Canadian Consulting Engineer

Ash and contaminants concern in Fort McMurray water supply

June 23, 2016

Satellite image of Fort McMurray on May 4. Image: Wikipedia.

Satellite image of Fort McMurray on May 4. Image: Wikipedia.

Researchers are scrambling to find out how much damage the Fort McMurray wildfires have done to the area’s water supply.

A University of Waterloo civil engineering professor, Monica Emelko, has been working with Uldis Silins, a University of Alberta professor, to carry out an emergency assessment of the state of the drinking water supply in the town.

An article by Brian Caldwell published online by the University of Waterloo Faculty of Engineering on June 20 says that Emelko spent “countless” hours on the phone with government officials in Alberta and has now travelled to Alberta to work with Silins. Silins is with the Southern Rockies Watershed Project.

The experts believe the contamination in run-off from the fire could be so bad that they aren’t sure if the water treatment plant will be able to process enough water to supply the city of 80,000.


Exhaustive tests are being done to find out what the effect of the run-off from the destroyed sections of town has been on the local watercourses. Recent rains have washed ash, along with burned man-made materials into streams and rivers. The city draws its water from the Athabasca River.

The researchers are also concerned about the impacts on small communities downstream from Fort McMurray.

The article quotes Silins saying: “The effects of this wildfire on water are going to be felt not just in the coming days, weeks, months, but probably for quite a few years.”

To read the article, click here.


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