Contamination watch
Slave River Basin study to look at effects of industry

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 14/97) - Scientists are taking another look at the effects of southern industry on the Slave River Delta.

A follow-up to the five-year, $12.3-million Northern River Basins study has been started to determine to what extent contaminants are making their way up to the NWT through the channels of the Slave River Delta.

"We hypothesize that contaminants are transporting through sediment, and are deposited and retained in the channels," said David Milburn, manager of water resources with the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in Yellowknife.

"It may be that species like fish are being contaminated. And this would mean further study in fisheries."

The Northern River Basins study wrapped up last summer. Among its recommendations was closer study of the Slave River Delta.

DIAND and Environment Canada will be looking at any changes in the river's ecosystem. The primary suspected source of the contaminants is Alberta's pulp and paper industry, which is expected to grow in the coming years.

Research has already been done in the Athabasca, Peace, and Slave Rivers, as well as Great Slave Lake, to assess the health of the water, sediment and fish.

Sergio Marchi, federal environment minister, said earlier this month the study will help preserve one of the North's pristine river systems.

"Studies on the Slave River Delta will provide us with the early warning of pollutants and new knowledge for developing strategies to effectively manage and protect these ecosystems," he said.

In March, scientists set up equipment to collect and analyse data on the quality of water in the Resdelta Channel and other, smaller channels.

Scientists will also look at the history of the Delta through a series of photographs. Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo will analyse aerial and satellite pictures dating from 1930 to understand how changes in the river's flow has affected formation of the Slave River and Delta.

As soon as spring thaw hits, scientists will head out to the river to take sediment samples that will be tested for metals and organic contaminants.

Milburn predicts the sample collecting will likely begin this week.

A second sampling expedition will take place this summer.