Water quality guidelines

Water quality guidelines for surface water, including aquatic life, agriculture and recreation and aesthetics.

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 Environmental Quality Guidelines for Alberta Surface Waters include guidelines for:

  • surface water quality (to protect aquatic life, agricultural and recreational uses)
  • sediment quality
  • tissue residue (to protect wildlife consumers and fish from direct toxicity)

This document is updated as new guidelines become available.

The Alberta guidelines include ones developed by the:

  • Government of Alberta
  • Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME)
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)
  • other Canadian provinces

The guidelines are used to:

  • evaluate and report on surface water quality conditions
  • develop water quality based approval limits for wastewater discharges
  • provide the basis for site-specific water quality objectives

General guidance on the application of the guidelines is provided in the document.

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

If you have any questions or would like to be added to an email list to receive notifications regarding guideline updates, contact: [email protected].

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 that are linked to 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. The Alberta government has prepared scientific guidance material to support the derivation of SSWQOs for rivers in Alberta, which is contained in the following document.