Urban centres upstream of and within the Saskatchewan River Sub-Basin (SSRSB) are growing rapidly, and much of that growth is low- density, automobile-dependent, suburban development. The preference for a suburban life style comes with costs – environmental, social and economic. Loss of wildlife habitat, relatively high water use for lawn watering, and damage to receiving waters from stormwater runoff are some of the environmental costs.
Transportation of goods by rail or road, raises concerns when looking at the environment. Paved roads can alter drainage patterns and cause erosion, and pose a threat to wildlife attempting to cross highways. Salt use on winter roads can cause elevated soil chloride levels, stunting the growth of vegetation. Herbicide used to control vegetation can potentially drift to neighboring fields or water bodies. Railroads can also pose a risk to the environment. Creosote, used to treat railroad ties, can contaminate rail beds and storage yards. Oil and fuel, spilled or leaked from trains, can contaminate sidings and maintenance yards. The use of herbicides and soil sterilants to control vegetation on rail lines can drift to affect nearby fields and water bodies.
There is a trend of using alternatives such as fire to control vegetation instead of herbicides. Precipitation can cause any buildup of material on roads, such as windshield washer fluid, oil, and grease, to wash into storm drains. Water that enters a storm drain remains untreated, and thus any contaminants washed off the road will be transferred to the river, stream, or body of water that the drain leads to. A similar problem occurs when people wash their vehicles on their driveways. Instead of a licensed carwash, which treats any water used to wash vehicles, a driveway carwash allows grease, oil, and other contaminants to enter storm drains, eventually flowing into local streams.
Leachate from landfills, if not properly managed, can contaminate the watershed with a number of waste substances. There are no Class 1 landfills in the region, meaning no hazardous waste is accepted for disposal in the region’s landfills. However, non-toxic and inert waste is accepted in SSRB landfills. Abandoned or full landfills, if not monitored after operations cease, pose a risk of contaminating nearby water sources while going unnoticed.
There is potential for rail cars or transport trucks to expose water bodies in the region directly to transported goods. Fortunately, there has not yet been a major environmental emergency in the SSRSB.
Human waste management can pose a risk to water quality. Septic tanks are often used in municipalities without access to sewage treatment plants. The tanks can potentially contaminate local soil and nearby sources of water with human waste. Septic tanks must be built and maintained properly to prevent environmental issues.