Surface Water Quality Guidelines and Objectives

Water Quality Guidelines

Water quality guidelines are science-based numeric concentrations or narrative statements that are recommended to protect various water uses. These uses include:

  • Aquatic life,
  • Agriculture (livestock watering and irrigation),
  • Recreation and aesthetics

The assembled guidelines for Alberta, available here, include ones developed by the Government of Alberta, Canada (CCME), and the USA (US EPA). They are used to evaluate and report on the condition of surface water quality throughout Alberta and to develop water quality based approval limits for wastewater discharges. General guidance on the application of the guidelines can also be found in the guidelines document.

More detailed information and background on the Canadian guidelines and US EPA criteria for the protection of various uses can be found at the following links:

The public comment period on the 2013 draft Environmental Quality Guidelines for Alberta Surface Waters has now ended. If you have any questions or would like to be added to an email list to receive notifications regarding guideline updates, please contact

Site-Specific Water Quality Objectives

Site-Specific Water Quality Objectives (SSWQOs) are numerical concentrations or narrative statements that have been established for specified waters, and which have action or management commitments. In addition to science, they may consider other factors in their derivation. SSWQOs are often used to provide the quantitative outcomes for Regional Planning initiatives. To support the derivation of site-specific water quality objectives for rivers in Alberta, ESRD has prepared scientific guidance material, which is contained in the following document:

Updated November 8, 2013