1,538 km in length, the Athabasca River is Alberta’s longest undammed river and its second largest by volume. The river drains the 159,000 km² Athabasca River Basin before eventually flowing into the Arctic Ocean via the Mackenzie River. It is a Canadian Heritage River because of its outstanding natural beauty, historical significance and recreational importance.
The Athabasca River Basin contains 94 rivers, 150 named creeks and 153 lakes. Four of Alberta’s six natural regions are represented in the basin: Rocky Mountain, Foothills, Boreal and Canadian Shield. Over 600 significant natural areas have been identified throughout the basin. This diverse region of unparalleled beauty contains a rich diversity of plants, animals and other organisms and offers many opportunities for outdoor recreation and tourism.
The Peace-Athabasca Delta, a wetland of international significance, is one of the largest freshwater deltas in the world. Its marshes and mudflats provide important staging and breeding habitat for water birds, including the endangered whooping crane. The sedge and grass meadows provide key habitat for wood bison and other mammals. Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada’s largest national park, which covers part of the Peace-Athabasca Delta, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.
The Athabasca River Basin is archaeologically and historically significant, having a strong connection to First Nations Peoples, early explorers, the fur trade and the European settlement of Canada’s northwest. About 150,000 residents (2001 Census) now engage in a variety of occupations throughout the basin. Many Aboriginal groups live in and use the river basin. This includes the Cree, Dene/Chipewyan, and Nakota Sioux First Nations, and Métis People.
Oil Sands Pollute with Fish-Killing Toxins, New Study Shows, Andrew Nikiforuk, The Tyee, August 2010:
Despite repeated government claims that the world’s largest energy project doesn’t contaminate the Athabasca River, a new scientific study released today shows that air pollution from the oil sands industry combined with extensive watershed destruction has released a highly toxic brew of heavy metals into northern waterways.
The study, published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), also found that the levels of heavy metals detected from snow runoff or downstream of industrial development exceeded Canadian and Alberta guidelines for protecting fish and aquatic life for seven out of 13 pollutants studied.
In some cases metal contamination exceeded guidelines by 30-fold.
The heavy metals, rated as priority pollutants by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, include mercury, arsenic, beryllium, copper, cadmium, thallium, lead, nickel, zinc and silver. All are toxic…