Human noise pollution is disrupting parks and wild places


This article by Rachel Buxton, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Colorado State University, is reprinted with permission from the website “The Conversation”. Click on this link for the original article:

As transportation networks expand and urban areas grow, noise from sources such as vehicle engines is spreading into remote places. Human-caused noise has consequences for wildlife, entire ecosystems and people. It reduces the ability to hear natural sounds, which can mean the difference between life and death for many animals, and degrade the calming effect that we feel when we spend time in wild places.

Protected areas in the United States, such as national parks and wildlife refuges, provide places for respite and recreation, and are essential for natural resource conservation. To understand how noise may be affecting these places, we need to measure all sounds and determine what fraction come from human activities.

In a recent study, our team used millions of hours of acoustic recordings and sophisticated models to measure human-caused noise in protected areas. We found that noise pollution doubled sound energy in many U.S. protected areas, and that noise was encroaching into the furthest reaches of remote areas.

Our approach can help protected area managers enhance recreation opportunities for visitors to enjoy natural sounds and protect sensitive species. These acoustic resources are important for our physical and emotional well-being, and are beautiful. Like outstanding scenery, pristine soundscapes where people can escape the clamor of everyday life deserve protection.

Plan to Attend the Society’s 18th Annual General Meeting on September 30.

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN for the Annual General Meeting of the Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society to be convened as follows:

Date: September 30, 2017, Saturday

Time: 10:30 AM

Place: The Meeting Room of the Sylvan Lake Municipal Library

The SLWSS AGM agenda includes:

  • Receive and adopt the Minutes from the 2016 AGM.
  • Receive reports from Directors on the affairs of the Society.
  • Receive an update on the State of the Watershed and Sylvan Lake.
  • Revise the bylaws of the Society.
  • Nominate and elect Directors.
  • Transact other business as may be properly brought before the meeting.

See news about the SLWSS at: and


Sylvan Lake Shoreline Impairment Video Surveys

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.

Status Report on Sylvan Lake Water Quality in 2016

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.






The SLWSS no longer participates in the affairs of the Sylvan Lake Management Committee

The eight local municipalities of the Sylvan Lake Management Committee (SLMC) administer land within the boundary of the Sylvan Lake Watershed under the powers of the Municipal Government Act. The SLMC has no statutory authority but functions as a point of contact for common inter-municipal issues. The SLWSS and some regulatory agencies like Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) have been observer-members, attending quarterly board meetings and contributing to SLMC working committees for several years.

The case for disassociation is explained in our letter to the chairman and members of that committee. To make a long story short, the SLWSS is a stewardship organization that serves the interests of our community of watershed members. We are an independent registered Society dedicated to monitoring, protecting and conserving the natural values of the Sylvan Lake watershed in the interst of our members.

The main justification for the SLMC has been to implement the Sylvan Lake Management Plan 2000 (SLMP 2000), a document that displaced an Inter-Municipal Development Plan drafted by the watershed community in 1999. The intention was to set common standards for, and to control land development within, the watershed boundary. Subsequently Lacombe County’s Sylvan Lake Area Structure Plan, a statutory municipal document, regulated property within about one mile of the shore of the lake within Lacombe County.

The SLMC exists to implement the SLMP 2000. The following Wordle word cloud version of the document text illustrates its priorities:

slmp-2000-by-wordleWe have found that our SLWSS watershed stewardship goals and priorities occasionally conflict with municipal land development objectives. Our slogan, engraved on our lighthouse brick: “Protecting the lake’s natural values and assets through vigilance and science” captures our Society mission. Where we find common ground, for example on monitoring and reporting on cumulative effects of changes within the watershed boundary, we will continue to cooperate on projects with mutual value.


Roadside Ditches as Wetlands

Nobody ever thinks that the ditches that parallel municipal rural roads provide useful environmental services, but they should, because they do. They are mini wetlands.

Here is evidence that wetland plants thrive in an easily observable 450 metre length of roadside stream on the north side of Highway 11A on the west side of the Town of Sylvan Lake:


Municipal ditches can function as mini wetlands

See this photo album for more detail on the types of aquatic plants and grasses that thrive in this section of ditch even in the 2016 season that has received just average precipitation. This ditch discharges into Golf Course Creek immediately upstream of Marina Bay and provides nutrient sink and filtration of surface water flow off agricultural land to the west. The width of the ditch is about 5 metres so this mini wetland area is 2250 square meters, or 0.22 hectares.

A survey of the numbered rural roads in the rest of the Sylvan Lake watershed shows that a grid of 122 kilometres of roadway crisscrosses the watershed and forms part of the surface water drainage system that delivers runoff into Sylvan Lake and affects water quality.

Municipal Roads in Watershed

Municipal roadside ditches are part of the watershed drainage system that discharges into Sylvan Lake

Since the adjacent ditches occupy 10 metres of land (5 m on each side) per metre of road, the total municipal wetland area is 1.2 million square metres, or 122 hectares. That area is much greater than that of the minor natural wetlands (see the blue ponds in the graphic), some ephemeral, that are scattered throughout the Sylvan Lake watershed.

Since the land area in the watershed is about 10,800 hectares, the municipal ditches or mini wetlands occupy 1.1% of the land area. That is enough to justify more careful scrutiny of ditches and their environmental services. Segments of the in-watershed municipal road system should probably be managed as the beneficial mini-wetlands that they are, and not damaged by maintenance practices during critical periods of the surface runoff and plant growing seasons.





Do-It-Yourself GIS for Your Watershed

Learn how to build a Geographic Information System for your Alberta watershed by using this starter kit from the Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society.

The process involves downloading free software, acquiring georeferenced data for your land and lake area, and creating maps that will help you to understand and make better decisions about your watershed.


Click on the AltaLIS web page image to expand it/

The linked slideshow and notes explain the GIS software options, where to find and download GIS data and imagery, and some of the useful mapping functions that will help you to survey your environment, answer questions, and to add value to your GIS project.