This issue sponsored by: THINK Envirotechnical Services
David Schindler, the Scientific Giant Who Defended Fresh Water
(Source: thetyee.ca – Andrew Nikiforuk) The first time I met David Schindler 30 years ago, he occupied an office the size of a closet on the eighth floor of the zoology building at the University of Alberta.
Piles of scientific papers erupted about the room like academic volcanoes. So much paper obliterated a desk that Schindler perched his computer on a TV tray. He didn’t like cities, and drove to work every day from Wildwood, Alta., 100 kilometres west of Edmonton. There he and his wife Suzanne Bayley were correctly known as “dog people.” They owned 85 sled dogs.
But that’s not what dumbfounded me. Schindler just didn’t look or behave like a university professor. People commonly mistook the lake ecologist for a rig worker or a farmer. The short muscular man could lift a car, ride a 10-dog sled team over 5,000 kilometres of terrain every winter, wrestle a group of men down a stairway (yes, he did that at Oxford University), hunt a moose and happily down a bottle of whiskey with no noticeable effects.
And then there was the peerless, cutting-edge science. By the age of 50, Schindler was one of the world’s top freshwater ecologists. Politicians and bureaucrats feared him because he wielded scientific evidence the way a Samurai swung a sword. His groundbreaking research on phosphates, acid rain, climate change, UV radiation and transboundary pollutants had rattled governments in North America and Europe and driven important policy changes around the world.
Schindler’s work, and that of his many collaborators, had also changed the daily life of Canadians. Whenever anyone added a phosphate-free detergent to a washing machine, they were honouring the work of Schindler’s team at the Experimental Lakes Area, one of Canada’s greatest science experiments.
Last week Schindler died at the age of 80 after a long struggle with an inflamed heart. I lost a patient mentor and friend. Canada lost something far greater: a giant of a freshwater research, a guardian of the boreal, a defender of treaty rights, a speaker of uncomfortable truths. A visionary scientist.
“He was the greatest and most influential water ecologist on the planet,” noted long-time colleague John Smol, the Canada Research Chair in environmental change at Queen’s University.
But Dave was much more than that. In a mining republic often cavalier about water, he constantly offered a different ethic. He cared about the sanctity and beauty of lakes and their creatures with a fierce passion. And he worked tirelessly for the welfare of future generations. His energetic life flowed defiantly like some untamed northern river. And whenever the banks overflowed, well, that was only natural. He was a force of nature for nature.
To his many colleagues, Schindler set a new bar for the communication of science. It wasn’t enough to publish a paper. If your research had policy implications that affected fish and ordinary water drinkers, Schindler believed scientists couldn’t be wallflowers. They had a moral duty to present the data to politicians whether they wanted to hear it or not.
A rare combination of gifts placed Schindler at the pinnacle of his field. First and foremost, he knew the literature on water science — knowledge grounded by years of paddling on lakes and rivers like a voyageur. (Dave often sat down in his barn to read a stack of scientific papers while doing constant one-arm curls with a 40-pound dumbbell.) He also had the capacity to lead a team and the work ethic to get the job done. Next, he got excited. Then he didn’t leave the evidence on a shelf. “He was determined to show that science had value in everyday lives and that you dismiss it at your peril,” recalled Smol.
He was not only a force of nature for nature, but for those by his side, as well.
In 1974, a wildfire threatened the Experimental Lakes Area near Kenora, Ont. While fighting the blaze a helicopter had dropped a water bucket in a lake. Schindler, of course, volunteered to dive to the bottom and retrieve it. As the float plane ferrying Schindler to his task emerged from clouds of smoke, the pilot prepared to touch down on the lake with firefighting helicopters swirling about. Schindler just had time to cover his head before the plane hit a boulder jutting out of the water.
With his face bloodied and one arm broken, Schindler kicked open the door and jumped into the water. The pilot, dazed and battered, confided he could not swim. (Dave always chuckled at this point in the story.) After coaxing the man into the water, Schindler cradled the pilot with his good arm and swam to the rock ledge. Here he waited for help by lodging his broken arm in a rock crevice while hanging onto the pilot. The next day he showed up at work with a cast on his arm and an imprint of the instrument panel on his face. He explained that he couldn’t stand the stench of the pulp mill in Dryden, Ont. coming through the window of his hospital recovery room. “And I hate hospitals.” And that’s vintage Schindler.
David Schindler was born in Fargo, N.D. in 1940 because there wasn’t a hospital in his hometown of Barnesville, Minn. He grew up the first of four siblings in a German immigrant family in the northern lake country where remnants of tall grass prairie still butted up against the forest. His father and uncles ran a potato wholesale business, a 1,200-acre farm and a beer depot. His mother Angeline, a college grad, taught music.
But it was the geography of water that shaped Schindler’s life. Once he had finished his farm chores, he headed to lakes named Pelican and Cormorant. There he fished for pickerel and sunfish bigger than his hand. He owned his first .22 at the age of six (to shoot starlings) and bought his first outboard motor, a Hiawatha, at 12.
When not mucking about outdoors, Schindler often got lost in the novels of James Oliver Curwood. During the 1920s the bestselling author wrote adventure tales that mostly took place in Canada’s boreal forest. (The Canadian government even hired Curwood to travel around the north.) His popular sellers included The Wolf Hunter, The Flaming Forest and Kazan, Wolf Dog of the North. They left Schindler with one desire: “Boy, I wanted to see that country.”
At school, teachers directed him toward engineering and medicine but neither caught his fancy. The wrestler and football player (he declined an invitation from the NFL) wanted to work outdoors. By chance a science teacher at the North Dakota State University suggested biology and sent him off to measure the energy contents of lake organisms with a bomb calorimeter over the summer. And that’s when the water bug seized him.
One thing led to another, and Schindler soon found himself studying on a Rhodes scholarship with Charles Elton, one of the founders of ecology in Oxford, England. Elton had written The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants, a classic describing how global biological exchanges were eroding lakes and landscapes with invasive species. The book put Schindler’s hair on end and made him an ecologist for life.
