The Atlas of Alberta Lakes is now online

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.

 

 

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:

wq-histogram-2016

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.

hespero-weather-2016-01-to-09

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:

DSC_0406

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.

 

 

 

 

Sylvan Lake Lighthouse Video

See the latest aerial perspective on the new lighthouse.

 

 

The Good Old Days at Sylvan Lake

Be sure to click here to see history as compiled by the Sylvan Lake and District Archives.

Sylvan Lake Aerial Photo from Archives

Marion Thompson’s Facebook website presents some of the archive holdings. You can see much more by visiting Marion, a past SLWSS director, and the team of volunteers in the Archives display area in the basement of the Municipal Building in the Town of Sylvan Lake.

Click here to confirm when the office is open.

 

 

Golf Course Creek Meets Sylvan Lake-2016-07-16

A few millimetres of rain in the last week:

Precipitation to 2016-07-16

Precipitation in 2016 measured at the Alberta Agriculture weather station at Hespero.

has increased the stormwater runoff from the Golf Course Creek catchment and transported another load of suspended solids into Sylvan Lake through Marina Bay:

DSC_0380

View of the turbidity of Golf Course Creek on the south side of Highway 11A on July 16.

See more evidence of lake contamination in this photo album.

The flow through the Hwy 11A and Marina Bay culverts creates a brown plume of nutrient rich fine particles when it disperses in Marina Bay before discharging into Sylvan Lake. Reports suggest that, as in previous cases that we investigated in 2015, even 20 mm of rain can saturate and fluidize soil at construction sites up the watershed slope in the Town of Sylvan Lake (TSL), carry it in stormwater into Golf Course Creek, through the Sylvan Lake Golf and Country Club property, and into Marina Bay.

With more land development scheduled in the TSL’s annexed West Area, Golf Course Creek should expect to receive similar contamination in the future unless the best low impact development practices are applied as the SLWSS has recommended and contractors are required to comply with the Water Act and other Alberta environmental regulations.