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Wasted wetlands.

8 A bout 70 percent of Lake Athabasca lies within Saskatchewan and the balance is in Alberta. The major water sources are the Athabasca (53 percent) and Fond du Lac (21 percent) Rivers. The lake is drained by several rivers that eventually join the Peace River to form the Slave River.

The Peace-Athabasca Delta, located at the southwestern end of the lake, is one of the world's largest freshwater deltas and is a major wetland area. The shallow lakes, rock pools, and streams associated with the delta are important spawning areas for lake trout, Arctic gray ling, lake whitefish, goldeye, northern pike, yellow perch, and walleye. In all, 23 species of fish are found in the lake.

Wetlands are vitally important to the environment and many of them have already been destroyed; others are threatened. The north shore of Lake Athabasca is an example.

Uranium deposits were found in the Beaverlodge area of Saskatchewan in 1935. In 1943, the federal government created Eldorado Mining and Refining Limited as a crown corporation. Ten years later, the company was operating a uranium mine and mill near Lake Athabasca. The rich deposits of uranimn were in great demand for nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants.

A town was built to house the thousands of people who moved to work in the nearly 50 mines eventually operating in the area. Appropriately enough, they called the community Uranium City.

The jobs paid high wages and Uranium City was a boom town for a couple of decades. By 1958, the town had 5,000 residents. Then, demand for uranium dropped--few nuclear power plants were being built be cause of their high cost and safety concerns. The stockpile of nuclear weapons (enough to destroy the planet several times over) had grown so big that more were not needed.

In the early 1980s, the mines at the north end of Lake Athabasca started to close. By 2004, the population of Uranium City was down to 201.

While the miners have gone a lot of what they did hasn't. Mining companies simply packed up and moved out. Many didn't even bother to close up their mines, let alone clean up the area. There are 45 abandonned mine sites and more than 10 million tonnes of tailings in the Beaverlodge area. The tailings contain all sorts of nasty material (arsenic and uranium for starters), and toxic waste is spilling into the environment.

But it's not just the nearby environment that is in danger. The chemicals are getting into the water system, and are slowly making their way down to southern Saskatchewan and Alberta. If the mine sites are not cleaned up, the problem will just get worse.

The trouble is no one is willing to pay for a cleanup. The former mine owners aren't taking responsibility, and the Canadian government says it doesn't have the kind of money it would take to clean up the area.


On the southern shore of the lake are the Lake Athabasca Sand Dunes. This is a series of dunes that stretches for about 100 kilometres and is the largest dune field north of 58 degrees in the world. The scenery is outstanding and, combined with a unique eco system, the area is rich in rare and unique plants that scientists consider an evolutionary puzzle.

The dunes were designated a "Provincial Wilderness Park" in 1992 after a long, half century, struggle with mining companies and government bureaucracy. There are no communities, permanent residents, services, facilities, or roads of any kind within or near the park. Independent visitors must be fully equipped for self-contained wilderness travel, and be aware of the potential hazards as well as their responsibilities in protecting this fragile environment.


The world record lake trout, all 46.3 kilos of it, was caught in Lake Athabasca in 1961, However it was caught in a gillnet.
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Title Annotation:Like Athabasca
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Previous Article:Don't go fish.
Next Article:Fishing paradise.

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