise, water quality testing and monitoring of the Medicine River has not been done since a 2006-2007 program that was also conducted by the MRWS. The testing in 2006-2007 was more focused on contamination by nutrients and bacteria from fertilizers, pesticides, and agricultural practices. The CreekWatch analysis is broader in scope so that rivers across the province can be compared. One of the major objectives of the MRWS testing is to determine the actual cause of the brown colouration of the water, which has previously been attributed to the agricultural industry. The source of the colouration may not be resolved until future testing spans the entire watershed. Hopefully in future years the testing program will expand to include each of the fourteen major tributaries.

The Medicine River spans about 80 km from Medicine Lake to its confluence into the Red Deer River just east of Dickson Dam (Gleniffer Lake). The Medicine River and its tributaries traverse across parts of Clearwater, Ponoka, Lacombe, and Red Deer counties. The watershed is fed entirely from springs and surface runoff, so the water quality and flows vary considerably from mountain stream- fed rivers. The Medicine River sub-watershed is one of fifteen sub-watersheds within the Red Deer River Watershed, which covers an area of nearly 50,000 square kilometers across central Alberta. 

On-site training of the volunteers on the shoreline of the Lasthill Creek was led by Kip Monaghan and Emma Stalker of CreekWatch. MRWS volunteers include Connor Layton, John Fletcher, Janina Carlstad, Dana Kreil, Murray Welch, Jerry Silbernagel, Ken Lewis (Red Deer County), Kesler Lawton, Gary Lewis, Ward Nelson, Lyn Layton, and Keith Pregoda.

Thank you to Murray Welch, who contributed this article on behalf of the Medicine River Watershed Society.