Hundreds of St. Albert residents will be sweeping up this Saturday as they clean and green the Sturgeon River.
The 25th annual Clean and Green Riverfest is this Saturday in St. Albert. Started in 1999 by the Big Lake Environment Support Society, the event sees about 200 volunteers swarm the Sturgeon River to pick up trash from and add trees and shrubs to its banks. (The event was cancelled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The City of St. Albert took over what was originally called Clean (or Sweep) Up the Sturgeon in 2010 and merged it with an environment festival and the River Edge Enhancement Project (REEP), according to the Gazette's records. The city renamed the event in 2013 to reflect the fact it involved a clean-up, a green-up of the shores, and a festival.
Volunteers at Riverfest will get gloves, trash bags, and a suggested spot along the river to clean up, said city environment co-ordinator Payton Homeak. Volunteers should stay out of the Sturgeon itself and alert event organizers if they spot any hazardous trash.
City parks operations supervisor Erin Pickard said crews have plucked softballs, tires, and e-scooters from the river in recent years, but lately haven’t encountered any of the cars or washing machines seen in the event’s early days — likely the result of greater public awareness and more diligent sweeps of the river by city crews. Homeak said trash-pickers will probably find a lot of candy wrappers and to-go cups along the river this Saturday.
Homeak said volunteers will get to plant about 300 native trees and shrubs to create more wildlife habitat along the Sturgeon. A 2012 NAIT study found previous REEP plantings had improved biodiversity along the river.
Over at the environment fair, guests will get free hotdogs, listen to music, shred documents in a shredder, and drink smoothies made with bike-powered blenders, Homeak said.
Kelsie Norton of the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance will be at the environment fair during Riverfest to talk about the state of the Sturgeon, with the help of a large interactive model of a watershed.
A 2021-22 NSWA water quality study of the Sturgeon released last February found the river, like most freshwater rivers in Alberta, is not drinkable, Norton said. Tests found levels of certain pesticides and herbicides exceeded provincial guidelines throughout the watershed, with E. coli levels exceeding guidelines in two locations. Researchers were now correlating this data with historic records to identify pollution hot spots. Norton said these pollutants could harm wildlife in the Sturgeon, and indicate people should wash themselves thoroughly if exposed to water from it.
Norton said residents can help improve the state of the Sturgeon by keeping cattle out of the river and being sure to clean, drain, and dry their boats before moving them off-site (steps which slow the spread of invasive species). Events like Riverfest can help by preventing trash from injuring wildlife and breaking down into toxins in the river. Trees and shrubs planted during Riverfest should reduce flood and drought risks by absorbing runoff and improve water quality by intercepting pollutants.
Norton encouraged guests to come to Riverfest and learn more about the Sturgeon.
“This river is 260 kilometres long, and not a lot of people know that.”
Riverfest runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. along the Sturgeon River behind St. Albert Centre on Sept. 23. Anyone who pre-registers for Riverfest will be entered into a draw for Oilers tickets and a family game night. Visit stalbert.ca/city/environment/programs-events/spruce-up/riverfest for details.