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Details about the South Saskatchewan River Basin

Nurturing the South Saskatchewan River’s vitality through conservation, community engagement, and sustainable management.

One of the most important and biggest rivers is the South Saskatchewan River due to the many social and economic elements it contributes to. This river supplies the water for over half of the population in Saskatchewan. That includes the water they use for:

  • Drinking
  • Industry
  • Irrigation
  • Recreation

The majority of the water from the South Saskatchewan River is used for agriculture. This valuable resource is essential for food to be grown and livestock to thrive. About 30% of the water from this river is used for human consumption. The majority of the flow of water from the South Saskatchewan River reaches Alberta. About ¼ of it flows into the Manitoba area.

Major industries around these areas rely on water from the South Saskatchewan River for a variety of resources. They include:

  • Fertilizer plants
  • Petroleum operations (including extraction/exploration of gas and oil)
  • Potash mines
  • Power production (at both Queen Elizabeth Power Station and Gardiner Dam Hydroelectric Station)

The Flow of the South Saskatchewan River

This enormous river starts in the Alberta Rocky Mountains, it is the result of two mountain tributaries that meet. These two rivers are the Bow River and the Oldman River. A short distance downstream, the Red Deer River runs into it. The flow moves into the border of Saskatchewan and Alberta. It is this location where it is officially known as the South Saskatchewan River!

The flow goes to the northeast, eventually into Lake Diefenbaker. It flows from there out of Gardiner Dam into Saskatoon. This is known as “the forks.” From there, it passes through Saskatchewan Delta and into Lake Winnipeg. This body of water flows into Nelson River and then to Hudson Bay.

The longest part of this river is 720 km long. It receives runoff from over 120,000 km around Saskatchewan. There are four different eco-regions this river enters:

  • Aspen parkland
  • Boreal transition
  • Mixed grassland
  • Moist mixed grassland

The water helps these regions thrive. The soil is rich in nutrients and they feature a thick drift. This area was sculpted by nature 10,000 to 14,000 years ago, during the Ice Age which covered the majority of Canada. Bedrock came to the surface and results in lovely plateaus and hills. The landscape is the result of melting ice and the formation of lakes and rivers.

Quality of the Water

The guidelines for water quality are set by the Water Quality Index. The water from the South Saskatchewan River meets or exceeds those guidelines. One of the risks to this body of water is high levels of mercury. This risk increased when Lake Diefenbaker flooded. Natural mercury located in that vegetation was dissolved into the water.

Another risk to the quality of this water is algae blooms. They are the result of the surrounding agricultural areas. The water from this location can drain into the river, upsetting the natural balance of nitrogen concentration. How water is used from the South Saskatchewan River influence the quality, too.

Efforts to reduce problems and risks are in place. For example, the Saskatoon has standards in place for how wastewater is treated. This increases the quality of water that is returned back to the river. Not all of the municipalities though have a second treatment for wastewater before it is returned to the river. Some households have permits to put their waste water directly back into the South Saskatchewan River.

Rainwater is a concern as it can include chemicals and other harmful elements. As the rainwater gets back into the river, it brings those adverse entities with it and that can reduce the quality of the water. There is no treatment for water going into the river from settling ponds either.

Wells have been drilled in many locations for groundwater but what happens when they are no longer used? The wells can be a location where contamination of water develops. Phosphorus and nitrogen from crops and livestock operations can get washed into the river with the rain.

Various industrial businesses along the South Saskatchewan River can contribute contaminants into the water. This includes:

  • Chemical plants
  • Gas wells
  • Oil wells
  • Potash developing
  • Pulp/paper mills

Enjoying the river for recreational entertainment can also contaminate the water and reduce the water quality. Gas and oil leaks on boats can cause problems for the ecosystems in the water. The efforts of the South Saskatchewan River Source Water Protection Plan continue to monitor the quality of water and reduce serious risks.

Water Levels

WSC (the Water Survey of Canada) is the authority for collecting, interpreting, and identifying the standard water resource data used for informational purposes in Canada. More than 2,8000 hydrometric gauges around Canada are operated by this organization.


The forecast for flow of the river is very good. WSA Saskatchewan provides this data. It is collected from spring until the first freeze.

Flow and Levels

The flow of the water and the water levels are collected throughout the South Saskatchewan River Basin at hydrometric gauging stations. They are designed to monitor the resources and levels at different identified areas in the body of water. They can update the data to reflect the changes in flow and levels at various times of the year.

Watershed Report

This report provides residents of Canada with details about the watershed where they reside. There are 25 watersheds located in Canada. Each of them has details about their assessment. The format is interactive.

Aquifer Maps


Empress Group Aquifers

Interglacial Aquifers

Saskatoon Group Aquifers

Sutherland Group Aquifers

Geology Maps


Silts & Sands

Bedrock Surface Geology

Soil Texture

Surficial Stratified Drift

Land Use Maps

Land Tenure

Land Fills and Lagoons

Oil and Gas Wells

WaterWolf Land Use Map

Municipal Maps

Zoning and Planning


Administration Boundaries

Vegetative Cover Maps



Land Cover

Water Allocation Maps

Ground Water Allocation

Surface Water Allocation