12 Subwatersheds

Stream order hierarchy emerged from a 1952 article “Hypsometric (Area Altitude) Analysis of Erosional Topology” written by Arthur Newell Strahler, a geoscience professor at Columbia University in New York City.

This method of classifying stream size is useful to scientists, because it illustrates the size and strength of specific waterways within a watershed. This is important information for watershed management. Stream order is used to map river systems and mark boundaries between watersheds.

According to the  Geological Survey of Canada, these are the 12 sub watersheds in the North Saskatchewan River watershed in Alberta: 

    Cline Ram  Clearwater  Brazeau
    Modeste  Strawberry  Sturgeon  Beaverhill   
    White Earth  Frog  Monnery  Vermillion


    PHOTOS   by Images Alberta Camera Club                                                

 The North Saskatchewan River starts in the Cline River watershed at the toe of the Saskatchewan Glacier in the Columbia Icefields in the Rocky Mountans. The watershed is shared between Banff National Park and Clearwater County. There are no urban centres in this watershed. The Cline River watershed is a dry, windy, rocky area providing an excellent environment for a variety of recreational activities such as fishing, hiking, skiing, canoeing, rafting, and rock-climbing.

Aside from recreation, there is little human activity in the Cline River watershed. 60% of this watershed is part of a National Park and two wilderness areas (White Goat Wilderness Area & Siffleur Wilderness Area). These factors contribute to making the Cline River watershed the healthiest of the North Saskatchewan River’s 12 sub watersheds. Studies on land use, water quality, water quantity, and presence of a wide variety of plants and animals in the region suggest the subwatershed is thriving. 

Ram subwatershed

PHOTOS by Images Alberta Camera Club


The Ram sub watershed covers 632,541 hectares of Rocky Moutain foothills, including parts of Brazeau and Clearwater counties. Within its boundaries lie the urban areas of Rocky Mountain House and Nordegg; the Bighorn 144A First Nations Reserve, and Crimson Lake Provincial Park. A variety of activities take place within the watershed including tourism; oil and gas recovery; forestry; and agriculture.

The Ram watershed appears to be healthy based on studies of land use, water quality, water quantity, and the abundance of plant and animal life. Managing and protecting the Ram watershed requires cooperation from the forestry industry, because it has rights to the vast majority of land within the watershed. Less than 1% of the Ram watershed exists inside a protected area.

Clearwater subwatershed

CLEARWATER subwatershed photos
by Images Alberta Camera Club



Most of the Clearwater sub watershed is located within Clearwater County. It covers parts of the Rocky Mountains and the foothills, extending into Banff National Park, and taking in a section of the town of Rocky Mountain House. It is a diverse area, made up of rocky ridges, forests, grassland, water bodies, and farm land. Within its boundaries, human activity includes oil and gas extraction, forestry, agriculture, and tourism. These activities like these have an impact upon the land and sometimes clash with conservation and protection efforts.

Further studies on the health of this watershed are necessary, but existing assessments suggest that the Ram is largely a well-functioning sub watershed.

Brazeau subwatershed

BRAZEAU subwatershed photos by Images Alberta Camera Club



The Brazeau sub watershed covers sections of the Rocky Mountains and foothills areas, spanning 689,198 hectares of land, lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and icefields. It lies mostly within the Clearwater, Brazeau, and Yellowhead counties, with a small portion of its land mass in Banff and Jasper National Parks. It is home to people on the First Nation Sunchild 202 and O’Chiese 203 reserves, but otherwise hosts few permanent residents. Recreation: hiking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, hunting, camping, and trail riding are the main human activities. There is some forestry activity, but there are no other major industries operate in the area, and most of the land is not suited for agriculture.

The Brazeau subwatershed appears to be a healthy watershed.

Greater Edmonton Area MAP

Modeste subwatershed

MODESTE subwatershed photos by Images Alberta Camera Club


Located within the foothills and boreal forest areas, the Modeste sub watershed encompasses several municipalities and settlements. The Brazeau, Clearwater, Leduc, Parkland and Wetaskiwin Counties all share the 482,746 hectares of this watershed, as do the small communities of Alder Flats, Betula Beach, Breton, Buck Creek, Carvel, Drayton Valley, Duffield, Fallis, Kapasiwin, Keephills, Lakeview, Lodgepole, Point Alison, Rocky Rapids, Seba Beach, Tomahawk, Wabamun, Winfield, and the First Nation’s Reserves Wabamun Lake 133A, O’Chiese 203 and Buck Lake 133C.

The sub watershed also boasts several lakes, quarries, wetlands, reservoirs, rivers, and canals. People use the larger lakes in the region for recreational purposes, such as swimming, fishing, boating, and camping. Oil and gas extraction, farming, and forestry also occur within the subwatershed. The Modeste sub watershed is home to Canada’s largest surface strip mine, which is located near Wabamun Lake and provides the surrounding power plants with coal.

The industrial, urban, and agricultural activity within the watershed are likely affecting the water quality of the region. More testing needs to be done on the health of the Modeste watershed, but existing assessments suggest that the watershed’s functioning has been affected by the level of human activity in the area.

