State of the Watershed Update
Two summary reports compiled by the Alberta Lake Management Society included Sylvan Lake water quality data collected during our 2016 campaign. Because of the low nutrient concentrations, which are indicators of the potential for blooms of nuisance algae, Sylvan Lake is now ranked as oligotrophic, the lowest category of lake productivity. As phyto- and zoo-plankton are a critical part of the lake’s food chain we will now watch the condition of aquatic life more closely.
The boundary of the Sylvan Lake watershed as defined by Alberta Environment and Parks was acquired from the Alberta Lake Management Society in GIS file format. It is compared to other reference perimeters in this Google Earth Pro image. Watershed municipalities have not agreed on a legal boundary.
The SLWSS Cumulative Effects database is updated to include the most recent data reported by Alberta Municipal Affairs. The information is posted as a set of graphics without commentary. Apart from growth in the Town of Sylvan Lake, most variables remain stable. Data are converted to parameters/hectare to facilitate projections of the characteristics of a future more densely populated watershed.
Runoff, Precipitation and Water Balance in 2017
Spring runoff is recorded in this music video of Golf Course Creek peak flow. It is usually an important event for transferring sediment and mobile soil constituents off the land into the lake, however this year’s version did not last long. Cumulative precipitation in 2017 measured at the Alberta Agriculture Hespero weather station is about 0.1 metre below the long term average. The 2017 level of Sylvan Lake dropped about 0.2 metres after July1 from lack of precipitation and water diversion by the Town of Sylvan Lake. Those observations mean that the water balance of the watershed is close to the historic norm.
That is so even with the AEP-regulated emergency practice of pumping crown-owned water from Sylvan Lake to carry treated sewage lagoon effluent through Cygnet Lake and into the Red Deer River. The impact of pumping on the lake volume is small, less than 0.4%, and comparable to the rate of withdrawal caused by natural evaporation rate that typically occurs after July 1.
Monitoring Land Use Changes
We monitor changes in land use with special attention to the Sylvan Lake shoreline. We converted video from the SRD 2007 helicopter survey to a streamable format that can now be viewed easily even on a smartphone. We considered commissioning a new drone survey, however high resolution Google Earth imagery is available for free. We confirm and document those aerial and satellite observations with ground and lake-level investigations to update risk assessments. For example, here is the latest “Juno Beach” landscaping look and a surprising Blissful Beach slope failure.
The Flipside Project
Sometimes we even have fun. We ran a lake water sampling demonstration for elementary school kids at the Flipside after-school clubhouse and simulated an on-the-water campaign on a miniature scale.
Best Stewardship Practices for Boaters
Lake stewardship among boaters seems to fall well down their “to-do” list. Nevertheless, the diligent SLWSS Quiet Enjoyment Initiative team led by Kent Lyle continues to work with the watershed municipalities to educate boaters with brochures and signs about the need for respectful noise abatement. Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) has also urged boaters to Respect Our Lakes with new signage. Recreational lakes are receiving more AEP attention. The Society provided the Town of Sylvan Lake (TSL) with our opinion on subsidized boat launch access.
Risk to the Lake from the TSL West Area Development
On our watch list is the potential impact of the TSL’s new West Area Development on the quality and quantity of stormwater that runs off that land into Golf Course Creek then discharges into Sylvan Lake through Marina Bay. We evaluated the Water Balance methodology used by BC municipalities to model stormwater flows and concluded that the low probability of excessive lake contamination to cause chronic eutrophication did not justify a Society project expenditure of $10,000.
Wallpapering of the whole watershed with urban development would change the impact assessment considerably. A cumulative effects monitoring program is still required.
Contacts with Governments
We have reduced communications with municipalities and government agencies that do not add clear-cut benefits for the Society and our members. When the inter-municipal Sylvan Lake Management Committee reactivates the Cumulative Effects Management System project we will reassess our involvement. We continue to track watershed changes and report on watershed health indicators independently.
