Learn to How to Respect Our Lake(s)

The SLWSS invites you to protect Sylvan Lake as a watershed steward.

However Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) is more ambitious and invites you to respect all Alberta lakes at the Respect Our Lakes web page.


Know the laws of Canada and Alberta that support lake management goals.

And click on the many links to ESRD’s information resources that are posted here.

Learn how tiny Sylvan Lake fits in to the bigger picture of the Red Deer River watershed and explore the comprehensive State of the Watershed report.

Get to know all the actors who rely on clean water supplies for towns and cities and to meet all their demands for water supply across Central Alberta.

Sylvan Lake is just one of many Central Alberta Recreational Lakes (CARL) that are popular with Albertans. For more information on CARL resources click here.

There’s lots more to our lakes and watersheds, starting with Alberta’s Water for Life strategy.

Wetlands are important.

Resources for students and teachers match the schools curriculum.

It’s easy to learn about healthy aquatic ecosystems. Click here for even more sources of information. Or, see what Cows and Fish say.

The Macrophyte Survey Report Is Out

The first Sylvan Lake macrophyte survey report is posted on the ALMS website.

Here’s how Alyssa Cloutier, our ALMS lake tech in 2014, and marine assistant SLWSS director Devon Shouldice, collected data on aquatic plants that grow in the littoral zone near the lake shore:

The entire perimeter of Sylvan Lake was sampled mainly in 500 m to 1 km intervals. Initially, transects of four points at four different depths were to be taken at each interval. However, the lack of macrophytes even at the shallowest depth prompted a change in methodology. Areas more dominant in macrophytes were sampled more rigorously, with multiple sampling points, while areas with bare or near bare sediment were sampled only once. Voucher samples were taken for each species observed and submitted for archiving at the University of Alberta herbarium.

Here’s what the project found:

Sampling took place on June 26, 2014. Early in the season the lake was very clear, with a Secchi depth of 4.25 m. Aquatic plants were sampled along the littoral zone in water depths ranging from 0.9 m to 5.9 m. Five species were collected and identified. The two dominant species in June were Sheathing Pondweed (Potamogeton vaginatus) and Richardson’s pondweed (Potamogeton richardsonii) with 10 and 8 occurrences, respectively. Of 92 sampling locations, there were 23 occurrences of macrophytes. No invasive species were detected. 

The second sampling trip occurred on July 23, 2014. A secchi disk reading of 4.5 m was observed in the center of the lake. Sampling locations occurred at depths ranging from 0.5 m to 4.2 m. The dominant species in found in June were also the dominant species in July. Over the month of growth, there was an increase in diversity as well as number of occurrences. A larger diversity and density of macrophytes was noticeable in the area just outside the marina, as well as the area in the north portion of the lake where the creek enters. Six more species were observed in July than in June. Of 78 sampling locations there were 62 occurrences of macrophytes (this may include multiple species observed in a single location). Eleven different species were observed. No invasive species were detected.

The SLWSS’ Golf Course Creek 2014 Tributary Project

Here is the project summary:

The watershed tributary Golf Course Creek (GCC) added 1065 kilograms of Nitrogen (analyzed as TN) and 120 kilograms of Phosphorus (analyzed as TP) nutrients to Sylvan Lake in the April-September period of 2014. Total Nitrogen and Total Phosphorus compositions of water quality samples and the measured cumulative flow in the GCC stream were used to calculate lake loading by those nutrients. Flow in GCC was found to be about 12 percent of precipitation incident on the 26.3 square kilometre catchment area after the month of April when snow melt runoff had ceased. Because of mixing of the cumulative GCC flow of about 1.4 million cubic metres of water in the lake volume of 420 million cubic metres, the TP load from GCC increased the equivalent concentration in the lake by about 1.4%.

Click on this hyperlink for a first draft version of the final report that is available for download and comment.

Tributaries carry stuff from the land into the lake, according to the Second Law of the Watershed. They are important for the future health of the lake, and are targets for water quality control.

See this post for an explanation of the Two Laws of the Watershed.


The Revised Alberta Surface Water Quality Guidelines

Alberta has revised and published surface water quality guidelines (ASWQG) that affect Sylvan Lake.

Notable changes are that the previous recommended nutrient limits for Total Phosphorus (0.05 milligrams per litre, mg/L) and Total Nitrogen (1.0 mg/L) have been withdrawn. See the extracted text here:

ASWQG-Nutrients & Aesthetics-ab.gov-2014-07-11

One more locally-endorsed reference does exist as a protective standard for Sylvan Lake. The Cumulative Effects Management System joint project of AESRD and the Sylvan Lake Management Committee proposed a stricter guideline of 0.035 mg/L for Total Phosphorus while retaining the established guideline of 1.0 mg/L for Total Nitrogen. As these are recommended values they have no firm standing for regulatory purposes.

The 2014-07-11 Alberta Surface Water Quality Guideline revision has replaced a barrier with a “narrative”, a less rigid, more flexible, read-and-react requirement for surface water management and protection.

That new approach seems to be equivalent to removing all speed limits on highways with the governing qualification being: “drive as fast as you want to, as long as you don’t have an accident”. If you then experience a high speed collision (or if Sylvan Lake becomes a chronically turbid green water body during the summer recreational season) then it wouldn’t really matter what the regulatory standard or guideline used to be.

Whether Sylvan Lake has a hard or soft specification for nutrient content, the lake itself will evolve in response to the real world environmental variables that include the set of fluctuating nutrient concentrations that are tracked in ALMS Lakewatch reports and in the Alberta water quality database. A “nutrient narrative” may give more short term comfort to municipal land use planners and developers than may a measurable progression towards hard regulatory limits. However, impaired water bodies like Lake Erie, Lake Winnipeg, America’s Chesapeake Bay, and the Australia’s Great Barrier Reef would respond with regret to their own “narratives” if they could. In those well documented cases it is too late to hope that there will be no catastrophic change.