At Oxford, Schindler displayed an aversion to being intimidated. The very day the Midwestern farm boy arrived, a group of mostly British students barged into his room and asked him to sign a petition protesting the Bay of Pigs invasion of Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Schindler politely declined: he knew nothing about the issue. When the group said they would not leave until Schindler signed, a pushing match ensued. “I shoved one guy and a whole bunch tumbled down the stairs. I was hauled into the master’s office and given a lecture on civil behaviour.” Over his career Schindler posted a lot of bureaucratic reprimands on his office door.
Top: David Schindler in 1974, wearing an arm cast after surviving his floatplane accident, in one of his favourite groves of old growth red and white pines at Experimental Lakes Area.
In 1967, the able young scientist was recruited by Jack Vallentyne at the Fisheries Research Board of Canada to work in the lake country of northwestern Ontario. Vallentyne had hired a bunch of topnotch ecologists from Japan, the United States and Switzerland and promised them great things. The idea was to take water ecology out of lab bottles into the real world: whole lake experiments. If it could be done, it would revolutionize limnology, the study of inland waters.
Aware of Schindler’s physical prowess and can-do attitude, Vallentyne offered the Young Turk the directorship of the entire program the day before he departed to Kenora. “I’ll think about it and let you know once I get there,” replied Schindler. “Then he just railroaded the operation from there on in,” recalled Vallentyne. “We just knew he was going to be effective.”
When Schindler arrived at the site, he found the camp in an uproar. Sleeping bags and outdoor motors had been unpacked into pools of mud. The generator was too puny to power the ATCO trailer. And the cook was chasing an undergraduate student around with a meat cleaver. “He didn’t like students,” recalled Schindler. “We found out the man had a history of poisoning and starving people in logging camps. I fired him.”
Within two weeks Schindler had the camp up and running. That summer, he picked and surveyed the 46 lakes that became the famous Experimental Lakes Area.
THE WATER BATTLES
At the time, eutrophication dominated headlines by turning Lake Erie and other bodies of water into a giant soup of algal blooms. Richard Vollenweider, a researcher who looked like Albert Einstein, suspected phosphates were the problem but had little proof. The soap industry blamed carbon as the culprit, and swore suds were completely natural.
It took a few years, but by 1974 Schindler and his “mosquito bite brigade” conclusively proved that phosphates from detergents and farm fertilizers produced noxious algae blooms and smothered oxygen levels.
One of his experiments inspired awe in many scientists. The ELA team divided a lake with a large rubber curtain. They added nitrogen and carbon to both halves of the lake, but phosphates to only one half. The side contaminated with phosphates “exploded into teeming green soup within weeks.” The team then took a picture of the ecological drama from the air, which quickly made Lake 226 something of a celebrity. The photograph eventually appeared in more than 400 publications. James Elser at Arizona State University later called the photograph “the single most powerful image in the history of limnology.”
Vallentyne later threw Schindler, an introvert, into state-by-state hearings in the United States as politicians debated what to do. Whenever he had to confront the advocates for the detergent industry (Schindler called them “soapers”), he gave an authoritative presentation and showed the photograph: “And, thanks to that one picture, I usually succeeded. That one picture said things to people who knew no science.” It also improved water quality around the world.
Next came the threat of acid rain caused by the sulphurous emissions pouring from metal smelters and coal power plants. Schindler proposed a whole lake study of acid rain based on the pioneering work of Harold Harvey and his students in the Sudbury region. Even though Canada then had higher acidifying emissions than Scandinavia and more sensitive lakes, the bureaucrats accused him “of inventing and exaggerating the problem.”
Schindler considered his acid rain research some of his finest work, and it was. By adding sulfuric and nitric acids in different quantities to boreal lakes the ELA team discovered that even very slight acidification could damage a lake’s food chain. The acids, in fact, prevented the reproduction of crayfish, crustaceans and minnows favoured by young trout. Once three or four key food species disappeared, the trout literally starved to death.
Published in Science, the study proved that everybody had underestimated the effects of acid rain on lakes.
Schindler had another dramatic before-and-after photograph to share. One showed a healthy lake trout before the acid was added to the lake. The other showed the same fish lean and emaciated. “Students gasped when they saw the starving lake trout,” said his son Daniel, an award-winning fishery biologist.
Schindler’s research produced another iconic image, showing how acid rain upended food chains in lakes, causing trout to starve.
“My hypothesis was that if you killed off just a few species in a boreal lake which has on average between 300 and 400 conspicuous species, you changed the whole ecosystem,” recalled Schindler years ago. “And we showed that at ELA again and again.” In other words he proved how truly fragile the boreal ecosystem was. It didn’t have much fat to spare.
Adele Hurley, then an acid rain campaigner based in Washington, D.C., and long-time friend, remembers watching Schindler perform at a congressional committee room on Capitol Hill. All she could see was the back of Schindler’s head as he confidently addressed a room of mostly unsympathetic politicians representing the coal and auto industries.
His testimony helped to change the U.S. Clean Air Act to reduce acidic emissions. It all culminated in the Canada-U.S. Air Quality Agreement signed by Brian Mulroney and George Bush in 1991. “For decades, David Schindler walked the fine line between science and advocacy,” recalled Hurley. “He has been our Northern Star, shedding light and offering direction.”
Meanwhile Schindler led a full life as a father and husband. All three of his children, Eva, Daniel and Rachel, grew up at ELA research station. His son Daniel began life in a crib fashioned from a Furuno Echo Sounder crate. His children revelled in the wild surroundings. Schindler believed that girls could do anything that guys did, and vice versa. There were no gender roles. Daniel learned how to sew (his dad even made him his first down jacket) and the girls learned how to split wood and paddle canoes. Everyone learned how to build a fire, cook and ski. “Life was a continuous adventure,” said Daniel. “He encouraged us to be courageous, fair and practical. And he liked having fun.” Not surprisingly, all three of his children grew up to become “gum boot biologists.”
But his wife Kathe, who was born and raised in Chicago, found life in the bush hard, and they divorced in 1977. Two years later he met Suzanne Bayley, a formidable wetland ecologist, at a science conference in Virginia. They married in 1980. They have been bouncing ideas off each other like paddlers swatting black flies ever since.
