The Oldman River flows 440 km from its headwaters in south-western Alberta, through mountains, foothills and plains into the South Saskatchewan River. Peak flows occur in May and June. Three major reservoirs, together with more than a dozen other structures, supply water to nine irrigation districts and other water users in the Oldman basin. Human activity in the basin includes forestry, recreation, oil and gas development, and agriculture, including a large number of confined livestock feeding operations. Based on the perception of basin residents that water quality was declining and of human health concern, the Oldman River Basin Water Quality Initiative was formed in 1997 to address the concerns. There was limited factual information, and at the time there was a desire for finger pointing. Results (1998–2002) show that mainstem water quality remains good whereas tributary water quality is more of a challenge. Key variables of concern are nutrients, bacteria and pesticides. Point source discharges are better understood and better regulated, whereas non-point source runoff requires more attention. Recent data on Cryptosporidium and Giardia species are providing benefit for focusing watershed management activities. The water quality data collected is providing a foundation to implement community-supported urban and rural better management practices to improve water quality.

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