Effects of Septic Fields on Sylvan Lake Water Quality and Public Health

The 2005 study of the watershed by AXYS Environmental included investigations of the nutrient and bacteriological impacts of shoreline properties on near-shore water quality. The goals were in part to determine if that source of nutrient loading of the lake might contribute to blue-green algae growth and to detect if added bacteria might be of public health concern.

Two important AXYS 2005 (15 MB download) conclusions are:

1. The Phosphorus and Nitrogen nutrient loading of the lake from septic field seepage were estimated to be less than 9% and 3% respectively of the total P and N nutrients discharged into the lake at that time. Most of the nutrient load enters the lake in the tributary flows that carry nutrients and contaminants off the land into the lake.

Since 2005 more septic fields have been replaced with holding tanks and containment is improved so releases to the lake presumably have been reduced substantially.

2. Two surveys (1988 and 2004) of bacteriological contamination in the near-shore zones that might be affected by septic field seepage determined that water samples met health standards on those dates. The AXYS 2005 authors concluded that more bacterial contamination likely entered the lake in tributaries than in septic field seepage.

The importance of these facts for lakefront communities is that the risk to Sylvan Lake caused by septic field contamination as assumed by some may be too high. Therefore the benefit/cost ratio of the proposed sanitary servicing project described in other related SLWSS News posts is likely lower than imagined.

In addition, management of sewage by property owners has changed since 2004. Containment and handling has been improved and seepage into the lake surely has been reduced substantially since then.


Report on Lacombe County’s Sylvan Lake Wastewater Proposal

Dozens of property owners from the Kuusamo Krest, Yuill, Palm Cove and Blissfull Beach communities on Sylvan Lake who would be affected by the Lacombe County Sanitary Servicing Project attended a meeting tonight with Council for a presentation and discussion of the proposal.

The County’s policy requires each of the four groups to install community sewage systems that connect individual holding tanks to a large central containment vessel that would be pumped out and transferred by road to the existing dump station on Aspelund Road. From there, waste would be pipelined to the Town of Sylvan Lake sewage treatment facility.

The two goals of the project are (i) to protect Sylvan Lake water quality from potential seepage of nutrient and bacteriological contaminants and (ii) to prepare smaller communities within Lacombe County jurisdiction for the anticipated connection to fresh water supply and sewage treatment services in the City of Red Deer.

Many of the Lacombe County property owners in the audience who listened to the presentation were not convinced about either the environmental protection claim or the project’s economic merits. For owners who have already invested in, upgraded and maintained their existing sewage handling systems and who contract for a routine pump-out service the proposed change would not increase lake protection. They have achieved that goal already.

Economically, most would be forced pay a high capital cost to install new equipment that complies with the proposed design standard, and would face possibly higher operating costs. Even a federal government subsidy of about $1.3 million for the $4.4 million project did not seem to generate much enthusiasm. The details are included in the report that is linked above.

The County plan offered no alternative, including exemption of those property owners who already meet an equivalent technical standard for waste containment and handling.

Property owners could see that the elusive Sylvan Lake Regional Water and Waste Water Commission’s concept for nearly $100 million of extra pipeline and water processing infrastructure, without a clear implementation timetable, did not justify an additional premature personal investment. Alberta’s capital spending on municipalities is severely constrained today and that is expected to continue while provincial revenues remain depressed.

An impromptu vote by Kuusamo Krest residents present suggested that many in the audience were opposed to the Lacombe County proposal. Formally, property owners are asked to respond to a survey that is also posted on the County website. The Municipal Government Act’s rules for over-riding an unpopular Council decision were explained to the audience.

And that’s where it ended.

Vacuum truck operators await further clarification of their future business opportunity.

Lacombe County Proposes Sanitary Servicing Project at Sylvan Lake

Lacombe County’s Council has requested input from the public on a proposed Communal Servicing project for Sylvan Lake.

The project would require four small lakefront communities to install new facilities for collection and removal of domestic sewage wastes to the Town of Sylvan Lake’s sewage treatment plant and ponds.

