Elders and local residents are very concerned today about the ecological changes that they are seeing in the Peace-Athabasca Delta. Through local Traditional Knowledge, the following observations have been made:
- Spring floods, important for replenishing and rejuvenating the perched basins, no longer occur as frequently as they used to.
- Many perched basins (sloughs) have dried up, their waters replaced by encroaching vegetation.
- Muskrats, an important traditional food as well as a source of income from trapping, were once plentiful but are now in sharp decline.
- Waterfowl are less abundant in the delta now as compared to the past.
- People used to drink directly from the delta’s waterways. Today they are concerned that the water is no longer safe for drinking due to the presence of pollutants from upstream industrial developments.
- Fish have long been a diet staple but today people are concerned about the safety of the fish for eating. Lesions and deformities are being observed in netted fish more frequently than in the past.
- Many of the traditional travelling routes within the delta have been impacted by low water levels.
- Winter ice thicknesses on the rivers are observed to be less than in the past.
- Changes in species distribution have been observed.
These and other observed changes are due to a combination of factors:
- Upstream industrial development is believed to be impacting both water quality and water quantity on the river systems, especially on the Athabasca River which flows into the delta from the south.
- The W.A.C. Bennett Dam has caused a reduction in spring flood frequencies and an altered water flow regime on the Peace River. This has affected seasonal river levels and has also contributed to the drying of perched basins within the delta.
- Climate change (hotter and drier weather trends have been documented over the last several decades) is contributing to reduced water levels and drying of perched basins. It is also contributing to changes in species distribution within the region.
There is concern that if these changes continue unchecked, the ecological health of the delta will continue to deteriorate and the Aboriginal traditional way of life will be threatened for the future.
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