Alberta government agencies remain preoccupied with their internal affairs and have not been inclined to offer hands-on assistance to community stewardship groups like ours. We shared SLWSS accomplishments in this report to the 2017 Recreational Lakes community.
See these web pages:
Some of the map products will be useful for monitoring of the Sylvan Lake watershed, however the resolution is too low to monitor changes at the community or individual property scale.
Alberta Environment and Parks organized this year’s forum at Lake Isle west of Edmonton.
Several forum documents and presentations are filed in this online SLWSS folder.
The SLWSS did not attend this year’s forum as the need for input from community stewardship groups has declined. We did provide this report on our 2016 activities and projects:
SLWSS REPORT FOR THE ALBERTA RECREATIONAL LAKES (ARL) FORUM 2017
State of the Watershed 2016
Our comprehensive report “The Sylvan Lake Watershed-Second Edition” documented changes in the key indicators that affect the state of the watershed. Data on Environmental, Social and Economic Cumulative Effects variables were compiled for time periods of one or more decades and presented a picture of a relatively stable environment.
Water Quality Monitoring 2016
Preliminary analytical data indicate that in a year with little spring runoff the nitrogen and phosphorus nutrient concentrations have been lower than the long-term average. The lake water clarity remained very high with Secchi disk depth measurements typically greater than 5 metres. Photo albums of the lake sampling expeditions were posted on our SLWSS News blog site.
Nature Alberta’s Living by Water Program
The Society has promoted the Nature Alberta Living by Water program for several years and enabled more than 80 property owners to benefit from Home Assessments. Response to L by W has declined and we awarded a SLWSS yard sign to just a single property owner in 2016.
Government Affairs in 2016
The Society presented a statement on the potential impact of the West Area structure plan at a public hearing of the Town of Sylvan Lake with regard to transport of silt from construction sites through Marina Bay into Sylvan Lake in Golf Course Creek runoff. We recorded several cases of increased turbidity in stormwater runoff.
We assisted a University of Calgary geophysics survey team led by Profs. Lauer and Bentley to collect groundwater aquifer data at the west end of Sylvan Lake in October.
Quiet Enjoyment Initiative
The QEI subcommittee chaired by Kent Lyle continued its efforts to have local municipal bylaws adopted to control the sources of noise on the lake. An education and boat launch site signage project was developed at the request of the SLMC. Subsequent support by the municipal members of the SLMC was mixed and disappointing to the hard-working sub-committee. The QEI message resonated with and received considerable major and local media interest in its efforts to promote respect for others. An expanded QEI subcommittee report is posted here.
Our ceramic tile for the new lighthouse is mounted on the structure with inscription: “Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society: Protecting the lake’s natural assets and values through vigilance and science”.
The Sylvan Lake shoreline has been surveyed twice using airborne video cameras to record the impairment of the riparian zone by property owners, once in 2002 for the Alberta Conservation Association and again in 2007 by Alberta SRD together with Fisheries and Oceans. These are valuable records of the cumulative effects of human impact on the natural values that otherwise would be provided by the shoreline environment to protect the lake.
This graphic summarizes the 2002 findings:
The shoreline sections occupied by the Town of Sylvan Lake and Summer Villages or equivalent county communities are typically Moderately or Highly impaired. The SLWSS has recruited property owners along those sections of shoreline to participate in the Living by Water program of Nature Alberta. Regrettably, less than 20% of shoreline occupants have volunteered to have property assessments completed.
These three helicopter survey files should playback on a computer or phone. If that doesn’t work, then download the files and play them locally:
Heli Clip #1. File size 96 MB:
From Jarvis Bay, NW along the north shore to Sunbreaker Cove boat launch ramp.
Heli Clip #2. File size 95 MB:
From Sunbreaker Cove counterclockwise to the Boy Scout camp.