If anyone could keep up with a man who routinely pushed people and ideas to the limit, it was Bayley, who routinely described Schindler as a man who was “really four people trying to live one life.” She is every bit his match intellectually, and in bluntness of speech.
Schindler didn’t limit his focus to acid rain. He was one of the first scientists to defend First Nation treaty rights and incorporated traditional knowledge into all of his studies. “Dave was practicing reconciliation even before most of us understood the meaning of the word,” noted Erin Kelly, a former student and now the deputy environment minister for the Northwest Territories.
During a 1975 international conference of limnologists in Winnipeg, Schindler drew up a petition challenging Manitoba’s Churchill-Nelson River Diversion project because of its impact on Indigenous people.
The two rivers, which drain one of the largest watersheds in North America, then supported five First Nation communities and a lucrative white fish and walleye fishery that sustained them. Schindler and other scientists foresaw their demise if the project proceeded and wanted then premier Ed Schreyer to know he was conducting a deadly experiment in the boreal and violating treaty rights.
Despite strong scientific objections, the project was built with disastrous results: widespread mercury contamination of fish and the erosion of permafrost along thousands of kilometres of shoreline on South Indian Lake that may last 300 years.
He was no better disposed towards British Columbia’s Site C dam project. In a 2018 Tyee article, Schindler explained that mega-dams are falsely advertised as green generators of emissions-free energy because they strangle water systems and flood soils and vegetation, which then decompose and release methane and carbon dioxide over time.
By the time Schindler left the ELA in 1989, he had seen the boreal region transformed in the very ways he had warned about through his work. When he started there, a person could canoe for days in natural solitude. Now people and clearcuts peppered the place. Countless logging roads and skidder trails allowed snowmobiles and ATVs access summer and winter, disturbing wildlife and over harvesting fish. Trap lines were routinely vandalized. “It was like waking up with cancer every day. But it wasn’t in me but in all my surroundings.”
Schindler left the Experimental Lakes project in 1989 to take up a teaching job at the University of Alberta. The change in scene did not result in a change of pace. He immediately got embroiled in a huge political fight over the allocation of one-fifth of Alberta’s northern forests to Japanese multinationals for milling. Although he literally embarrassed the federal and provincial governments into funding a study on the impacts of pulp mills on northern rivers, the projects proceeded. Schindler concluded that in Alberta, “policy was not based on science but was expected to determine science.”
Nevertheless, much to the dismay of many Alberta’s politicians, Schindler routinely conducted applied science in the public interest. When it became evident that the Swan Hills Treatment Centre in Alberta was discharging toxins into the atmosphere, Schindler and his students took snow samples around the waste facility with the help of a local trapper. Their findings forced a recalcitrant Alberta Environment to limit fish and game for a 20-kilometre radius.
“For me, science is like eating and drinking,” Schindler has said. “I’d feel pretty empty on a day when I didn’t do any.”
Long-time collaborator Bill Donahue considers Schindler one of “the most important and effective ecologists and environmental scientists in history, not just in Canada. I’d like to think Canadians will understand and recognize that.” Jules Blais, a University of Ottawa biologist who tracked pollutants with Schindler in the Rockies, agrees. “He was an iconic figure in environmental science and fearless advocate for justice.”
Over the years Schindler accumulated more than 100 awards and honours. The Swedes, for example, awarded him the equivalent of two Nobel prizes.
Yet when he won the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize in 1992, the Alberta legislature refused to recognize the honour because of his pulp mill work. The political snub bounced off Schindler like water droplets. He once told a colleague that awards were nice but really mattered more as political tools: “They give him trust, capital and credibility. They opened doors. Powerful people returned his calls,” said John Smol.
Compounding that credibility were his unassailable ethical standards. “I was taken aback at how aggressive he was about not taking research money from oil and gas companies or timber industries for his grad students,” recalled Mark Boyce, an ecologist and fishing buddy. “It had to be clean money. That was very uncommon, and it made quite an impression on me.”
In 2000, Schindler invited me to his home in Wildwood, Alta., on the Lobstick River. After visiting the dogs, we went for a drive. “I want to show you the future of the boreal,” he said.
We got in his Subaru and headed south. We passed through a forest mangled by an assortment of roads, seismic lines, oil wells and power lines. It wasn’t a scenic tour. Invasive species like blue weed grew in the disturbances like gangrene in a wound.
Along the way we saw neither bird nor beast. We stopped at the Pembina River and walked down to its shore through a cut line marked “Danger: High Pressure Pipeline Right of Way.” The sign had five bullet holes in it. Schindler sat down on a cut poplar and said, “This is it.”
“This is what?” I asked.
“This is the future for Canada’s largest ecosystem. Unless we do something, this is the best-case scenario.”
Schindler gave the boreal another 50 years. He predicted that climate warming, clear-cut logging, air pollution and industrial development would rub the ecosystem out. With it would go the culture and history of more than half of Canada’s Indigenous people.
By his clock, today we have fewer than 30 years left.
Schindler, who always saw solutions as clearly as he identified problems, didn’t want Canada to extinguish its boreal soul. For starters, he strongly supported the 1999 Canadian Senate report The Boreal Forest at Risk, which concluded governments should set aside 20 per cent of the boreal for intensive timber production, and another 20 per cent for parks and wildlife reserves. The rest should be left alone with the preservation of biodiversity as the primary goal. But Canada is doing the exact opposite.
Schindler’s prescription included a national boreal science institute that would focus on trees and lakes. Although Canadians didn’t think of themselves as a boreal people, he didn’t think they would remain a wealthy people unless they did. To Schindler, boreal living really meant two things: “Keep it small and keep it diverse; the boreal is not a landscape that can support large populations.”
Throughout his career Schindler cultivated a special vocabulary for federal and provincial politicians who shunned scientific evidence. It included clowns, bozos, turkeys and the adjective pea-brained. He observed that Conservatives avoided science, while the Liberals just ignored it. Educating politicians about science-based policy was like playing chess with a gorilla, he said. “The game is boring, and you know you are going to win, but you have got to be prepared to duck once in a while when they get angry and take a swing at you.”
