My research focuses on the effects of coal mine effluent on native species in the North Saskatchewan River (NSR). Recently, Alberta has rescinded the 1976 coal policy and before it was re-instated, 14 new mine leases were activated and are being proposed in the upper NSR basins. Coal mine effluent contains multiple metal pollutants, increased sediment loads, and toxic cationic polymers, which are all known to elicit detrimental effects in aquatic biota. However, little is known on how these constituents’ impact local invertebrate and vertebrate species in the NSR.
My master’s thesis consists of investigating the relative sensitivity of a native fish species, Westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi) and three common benthic invertebrates (Chironomid spp., Hyalella azteca, Lumbriculus spp.) as indicators of overall sensitivity to four likely contaminants found in coal mine effluent (selenium, aluminum, sediment, and sediment control polymers). My work consists of establishing lethal limits as well as examining sublethal effects (i.e., biochemical correlates) which can be used for guideline development of the proposed mines. Ultimately, my work aims to help inform a water management program for the proposed new mines in Alberta to help protect local biodiversity of the NSR.