Those communities include Kuusamo Krest, Yuill, Palm Bay and Blissful Beach. All are located in that part of the Sylvan Lake watershed that is now controlled by the Lacombe County’s Sylvan Lake Area Structure Plan (13 MB download).

Click here for the Communal Servicing Project document (it’s a 3.8 MB download).

In concept, local sewage would be collected at dwellings, pumped into a local pipeline, held in a common retention tank, vacuum-trucked to a transfer station, and dumped for pipeline transport to the TSL treatment facility. Some property owners in those communities already contract independently for an equivalent sewage removal service.

The cost per connected lot is estimated by Stantec Engineering to be between $53,000 and $83,000.

The total project cost of $4.36 million would be subsidized by an approved Building Canada Fund federal government grant of $1.28 million.




Microcystin Toxins in Blue-Green Algae

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, can contain complex toxins called microcystins.

They even have their own website: http://www-cyanosite.bio.purdue.edu/cyanotox/toxins/microcystins.html

Here is what one molecule looks like:


Microcystins consist of a seven-membered peptide ring which is made up of five non-protein amino acids and two protein amino acids. It is these two protein amino acids that distinguish microcystins from one another, while the other amino acids are more or less constant between variant microcystins.

Discover more about the microcystins here.




Report on a CFR Chemicals Site Visit

CFR Chemicals has proposed another expansion of the Kuusamo site on Highway 11 in Red Deer County, within the Sylvan Lake watershed. Steve Nerland, VP Operations, provided SLWSS president Graeme Strathdee with a tour of the property on July 31 and explained the current and planned uses for the materials storage and transfer facility.

Another SLWSS letter of concern about CFR Chemicals was sent to the Red Deer County planning office to be noted by the public hearing process in August on the expansion proposal. As the SLWSS does not rank as an adjacent affected landowner, our remarks focus on the general risks to the watershed by onsite or offsite tank spills.

The proposed additional storage tank capacity would be serviced by a new rail spur off the CN main line adjacent to Highway 11. Engineering design options for the site include layouts within an engineered and monitored containment area. To ensure compliance with containment standards, surface and groundwater samples are routinely collected and analyzed by an independent laboratory to detect any release of products stored and transferred by CFR Chemicals.

The Town of Sylvan Lake fire department will continue to provide an emergency response capability in the event of a spill or fire on the site or along the CN transportation corridor through the Town of Sylvan Lake. The company has requested that CN use the next generation of higher integrity and safer tanker cars for transportation of its liquid commodities that are stored and transferred for its oil field customers.

As a Responsible Care company, CFR Chemicals maintains corporate plans, procedures and records to manage onsite risks including those from potential environmental contamination.

VP Steve Nerland, Plant Manager David Oyka, and Manager of Logistics and Customer Service Bob Belsher welcome inquiries about their operations. Click here for their business cards.


The Level of Sylvan Lake Today Is…….

Click here to view the level of Sylvan Lake and the trend as evaporation takes over after July 1.

Lake level data are logged continuously and reported on that Alberta Environment web page.

Can you calculate how much water is lost daily at this time of year?



Belterra Land Company Develops The Slopes Project in the Sylvan Lake Watershed

The Calgary Herald recently published two articles on The Slopes land development project that is located just north of the east end of Birchcliff summer village:

$40-million residential development launched in Sylvan Lake

New Sylvan Lake project offers mix of housing types for buyers of all sorts

If the marketplace reacts positively to the promotional campaign then the SLWSS will keep a close watch on the impact of the development on the water quality of Sylvan Lake.

The Slopes project plan for management of storm water that might discharge into Sylvan Lake is included in the The Slopes Concept Plan 2011Click here for the extracted storm water management proposal and map. Note that runoff from The Slopes will be released to Sylvan Lake through existing drainage over the Birchcliff Summer Village.

Evidence from around the world shows that increasing population density around small enclosed bodies of water tends to cause excess nutrient contamination and that enhances the risk of chronic blue-green algae blooms.

“Green Is the Colour” is great as the Saskatchewan Roughrider theme song, but not as a label for another Alberta recreational lake.