But Schindler innately built bridges, too. “He had also a knack for connecting with First Nations people — trappers and Chiefs included — for a number of good reasons, including his and Suzanne’s passion for sled dog racing and for their mutual contempt of bullshitters working for industry and especially government,” remembers veteran science journalist Ed Struzik.
“Dave had a way with words that could toss a smooth talker onto the shit wagon. I think that’s why [the late Alberta premier] Ralph Klein both loathed and admired him, and why [former deputy prime minister] Sheila Copps would phone him up late at night to get some advice on how to reform management of the national parks service.”
Sometimes he preferred to communicate via a well-executed practical joke. After an ELA colleague bought a new Kevlar canoe, the man boasted too much about its lightness. That gave Schindler an idea. He borrowed some lead sheeting left over from an experiment. Together with his son Daniel, they duct taped the lead under the seats and gunwale. The owner only discovered the added weight during a portage when the lead popped out. “I can still remember dad’s giggling the whole time we taped on the lead,” said Daniel.
One day in the late 1970s, Schindler brought home a pair of Siberian Huskies for the children. Then the kids wanted a sled. Bayley bought four more dogs. More animals followed, and Schindler and Bayley were soon entering competitive races on the weekends in the 1980s.
Sled dog racing is bit like football: you need 100 players on the roster to put 20 on the field. That meant nearly 90 dogs. Procuring food for the dogs, let alone naming them (entire litters were named after lakes, vegetables and Arctic ships) was an exercise in complexity, but Schindler considered his dogs a rare kind of inspiration.
“My mind works best while riding behind a dog sled,” he said. “I get a lot of ideas out there.”
Some of his best thoughts also came while picking up dog shit. In the early 1990s he and Bayley had the best six and 10 dog teams in Alberta. They didn’t quit until they stopped winning and the snows got sparse due to climate change.
In the 2000s, Schindler probably gave more public talks than he did scientific ones. He never liked crowds (to him, five people were a crowd). But he felt he had duties to fulfill. The public had funded the science, and they had a right to know what they paid for. And he didn’t think universities earned their rent unless they engaged with local communities, rural people and First Nations. “What drives me to do this stuff is seeing all of this good environmental science lying around on shelves in ivory towers that nobody puts into practice.”
Schindler didn’t just talk about science either. He read broadly and thought philosophically. He might start a paper on climate change by quoting the Qu’ran: “By means of water we give life to everything.”
When he lifted his eyes to take in the whole planet, he cautioned, “Continued human population growth can only be done at the expense of other species, and the global biogeochemical cycles on which higher forms of life depend. Signs are all around us, in rapidly decreasing biodiversity which is decreasing more rapidly in freshwaters than in any other type of ecosystem.”
Schindler saw through political methods of dodging the ecological consequences of money-backed enterprise. He was the first scientist to criticize what he called “the impact statement boondoggle.”
The environmental impact assessment, a mechanism which now dominates most big project reviews in Canada, worked with a brutal simplicity. Politicians set aside cash for industry consultants to produce “diffuse reports containing reams of uninterrupted and incomplete descriptive data.” Enormous funds were spent with no credible scientific return. This ensured that little real science got done in the public interest. Schindler’s 1976 critique, which appeared in Science, is more relevant today than ever.
Digby McLaren, a renowned geologist and former president of the Royal Society of Canada, described Schindler as a realist who just talked about what he saw. “He is a fearless man. I love him. If Schindler sees a house on fire, he’ll tell you and that’s not pessimism. And if he is saying Canada’s house is on fire, he’s got the case to support it.”
In 2007, Schindler realized that the rapid development of the oilsands was setting Canada’s house on fire. After an Alberta Tory minister boasted that the expanding project had no measurable impact on local waterways or the Athabasca River, Schindler’s bullshit detector went off with a bang. He had read the scientific literature and knew that any large-scale clearing of watersheds always resulted in the increased erosion of chemicals. The literature also documented how the upgrading of fossil fuels and the burning of petroleum coke left a tell-tale chemical fingerprint in the atmosphere.
He assembled a team and hired Erin Kelly, his former PhD student, to do the fieldwork. His hunch resulted in two studies that left provincial and federal politicians squirming like men with their pants on fire.
The Athabasca River winds through Alberta’s industrialized oilsands. Schindler led research on the mining’s effects on the vital waterway and worked, pro bono, figuring out ways to combat pollution risks for First Nations. Photo by Eamon MacMahon, Greenpeace.
The first 2009 study found that oilsands air pollution from mines and upgraders blackened the snow with thousands of tonnes of bitumen particulates and toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons during the winter within a 50-kilometre radius of the project. When the snow melted in the spring, the contaminants washed into the Athabasca River. The pollution amounted to an undisclosed annual oil spill between 5,000 to 13,000 barrels.
A followup 2010 study concluded that air pollution and watershed destruction by the oilsands industry annually added a rich brew of heavy metals including arsenic, thallium and mercury into the Athabasca River and at levels up to 30 times greater than permitted by pollution guidelines.
Schindler worried about the Indigenous communities that lived downstream in Fort Chip, and that depended on fishing for their nutrition, livelihood and culture. He put in endless days and weeks of work, pro bono, working with them and other northern communities to figure out ways to combat pollution risks. “We will miss him,” said John Malcom of the Original Fort McMurray First Nation. “He was a world class spokesman for humanity. If words and tears could help, I would shed a thunderstorm for him.”
In response to the oilsands findings, the provincial and federal governments promised independent monitoring, but it has since been effectively neutered by industry and the Alberta government. Now the Alberta government even wants to release the water contained in the toxic tailing ponds into the Athabasca River.
In 2012, the Harper government launched a co-ordinated attack on the country’s environmental legislation — long before Donald Trump did the same in the United States. One of the government’s key targets was funding for the Experimental Lakes Area. Suddenly a program that cost $2 million a year and that had saved the nation billions in terms of water pollution bills was no longer needed. Only a coalition of scientists and citizens saved the program from the dustbin of history.
