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Upper Athabasca River Watershed Biomonitoring Project

The Athabasca Watershed Council five-year biomonitoring project started in May 2020. This project aims to monitor benthic invertebrate communities, basic water quality, and habitat in the Upper Athabasca River Watershed. The Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) sampling protocols will be used, along with the Sequencing the Rivers for Environmental Assessment and Monitoring (STREAM) eDNA metabarcoding analysis, and taxonomic analysis. 

Read AWC’s report on what we know about benthic invertebrates in the Athabasca watershed:


Read AWC’s and the University of Guelph’s STREAM report from 2023: 


Read AWC’s and the University of Guelph’s STREAM report from 2022:


Read AWC’s and ABI Environmental Taxonomy Report from 2023: 

AWC Report Benthics ABI Environmental Feb 2022

Read AWC’s and ABI Environmental taxonomy report from 2022:

Athabasca report Final
CABIN is a national bio monitoring program by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) to assess freshwater ecosystems; primarily stream and river habitats. It was developed to provide a standardized sampling protocol and a recommended assessment for determining aquatic ecosystem condition. CABIN training provides the tools necessary for users to conduct consistent comparable and scientifically credible assessment of streams. Results provide rational to direct policy and planning efforts. It is the most widely used protocol in Canada applied by federal, provincial, and municipal government, community groups, and industry. The STREAM project uses eDNA metabarcoding to analyzes benthic samples collected by community-based water monitors faster, cheaper and more accurately. To learn more about CABIN, check out this resource from fRI.
For the first year of this project, the AWC completed necessary training in September 2020 in the Oldman Watershed with Living Lakes Canada, Oldman Watershed Council, North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance, Blood Tribe Land Management, and Elbow River Watershed Partnership. The AWC also received financial support from Alberta Ecotrust Community Grant and Alberta Conservation Association Conservation, Community, and Education Grant. The AWC then identified local study objectives for this project.

The Upper Athabasca Watershed is in the eastern slopes of Alberta where an increase in pressures from human uses may impact water quality and aquatic ecosystems. An increase in comparable monitoring is needed to measure change throughout this region. Therefore, the AWC and its partners are working together to perform biomonitoring in the eastern slopes using the CABIN protocols to measure change in macroinvertebrate communities over time. 

Photo: Athabasca Watershed Coordinator Sarah MacDonald 

Alberta’s eastern slopes are the headwaters for the Athabasca, Peace, North and South Saskatchewan Watersheds where an increase in pressures from human uses, including forestry, mineral and energy extraction, rural communities, cattle grazing, motorized recreation, hunting, fishing, horse back riding, hiking and camping, may impact water quality and aquatic ecosystems. The AWC and it’s partners recognize an opportunity for local organizations and volunteers to work together to develop a community-based water monitoring program to compliment ongoing government monitoring. Our partners include WPAC’s, stewardship groups, First Nation land managers, research groups, non-government organizations, and volunteers, with support from ECCC and Living Lakes Canada.

A factsheet about this project is available here.

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Please contact science@awc-wpac.ca or call (780) 213-4550 for additional information. 

This project is financially supported by: