Water Quality

By: Fraser Riverkeeper  09-12-2011
Keywords: water quality

The Fraser River is the longest river within British Columbia. It drains about one-quarter of the province’s water and ranges from central British Columbia, to Southwest British Columbia and east to the Rocky Mountains near Jasper. The Fraser River’s headwaters are just northwest of Fraser pass in British Columbia’s Rockies and its major tributaries are the Nechako, Thompson, and Harrison rivers.

The Water Quality Index of the Fraser River at Nechako River is ranked as Good or Excellent, where as the Thompson River is ranked as Fair.

What is Water Quality Index?

The Water Quality Index is a freshwater quality indicator that is certified by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) and is developed to attain the environmental quality that is necessary to preserve our natural ecosystem. The index indicates how close we are to preserving and protecting water bodies and the aquatic life within them. Water quality monitoring data is gathered by water quality monitoring stations set up at different sites all along the Fraser River. The Index then compares the data to site-specific water quality guidelines for the protection of aquatic life. These guidelines are values that define the water conditions which if exceeded would negatively affect the aquatic life.

There are many physical and chemical characteristics of water quality that are measured at the monitoring sites, such as streamflow, major ions, trace elements, nutrients, pH, alkalinity, temperature, turbidity and dissolved oxygen. Biological change over time can alter the water quality of a waterbody, but most of the changes are due to the pollution caused by many anthropogenic factors.

These are the main sources of human-induced water pollution:

  • Logging
  • Mining
  • Agriculture
  • Dams
  • Urban development, wastewater, and septic system effluent
  • Industrial plants, pulp mills, and smelters

After accessing all of the site-specific conditions and how well-protected the aquatic life is, the Index ranks waterbodies in the categories of Excellent, Good, Fair, Marginal, or Poor.

The assessment of the water quality of Fraser River is stated as such:

  • Fraser River at Red Pass: Good to Excellent
  • Fraser River at Hansard: Good
  • Nechako River: Good
  • Fraser River at Marguerite: Fair
  • Salmon River at Salmon Arm: Poor to Marginal
  • Thompson River: Fair
  • Fraser River at Hope: Good
  • Sumas River at the International Boundary: Fair

Water quality is measured periodically at the monitoring stations to see the trends caused by the different variables. If these trends are negatively affecting the aquatic life, appropriate actions are taken to improve the water quality of the site and of Fraser River as whole.

Keywords: water quality

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Geography and Geology

The Fraser Basin system comprises the main Fraser River and a huge network of tributaries that drains more than a quarter of British Columbia before the river’s egress into the Pacific Ocean through Vancouver. Its headquarters are in the Mount Robson Provisional Park in the Rocky Mountains, and it passes across the dry Fraser Plateau and through the coastal mountain ranges to the Pacific Ocean.


Watershed Facts

Discharge rate at the River mouth: The Fraser River flows at an average rate of around 3550 m3/second and dumps up to 20 million tonnes of sediment at its mouth in the Fraser Basin Delta. In addition to the industrial stresses exerted on the region, new development pressures metastasize as the vibrant Vancouver region draws more residents and more economic activity.



At the delta mouth of the river in the Lower Fraser valley, there are a number of recreational opportunities including walking, bird watching, picnicking, fishing and boating. The riverhead is in the Rocky Mountains, and there it provides a haven for canoeing, kayaking, and whitewater rafting enthusiasts. There are viewpoints, parks, trails, and an aerial tram that can take sightseers across the Fraser River.



Further exploration continued as George Simpson came to the river in 1828 to decide whether Fort Langley would be adequate as the Hudson Bay Company’s main Pacific depot. Most of British Columbia’s history is linked to the Fraser River because it was an important and essential route between the Interior and the Coast.


The River

They do not damage or physically harm the adult fish; however, with the establishment of commercial salmon farming, sea lice parasites on juvenile salmon pose a great threat or even death to the young fish. Several organizations and biologists claim that salmon farming located along west Coast of BC are responsible for the dramatic decrease of wild sockeye salmon in the Fraser River in 2009.