But then the Harper government, which advocated for mining interests at home and in Latin America, attacked federal science libraries, effectively ordering the destruction of unique irreplaceable research holdings. “In retrospect, I am not surprised at all,” Schindler told The Tyee at the time. “Paranoid ideologues have burned books and records throughout human history to try and squelch dissenting visions that they view as heretical, and to anyone who worships the great God Economy monotheistically, environmental science is heresy.”
Seven years ago, Schindler retired at the age of 73. He and Bayley found an old ranch facing the Bugaboo Range in the interior of B.C. The 150-acre property ran down a bank to meet the clean waters of the Columbia River. Among its willow studded wetlands, Bayley still conducts research on the impacts of climate change.
The size of the workshop sold Schindler on the property. He filled it with tools, jigs and hardwoods. There the aging farm boy continued another one of his hobbies by building handsomely-crafted furniture made of cherry and other hardwoods for his grandchild. “I liked working with cherry, and Suzanne liked the product,” he said with a chuckle. Nearly every workstation in the shop still has a piece of furniture in some state of construction. Schindler never believed in working on one project at a time.
I last saw Dave about a month ago at his home. Five years ago, he fell on some ice while walking their two dogs. He broke some ribs, and then a virus invaded his heart. The heart damage limited his mobility and energy, but it did not dim his spirit.
In the kitchen we talked about old times and friends. (I was masked and physically distant.) He noted that life goes by quickly, and moves like a wind.
I suggested that fear of the future often haunted many ecologists, but I thought his work was really driven by a deep love for the present. And I asked him where that love of water began.
He said it all started with his grandmother. His mother really couldn’t handle his energy, so she regularly packed him off to his grandmother’s place on the farm.
She let the lake country instruct the boy. Their blue waters taught him the meaning of freedom. These same waters, in their own way, selected a master student. And this student also brought fish home for dinner.
And then I said goodbye knowing I would not see him again in this world.
I told him that we might meet next time on still water on a large lake. He would be paddling through an early morning mist and the fish would be jumping. Somewhere a loon might call.
nd I would hail him from my own canoe.
And he smiled.
And whenever I find those peaceful waters, I know exactly what he’ll say: “Come, we have work to do.”
AER: Operational Changes to Regional Offices and Field Centres, Including Closures
As a result of restructuring at the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) over the past year, we have created new operational (or service) areas for our field centres and regional offices. Consequently, their email addresses have changed and are now specific to the operational area. These changes are presented in the table below and are effective immediately. Office phone numbers and mailing addresses have not changed.
We have also closed or will be closing the following field centres as part of our efforts to reduce costs:
Wainwright Field Centre
Closed November 1, 2020
Midnapore Field Centre
Closed March 1, 2021
High Level Field Centre
Closing Fall 2021
Their staff members will continue to provide services, just either remotely or from a different physical location.
We have updated the map at www.aer.ca > Providing Information > About the AER > Contact Us > Regional Maps and Contacts to show these new operational areas and closure of the Wainwright and Midnapore Field Centres.
We have also updated the voluntary self-disclosure form for voluntarily reporting a noncompliance, available on the Compliance Assurance page of our website. Other regulatory documents will be updated on an ongoing basis. For the moment, emails sent to the old addresses will be forwarded to the new ones.
If you have any questions, please contact our Customer Contact Centre by phone at 403-297-8311 (1-855-297-8311) or by email at [email protected]
AER: New Well Integrity Directive
Today we released the new Directive 087: Well Integrity Management. It contains testing, reporting, and repair requirements for isolation packers, surface casing vent flows (SCVFs), gas migration, and casing failures.
The new directive replaces Interim Directive ID 2003-01: 1) Isolation Packer Testing, Reporting, and Repair Requirements; 2) Surface Casing Venting Flow/Gas Migration Testing, Reporting, and Repair Requirements; 3) Casing Failure Reporting and Repair Requirements and incorporates guidance previously given in Bulletin 2009-07 and Bulletin 2011-35.
Important changes introduced by this new directive include the following:
* Isolation packers in class II injection and disposal wells can be tested triennially with additional mitigations in place, instead of annually.
* Nonserious SCVFs can be tested in years one, two, and six with additional mitigations in place, instead of every year for five years.
* Nonroutine repairs need approval after three failed attempts with additional mitigations in place, instead of after one failed attempt.
* We published a draft version of the directive for public feedback on July 16, 2020. We received feedback from ten organizations, including oil and gas companies, service companies, an association, and an academic institution. The feedback and our responses are summarized in the feedback table found on the directive’s webpage.
Directive 087 is available on our website, www.aer.ca.
AER suspends SanLing Energy Ltd.’s operations
March 05, 2021… The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has suspended the licences for all of SanLing Energy Ltd.’s wells, facilities, and pipelines through a reasonable care and measures order. The order requires the company to take a number of actions, including
- suspending all wells, facilities, and pipelines and ensuring they are left in a state that is safe to the public and environment,
- complying with past orders to clean up historic spills and contamination,
- confirming that SanLing’s emergency response number is active and will initiate an immediate response in an emergency, and
- providing a detailed plan that demonstrates how SanLing will maintain the care of its wells, facilities, and pipelines while they are suspended.
SanLing holds AER licences for 2266 wells, 227 facilities, and 2170 pipelines and currently owes $67 million in security to the AER for its end-of-life obligations. Repeated attempts by the AER to bring SanLing into compliance have failed. As a result, the AER has little confidence in SanLing’s ability to conduct its operations safely and is taking this measure to protect the public and environment and to minimize financial risk.
“If SanLing, or any company, wants to do business in Alberta, they must follow our rules,” said Blair Reilly, director of Enforcement and Emergency Management. “We cannot allow a company that has ignored the rules continue to operate—that’s not in Alberta’s interest.”
A copy of the reasonable care and measure order and past orders issued to SanLing can be found on the AER’s Compliance Dashboard under the tab “Noncompliance and Enforcement.” SanLing may be able to resume operations if they meet the conditions of this order.
The AER ensures the safe, efficient, orderly, and environmentally responsible development of hydrocarbon resources over their entire life cycle. This includes allocating and conserving water resources, managing public lands, and protecting the environment while providing economic benefits for all Albertans.
Bilateral Working Group issues report on transboundary water monitoring
A collaborative four-year effort between B.C. and Alaska to examine water quality in the Stikine, Taku, and Unuk transboundary watersheds brought together government agencies, Indigenous Nations, industry, and the public to ensure the environmental, cultural, and economic values of these rivers are protected.
“This program has been an extraordinary partnership of many dedicated and knowledgeable people, and is a great example of what can be achieved when we work together,” said George Heyman, B.C.’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “Water and wildlife don’t recognize borders, and so it’s up to all of us to protect our critical and priceless watersheds regardless of jurisdiction.”
“Baseline data is incredibly important to understand the health of our transboundary waters,” said Jason Brune, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. “The data has not shown a measurable impact to Alaskan waters from historical mining activities in B.C. and will serve as a foundation to assess potential impacts from future industrial activity as well.”
The final reports of the B.C.-Alaska Transboundary Rivers Monitoring Program were released today and concluded that these rivers continue to support and sustain aquatic life in conjunction with mining and other land use activities.
The program was initiated out of the 2015 Memorandum of Understanding and Statement of Cooperation (Agreement) signed by the Governor of Alaska and Premier of British Columbia. The agreement called for the creation of a Bilateral Working Group (BWG) consisting of the commissioners of the Alaska departments of Environmental Conservation, Fish and Game, and Natural Resources and the deputy ministers of the British Columbia ministries of Energy, Mines, and Low Carbon Innovation, and Environment and Climate Change Strategy. The BWG seeks to foster ongoing collaboration on several deliverables to enhance and protect the shared environment, transboundary rivers, watersheds, and fisheries. The program focused on a review of existing environmental data, implementation of a joint water sampling program, partnerships with local Indigenous Nations, industries, and environmental groups.
With the BWG’s approval of the final reports, the B.C.-Alaska Transboundary Rivers Monitoring Program has now concluded its work. Given the existence of other sampling programs planned by state, federal or provincial agencies throughout the transboundary region, there is no need to continue the joint program. Alaska and B.C. will continue to collaborate on efforts to ensure the long-term protection of the shared waterways.
The final report of the B.C.-Alaska Transboundary Rivers Monitoring Program can be found at: http://dnr.alaska.gov/commis/opmp/Canadian-Mines/
And at: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/mineral-exploration-mining/compliance-enforcement/bc-alaska-transboundary-waters/water-quality-monitoring
Délınę Got’ınę Government to have greater say in cleanup of abandoned mines near Great Bear Lake
People in Délınę, N.W.T., will have greater control over how a group of abandoned mines will be cleaned up near their community.
The Délınę Got’ınę Government signed an agreement with the federal government last Wednesday to form a pair of committees that will allow community members a say in decisions about the clean-up.
The abandoned mines near Great Bear Lake are one of eight high-risk mining sites the federal government plans to remediate in the Northwest Territories and Yukon.
The plan is expected to cost $2.2 billion over 15 years.
“For many generations, we’ve avoided these areas because of the contamination,” said Ɂek’wahtı̨dǝ́ Leeroy Andre, Délınę’s elected leader, in an interview with CBC Trail’s End host Lawrence Nayally.
“We’re still scared to go on the land because we don’t know what exposures we have, and we don’t trust the government. So I want to make sure that the work that we do is by our people and for our people, and that they can see for themselves the work that they’ve done,” he said.
“We don’t want to repeat those same mistakes that that has caused many problems.”
Andre points to the legacy of Port Radium, a former uranium mine near the community along Great Bear Lake.
He says many ore workers and their family members developed cancer later in life, leading to a lot of mistrust.
Andre said one of the biggest sites to tackle is the former Terra Mine, home to a mill, tailings pond and a number of large fuel tanks, which according to the federal government, led to significant fuel contamination in the soil.
The governance agreement announced Thursday establishes the Délı̨nę-Canada Remediation Management Committee and Operations Committee.
The management committee will direct the remediation project while the operations committee will look to carry it out.
“This agreement allows us to move forward together, as partners, on this important project to restore the land while protecting and maintaining the ecological integrity of Great Bear Lake and its watershed,” said Dan Vandal, federal minister of Northern Affairs, in a statement accompanying the announcement.
It will also allow for economic benefits to the community, including training opportunities for local hires.
The agreement stands in contrast to work at the Giant Mine site near Yellowknife, one of the eight abandoned mine sites included in Ottawa’s remediation project.
The Yellowknives Dene First Nation and the federal government recently agreed to set up a formal process to discuss an apology and compensation for the First Nation and to ensure the YKDFN play a formal role in the remediation after the mine operated on its land without its consent for several decades.
The cleanup of Giant Mine is expected to cost nearly $1 billion and take 18 years.
MLA for Yellowknife North Rylund Johnson brought it up during a sitting of the territory’s legislative assembly last week.
Johnson said there is decades of work to be done but the territory is failing to capture one of the largest economic development opportunities in its history.
“Remediating the North’s contaminated sites is an act of reconciliation, a massive economic driver, and leaves a better future for next generations,” Johnson said.
He said the territory needs to track the socioeconomic outcomes of the projects, something the N.W.T. minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment committed to look into.
Back in Délıne, Andre said the remediation work is a daunting project, but necessary work.
“At the end of it, we want to make sure that the environment is going to be healthy and safe for people to go back,” he said.
“We want to use this land. It’s such a beautiful area.”
Microsoft Exchange Vulnerabilities Allowing Threat Actors to Access the Entire Contents of Email
ESAA’s auditor shared the following bulletin with us and suggested that our membership should be made aware of the threat.
On March 2, 2021 in the ongoing battle between threat actors and manufacturers, Microsoft has identified a state sponsored Chinese group code named Hafnium. This group is specifically targeting Microsoft Exchange servers that are vulnerable due to a zero day attack that allows them to exfiltration data from your email system. Although all servers are affected, this group has been seen targeting industries including infectious disease researchers, law firms, higher education institutions, defense contractors, policy think tanks and NGOs.
Microsoft has identified four vulnerabilities that affects Microsoft Exchange 2013, 2016 and 2019. This software should be updated immediately. Additional information on the threat can be found here.
ESAA Member News
Englobe announces the acquisition of Ontario-based Terraprobe
(Source: HazMat Magazine) Englobe Corporation, a soils, materials and environmental engineering firm with a established network of offices across Canada and in Europe, recently announced that it has acquired Terraprobe, an Ontario-based consulting engineering firm. Terraprobe’s technical and engineering expertise will help position Englobe as a provider of geotechnical, materials testing and environmental engineering (GME) services in the province.
Founded in 1977, Terraprobe’s areas of specialization include geotechnical, environmental, shoring design, building science, and hydrogeological engineering. In addition to its head office in Brampton, the company has satellite offices in Barrie, Sudbury and Stoney Creek, Ontario. As a result, some 200 Terraprobe employees will join the Englobe family.
In addition, Englobe stands to gain market benefits from this new partnership. Notably, Terraprobe’s geotechnical, hydrogeology and soil/rock testing capabilities, when combined with Englobe’s construction materials testing expertise, will serve to build a team able to deliver diverse GME services across Ontario.
“By working in tandem, Englobe and Terraprobe will be much better positioned to pursue major provincial transit and infrastructure projects requiring higher-complexity qualifications,” notes Mike Cormier, Co-President of Englobe. “We’re excited to welcome Terraprobe’s experienced engineers, scientists and technicians to Englobe’s Ontario Professional Services team. In doing so, Englobe’s bench strength will grow to more than 450 staff – primarily in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area – with an impressive range of technical and administrative expertise.”
The two companies have partnered on numerous projects over the years, developing a solid track record of positive and close collaboration as well as an excellent cultural fit. “Terraprobe has always adopted a client-centric approach in delivering full customer satisfaction,” says Billy Singh, Terraprobe President and CEO. “We’re very pleased to be joining Englobe, a company that shares our own ethical, fair and rewarding work practices to benefit their clients, employees and community. I’m certain this new relationship between our two companies will be fruitful and mutually beneficial.”
Remediation Technology News and Resource
(The following are selected items from the US EPA’s Tech Direct – http://clu-in.org/techdirect/)
Upcoming Live Internet Seminars
AquaConSoil 3rd Keynote Presentation Sustainable Remediation Technologies – March 16, 2021, 9:00AM-10:00AM EDT (14:00-16:00 GMT). This year’s 3rd keynote will be presented by Carlos Pachon from the US Environmental Protection Agency. He will give a keynote on sustainable remediation technologies in the context of societal objectives. This session is hosted by Prof. Dr. Huub Rijnaarts (Wageningen University & Chairman of AquaConSoil). For more information and to register, see https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/3562145405990096141
Mining Webinar Series: Evaluation of Rotating Cylinder Treatment System™ at Elizabeth Mine, Vermont, March 16, 2021, 1:00PM-2:00PM EDT (17:00-18:00 GMT). This webinar will present a case study of the rotating cylinder treatment system™ (RCTS™) operated at the Elizabeth Mine in Strafford, Vermont. The webinar will discuss the capabilities and limitations of active lime treatment of water using the RCTS™ technology. For more information and to register, please visit https://clu-in.org/live.
An Environmental Cold Case Detective Story: Discovery and Repair of the Soil Cover on the Cell 3 Landfill, March 17, 2021, 1:00PM-3:00PM EDT (17:00-19:00 GMT). The Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) Denver Post and Philadelphia Post along with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are hosting a series of webinars based on talks given at recent Design and Construction Issues at Hazardous Waste Sites (DCHWS) Symposiums. This presentation will review work conducted at Landfill Cell 3 on Closed Sanitary Landfill (CSL) at Fort Meade. During activities to remove some waste soil piles in 2013, test pits uncovered general wastes under a plastic liner and it was realized that Cell 3 was a waste site in the past that, based on old figures and aerial photographs, extended for over 38 acres. A remedial investigation was conducted that summarized the landfill history, delineated the boundary of the cell, and assessed environmental impacts from the cell. For more information and to register, please visit https://clu-in.org/live.
ITRC Petroleum Vapor Intrusion: Fundamentals of Screening, Investigation, and Management, March 23, 2021, 1:00PM-3:15PM EDT (17:00-19:15 GMT). Chemical contaminants in soil and groundwater can volatilize into soil gas and migrate through unsaturated soils of the vadose zone. Vapor intrusion (VI) occurs when these vapors migrate upward into overlying buildings through cracks and gaps in the building floors, foundations, and utility conduits, and contaminate indoor air. If present at sufficiently high concentrations, these vapors may present a threat to the health and safety of building occupants. Petroleum vapor intrusion (PVI) is a subset of VI and is the process by which volatile petroleum hydrocarbons (PHCs) released as vapors from light nonaqueous phase liquids (LNAPL), petroleum-contaminated soils, or petroleum-contaminated groundwater migrate through the vadose zone and into overlying buildings. The ITRC Technical and Regulatory Guidance Web-Based Document, Petroleum Vapor Intrusion: Fundamentals of Screening, Investigation, and Management (PVI-1, 2014) and this associated Internet-based training provides regulators and practitioners with consensus information based on empirical data and recent research to support PVI decision making under different regulatory frameworks. The PVI assessment strategy described in this guidance document enables confident decision making that protects human health for various types of petroleum sites and multiple PHC compounds. This guidance provides a comprehensive methodology for screening, investigating, and managing potential PVI sites and is intended to promote the efficient use of resources and increase confidence in decision making when evaluating the potential for vapor intrusion at petroleum-contaminated sites. By using the ITRC guidance document, the vapor intrusion pathway can be eliminated from further investigation at many sites where soil or groundwater is contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons or where LNAPL is present. For more information and to register, see https://www.itrcweb.org or https://clu-in.org/live.