Nevertheless, if and when excessive blue-green algae and cyanobacterial growth in Sylvan Lake hits the watershed fan, the rolling hopeful scenario of the pre-narrative will likely change quickly to inform property owners and watershed visitors about their property-values, self-protection, and public safety. In that case, any remaining aquatic life will have to defend itself because the watershed public will probably be preoccupied with relocation rather than restoration. The post-narrative experience will be one of regret about change, and memories of “the good old days” of clean, clear water:

CPB-Allison K-v2

Best Practice instruction submitted to a SLWSS contest by an elementary school student.

As a reminder, here are four decades of Total Phosphorus (TP) and Total Nitrogen (TN) concentration data compared to the previously recommended red line limits of 0.035 mg/L and 1.0 mg/L respectively.

TP and TN Time Series

The CWP Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series

The Center for Watershed Protection (CWP) has published a series of manuals that provide guidance for design, protection and restoration of urban watersheds that are affected by surrounding land use changes particularly in urbanized areas with contaminated stormwater runoff. Click here for the CWP manuals access page.

The following list introduces each of the manuals. The text is extracted from the CWP source website.

Note that you must download each pdf file, save it, then open it to read the manual.

Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series Manual 1: An Integrated Framework to Restore Small Urban Watersheds

Schueler, T. 2005. Manual 1: An Integrated Framework to Restore Small Urban Watersheds: Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series. Center for Watershed Protection, Ellicott City, MD.

This manual provides guidance on concepts and techniques for urban watershed restoration and provides a framework to evaluate subwatershed restoration potential. The manual provides a planning approach to develop effective subwatershed restoration plans.

Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series Manual 2: Methods to Develop Restoration Plans for Small Urban Watersheds

Schueler, T., Kitchell,A. 2005. Manual 2: Methods to Develop Restoration Plans for Small Urban Watersheds. Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series. Center for Watershed Protection, Ellicott City, MD.

This CWP manual provides guidance on how to develop an effective plan to restore urban subwatersheds. The manual provides 32 different desktop analysis, field assessment and stakeholder involvement methods used to make critical restoration management decisions.

Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series Manual 3: Urban Stormwater Retrofit Practices

Schueler, T., Hirschman, D., Novotney, M., Zielinski,J. 2007. Manual 3: Urban Stormwater Retrofit Practices Manual.:Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series. Center for Watershed Protection, Ellicott City, MD.

This CWP guidance manual outlines the basics to develop an effective stormwater retrofit program. Information is provided on the different types of retrofits in urban subwatersheds, assessment methods, costs and pollutant removal data for stormwater treatment options.

Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series Manual 4: Urban Stream Repair Practices

Schueler, T., Brown,K. 2004. Manual 4: Urban Stream Repair Practices. Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series. Center for Watershed Protection, Ellicott City, MD.

This CWP manual provides guidance on practices used to enhance the appearance, stability, structure, or function of urban streams. The manual outlines how to set restoration goals, select stream repair practices to meet the goals, and assess stream repair potential at the subwatershed level.

Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series Manual 8: Pollution Source Control Practices

Schueler, T., Swann, C., Wright, T., Sprinkle,S. 2005. Manual 8: Pollution Source Control Practices. Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series.Center for Watershed Protection, Ellicott City, MD.

This CWP manual presents several methods to assess subwatershed pollution sources used to develop education and/or enforcement efforts that can prevent or reduce polluting behaviors and operations. The manual also presents profile sheets for 21 specific stewardship practices for residential neighborhoods and 15 pollution prevention techniques for control of stormwater hotspots.

Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series Manual 9: Municipal Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping Practices

Novotney, M., Winer,R. 2008. Manual 9: Municipal Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping Practices. Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series. Center for Watershed Protection, Ellicott City, MD.

This CWP manual provides “how to” guidance on how municipal pollution prevention/good housekeeping practices can be used to address local water quality issues and watershed restoration goals. The primary audience of this manual is small NPDES Phase II communities and other unregulated communities interested in protecting and restoring local water resources.

Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series Manual 10: Unified Stream Assessment: A User’s Manual

Kitchell, A., Schueler,T. 2005. Manual 10: Unified Stream Assessment: A User’s Manual. Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series.Center for Watershed Protection, Ellicott City, MD.

This CWP manual provides guidance on how to conduct the Unified Stream Assessment, a rapid stream assessment to locate and evaluate problems and restoration opportunities in the urban stream corridor.

Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series Manual 11: Unified Subwatershed and Site Reconnaissance: A User’s Manual

Wright, T., Swann, C., Cappiella, K., Schueler,T. 2005. Manual 11: Unified Subwatershed and Site Reconnaissance: A User’s Manual.:Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series. Center for Watershed Protection, Ellicott City, MD.

This CWP manual provides guidance on how to identify pollution sources and restoration potential within upland areas of urban subwatersheds. Four assessments are outlined that include the Neighborhood Source Assessment, Hotspot Site Investigation, Pervious Area Assessment, and Streets and Storm Drains.

Urban Stormwater Retrofit Practices Appendices: Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series

Schueler, T., Hirschman, D., Novotney, M., Zielinski, J. 2007. Urban Stormwater Retrofit Practices Appendices: Urban Subwatershed Restoration Manual Series.Center for Watershed Protection, Ellicott City, MD. Pages 1-144

This is the Appendices to the Urban Stormwater Retrofit Practices that is a CWP guidance manual that outlines the basics to develop an effective stormwater retrofit program.

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.