Strawberry subwatershed

STRAWBERRY subwatershed photos by Images Alberta Camera Club


Leduc, Parkland, Strathcona, and Wetaskiwin Counties; the Stony Plain First Nations Reserve 135, and several urban municipalities, including part of the Cities of EdmontonSt. Albert and Leduc and the Town of Devon are within the boundaries of the Strawberry sub watershed. In addition to significant urban development in this sub watershed; agriculture, oil and gas extraction and aggregate mining require increasingly complex land use decisions.

Water quality testing has shown that the effects of human activity in this sub watershed are variable. More testing is required to fill data gap concerning the health of the Strawberry sub watershed.

Sturgeon River Watershed      Powerpoint Presentation

STURGEON subwatershed photos

by Images Alberta Camera Club


The Sturgeon sub watershed is characterized mainly by urban development and agriculture. In addition to supporting a strong agricultural community, the Sturgeon subwatershed's 331,764 hectares include parts of the Cities of Edmonton, St. Albert, all of the City of Spruce Grove and Towns of Stony Plain and Gibbons; as well as the Alexis 133 and Alexander 134 First Nations’ Reserves. In addition to natural gas and oil extraction, aggegate mining is also a major industrial activity in this subwatershed. 

There is a great deal of human activity in the Sturgeon sub watershed, the effects of which have not yet been fully studied.  

Beaverhill Watershed

BEAVERHILL subwatershed photos by Images Alberta Camera Club


The Beaverhill sub watershed’s contains forests and wetlands that support a diverse range of plants and animals. Although some of the sub watershed is urban – including Leduc, parts of Edmonton, St. Albert, Fort Saskatchewan, Sherwood Park and several other small towns – it also contains natural areas such as Elk Island National Park, Beaverhill Lake and Cooking Lake Moraine. People use the Beaverhill sub watershed for a variety of recreational activities including bird watching, hiking, canoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and horseback riding. Other human activity in the subwatershed includes oil and gas extraction and development, farming, housing, and chemical manufacturing.

Intense human activity has affected the water quality in and the overall health of the Beaverhill sub watershed, but there are initiatives in place designed to protect the watershed’s ecosystems. 

Downstream Region


White Earth subwatershed

WHITE EARTH subwatershed photos by Images Alberta Camera Club


The White Earth sub watershed is mostly boreal forest and largely undisturbed by intense human activity, although it is home to small communities, such as Thorhild and Smoky Lake Counties, the Town of Two Hills and Two Hills County. It also contains Long Lake Provincial Park, where people enjoy canoeing, fishing, hiking, camping, cross-country skiing, and bird watching. High quality soil encourages farming. There is some oil and gas extraction within the watershed. Sections of the sub watershed that have been protected include the White Earth Natural area, and sections of the Smoky Lake and Thorhild Provincial Grazing Reserves.

There have been few studies on the health of this watershed, but existing studies indicate it is functioning fairly well. 

Frog subwatershed

FROG subwatershed photos by Images Alberta Camera Club


The Frog sub watershed includes the towns of St. Paul and Elk Point, part of the Counties of Two Hills, Smoky Lake and Vermillion River, along with Fishing Lake Metis Settlement, Elizabeth Metis SettlementFrog Lake First Nation, and Onion Lake Cree Nation. The Frog also contains Whitney Lakes Provincial Park, and the St. Paul Provincial Grazing Reserve. People visit the Frog to camp, hike, fish, canoe, kayak, water-ski, cycle, and bird watch. A significant amount of farming occurs within the sub watershed as the soil is well-suited for agriculture. heavy oil and salt extraction make up the main industrial activity. Most of the sub watershed is within Alberta’s Dry Mixedwood Natural Subregion, with only a small part within Parkland Natural Subregion. The sub watershed appears to be fairly healthy, but more studies must be done to gain a better understanding of the watershed’s functioning and the impact of human activity.

Monnery subwatershed

MONNERY subwatershed photos by Images Alberta Camera Club


The Monnery sub watershed reaches to the Saskatchewan border. Within the 125,537 hectares of Dry Mixedwood area is County of Vermillion River and Municipal District of Bonnyville; the urban communities of Lloydminster, Streamstown, Tulliby Lake, Blackfoot, as well as the Makoo 120 First Nations Reserve. Many people farm within the Monnery sub watershed, as the soil is highly suitable for agriculture. Oil and gas development also occurs within the sub watershed. More studies of the watershed are necessary, but existing studies suggest that the Monnery is fairly healthy.

Vermilion River Watershed

VERMILION subwatershed photos

by Images Alberta Camera Club


Lying within Alberta’s Parkland region, the Vermilion sub watershed includes several rural municipalities and small towns. These include Counties of Two Hills, St. Paul, and Vermilion River, as well as the towns of Dewberry, Innisfree, Minburn, Mundare, Two Hills, Vermilion, and Vegreville. Also within its boundaries are the Minburn Provincial Grazing Reserve and Vermilion Provincial Park where people enjoy a variety of recreational activities such as hiking, camping, fishing, canoeing, bird watching, and cross-country skiing. Agriculture is the main industry within the Vermilion sub watershed. Few studies have been done on the health of the Vermilion sub watershed; however, existing studies suggest the Vermilion is not as healthy as it could be.