ITRC 1,4-Dioxane: Science, Characterization & Analysis, and Remediation March 25, 2021, 1:00PM-3:15PM EDT (17:00-19:15 GMT). 1,4-Dioxane has seen widespread use as a solvent stabilizer since the 1950s. The widespread use of solvents through the 1980s suggests its presence at thousands of solvent sites in the US; however, it is not always a standard compound in typical analytical suites for hazardous waste sites, so it previously was overlooked. The U.S. EPA has classified 1,4-dioxane as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” Some states have devised health standards or regulatory guidelines for drinking water and groundwater standards; these are often sub-part per billion values. These low standards present challenges for analysis, characterization, and remediation of 1,4-dioxane. The ITRC team created multiple tools and documents that provide information to assist all interested stakeholders in understanding this contaminate and for making informed, educated decisions. This training is a series of six (6) modules. The six individual modules will be presented together live, and then archived on the ITRC 1,4-Dioxane training webpage for on demand listening. For more information and to register, see https://www.itrcweb.org or https://clu-in.org/live.
2021 Design and Construction at Hazardous Waste Sites Virtual Symposium, March 29, 31 and April 1, 2021, 1:00PM-5:00PM EDT (17:00-21:00 GMT). Given the COVID-19 national health emergency and its affects on corporate/government travel policies as well as local/state health requirements, it has become necessary to hold the conference as a remote webinar based event. With the DCHWS Philadelphia Conference being canceled earlier this year, our fall conference will be co-sponsored by the SAME Philadelphia Post, the SAME Denver Metro Post, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For more information and to register, please visit https://clu-in.org/live.
ITRC Long-term Contaminant Management Using Institutional Controls, March 30, 2021, 1:00PM-3:15PM EDT (17:00-19:15 GMT). Institutional controls (ICs) are administrative or legal restrictions that provide protection from exposure to contaminants on a site. When ICs are jeopardized or fail, direct exposure to human health and the environment can occur. While a variety of guidance and research to date has focused on the implementation of ICs, ITRC’s Long-term Contaminant Management Using Institutional Controls (IC-1, 2016) guidance and this associated training class focuses on post-implementation IC management, including monitoring, evaluation, stakeholder communications, enforcement, and termination. The ITRC guidance and training will assist those who are responsible for the management and stewardship of ICs. After attending the training, participants will be able to: describe best practices and evolving trends for IC management at individual sites and across state agency programs; use this guidance to improve IC reliability and prevent IC failures, improve existing, or develop new, IC Management programs, identify the pros and cons about differing IC management approaches; use the tools to establish an LTS plan for specific sites; and use the elements in the tools to understand the information that should populate an IC registry or data management system. For more information and to register, see http://www.itrcweb.org or http://clu-in.org/live.
New Documents and Web Resources
New ITRC 1,4 Dioxane Guidance Website Now Available. 1,4-Dioxane has been used as a solvent stabilizer since the 1950s. The widespread use of solvents through the 1980s suggests its presence at thousands of solvent sites. However, it has not always been a standard compound in typical analytical suites, so it has been often overlooked in the past. This ITRC guidance document provides information about the science to understand 1,4-dioxane contamination and how to address it at your sites. Visit the ITRC Website to learn more at https://14d-1.itrcweb.org/.
Technology Innovation News Survey Corner. The Technology Innovation News Survey contains market/commercialization information; reports on demonstrations, feasibility studies and research; and other news relevant to the hazardous waste community interested in technology development. Recent issues, complete archives, and subscription information is available at https://clu-in.org/products/tins/. The following resources were included in recent issues:
- High-Performance Treatment of PFAS from Investigation-Derived Waste: Integrating Advanced Oxidation-Reduction and Membrane Concentration
- CO2 Radiocarbon Analysis to Quantify Organic Contaminant Degradation, MNA, and Engineered Remediation Approaches
- Guidance for Monitoring Passive Groundwater Remedies Over Extended Time Scales
- Brownfields and Land Revitalization Program Impacts
- Technical Resources for Vapor Intrusion Mitigation
- System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders (SAVER): Document Library
- Field Portable Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometers Assessment Report
- Handheld Explosives Trace Detectors Assessment Report
New ESAA Member
ESAA welcomes the following new member. If you are not a member of ESAA you can join now via: https://esaa.org/membership/join-esaa/
Morinville, AB T8R 1K7
Phone: (780) 238-1017
Kyle Stewart, Operations Supervisor
Abacus Enterprises Inc. is an independently owned remediation, excavation, trucking and reclamation company, operating in Morinville, Alberta. We are proud to serve Alberta wide with strong connections in the Sturgeon County, Hinton, Edson, Drayton Valley, Slave Lake, Westlock, Barrhead and Whitecourt areas.
New ESAA Webinar: ACWA Roles in Developing Alberta Water Solutions to Emerging Global Problems
11am – 12pm
March 24th, 2021
Dr. Leland Jackson will discuss the The University of Calgary’s Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets, its capacity and role in developing made in Alberta water solutions for global problems like Microplastics, Antimicrobial Resistance and the Environment and pharmaceuticals in the water systems.
Leland (Lee) J. Jackson
Professor | Department of Biological Sciences
Scientific Director | Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets
Adjunct Professor | Faculty of Environmental Design
University of Calgary
Dr. Leland Jackson’s research interests center on processes that affect the stability of aquatic communities and ecosystems, and relationships between sustainable growth and water quality and quantity.
Registration is free!
If you are interested in sponsoring this webinar, contact Joe at the ESAA Office.
Virtual EnviroTech 2021 Information and Call for Abstracts
ESAA Job Board
Check out the new improved ESAA Job Board. Members can post ads for free.
- Business Development Manager – Remediation Services – Clean Harbors
- Summer Students / Seasonal Staff – Vegetation Management – North Shore Environmental Consultants
- Senior Aquatic Ecologist – SLR Consulting
- Environmental Scientist – SLR Consulting
- Principal Hydrogeologist – SLR Consulting
- Senior Environmental Assessment / Environmental Planning Professional – SLR Consulting
- Sales Specialist – CARO Analytical Services
- Intermediate Reclamation Specialist – Ecoventure
- Project Archaeologist – Tree Time Services
- Permit Archaeologist – Tree Time Services
- Environmental Assistant – Paragon Soil & Environmental Consulting
- Manager, Human Resource – Trace Associates
- Senior Researcher – Reclamation, Remediation – InnoTech Alberta