Heli Clip #3. File size 87 MB:
From the Boy Scout camp, SE to the Town of Sylvan Lake beach and Jarvis Bay.
The Atlas, first published as a printed report in 1990, has been digitized and is available here.
Sylvan Lake is part of the South Saskatchewan Region.
Maps and data for some lakes monitored by Alberta Environment and Parks may be found here.
Also refer to the Respect Our Lakes web page
and the AEP Lake Information page.
Be sure to visit the Central Alberta Recreational Lakes Initiative website for additional information, data and references.
This is an interim report on the results of Sylvan Lake water quality sampling between May and September 2016. Previous posts have illustrated the joint SLWSS-ALMS project in action on the high seas. The teamwork of ALMS lake technician Breda Muldoon, able crew members from the SLWSS, and boat captain Ed Thiessen of Norglenwold allowed us to complete three of the planned five sampling cruises. Two were abandoned because of unsafe weather conditions.
The official LakeWatch report on the Sylvan Lake 2016 campaign will be issued by the Alberta Lake Management Society in mid-2017 according to the standards and schedule of that program.
Meanwhile, some of the raw data analyzed by Maxxam, the certified commercial laboratory in Edmonton, are available for inspection and preliminary interpretation. This table summarizes the constituents in Sylvan Lake water. The list includes naturally occurring cations and anions that are transported from the land into the lake over time in groundwater, precipitation and atmospheric fallout. In addition, the indicator nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus are measured to determine the eutrophic condition of the lake.
We were surprised to discover that the Total Phosphorus (TP) concentrations fell at the low end of the historical range on this histogram of data from three decades of water quality analyses:
Those TP values in the range 0.010 to 0.015 milligrams per litre (that is, ten to fifteen parts per billion) were well below the eutrophic limit threshold guideline for Sylvan Lake of 0.035 mg/L, or 35 ppb. Note that the historic TP median concentration has been about0.021 milligrams per litre, or 21 ppb. That is the source concentration of phytoplankton fertilizer feed.
We use TP as an indicator or quick index to estimate the potential for phytoplankton growth and appearance of algal blooms that are common at other nutrient-rich Alberta lakes like Pigeon and Pine lakes.
The 2016 data suggested that the food chain in the lake might be adversely affected by too little nutrient content. If single-celled phytoplankton don’t grow, and produce food for zooplankton and the higher members of the food chain then aquatic health of the fish stock can become jeopardized by being placed on a low-calorie diet.
We observed that directly with the simple Secchi disk test for water clarity. Through the sampling period, the disk typically remained visible down to a depth of 5 metres, indicating that there was not much light-scattering suspended material in the water column.
Part of the explanation for the depleted nutrient concentration in 2016 undoubtedly was the absence of significant snowmelt runoff until mid-May. Generally initial runoff carries high concentrations of nutrients into the lake. After plants start growing on the land those nutrients are captured and retained and become less available to reach the lake. Here is the precipitation history for the January-September period using Alberta Agriculture data from the Hespero weather station west of the watershed.
Intermittent soil-saturating precipitation of >10 mm/day (the tiny blue spikes) tends to activate surface flow into tributaries and creeks that discharge into the lake. The red cumulative precipitation line did not cross the long-term average until September, after which nutrient concentrations do not contribute to concerns about excess cosmetic algal growth.
A customized addition to the 2016 campaign was the collection of water samples from within the top 1 metre and the bottom 1 metre of the lake at its deepest sample station. The purpose was to detect any elevated TP concentration above the sediment from decay of nutrient-rich material previously settled out of the water column. Previous studies of Sylvan Lake have demonstrated that enriched layer. However, our chemical analyses in combination with the relatively constant instrumental measurements with depth of conductivity, temperature and dissolved oxygen suggested that the chance of substantial nutrient mixing was low through the open water period of 2016. That conclusion assumes that conditions at other deep locations above the lake sediment are no worse that what we observed at the reference station.