Located almost 200 km northeast of Edmonton, Alberta, Saddle Lake Cree Nation community is the second largest First Nation in Alberta and has been a meeting place for the Cree Nation for over 200 years. For decades, Saddle Lake residents dealt with a lack of reliable and adequate access to drinking water, suffering from what Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) rated as a high-risk surface water supply. Even after treatment, the water distributed by the old plant was among the worst in the country.

Installing a biological water treatment system ended the water quality crisis and began to build much-needed trust and faith in the community’s water supply.

Saddle Lake – The Past: Conventional Water Treatment

The source water for the community comes from Saddle Lake, and is full of thick blue-green algae that washes up on shore in large quantities. Built in 1982, the old water treatment plant required large quantities of harsh chemicals to treat this water, costing upwards of $15,000 every month. In addition to the various chemicals that were used to treat the water, the distribution system itself was also poorly built.

After treatment, the aluminum levels alone in the tap water were still 10 times higher than Health Canada guidelines. The old water treatment system wasn’t effective; it couldn’t be optimized for the community’s needs and failed to provide safe drinking water.

Saddle Lake – Today: Biological Water Treatment

In 2011, Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Alberta upgraded its under-performing water treatment system to a biological water treatment system – Sapphire Integrated Biological Reverse Osmosis Membrane (SIBROM) – fed directly from the surface water of Saddle Lake itself.

There are three core treatment phases in a SIBROM biological water treatment system: biological filtration, reverse osmosis membrane filtration, and re-mineralization to optimize the pH of the treated water. At Saddle Lake, the SIBROM system feeds the biological filters directly with surface water, followed by reverse osmosis membrane treatment.

The SIBROM process successfully removes troublesome contaminants, such as the blue-green algae found in Saddle Lake, producing biologically stable water. Since much of Saddle Lake’s distribution system was poorly constructed, having biologically stable water run through the pipes is necessary to decrease the chance of in-pipe contamination.

Parameter Feed Water
Water Quality
Removal using
Removal using
Iron (mg/L) 0.008 0.005 0.000 43.13% 100.00%
Manganese (mg/L) 0.005 0.001 0.000 86.17% 100.00%
Arsenic (mg/L) 2.250 2.150 0.000 4.44% 100.00%
Phosphorus (mg/L) 0.100 0.071 0.003 29.00% 97.00%
Ammonia (mg/L) 0.450 0.020 0.000 95.56% 100.00%
Nitrate (mg/L) 0.860 2.225 0.316 N/A 63.31%

The installation of the new SIBROM system immediately decreased the amount of chemicals required, needing only 20 liters a week of chlorine to produce more than enough clean, high-quality water to meet the needs of the community. The drastic drop in the use of chemicals has lead to a significant reduction in operating costs.

“Compared to the conventional plant, it’s night and day. The system is very resilient, it’s much simpler and more efficient. And people are now building more trust in the water.”

– Carl Shirt, Plant Manager

For more details, check out the in-depth Saddle Lake case study on our website.