Is There Evidence for Climate Change in the Sylvan Lake Watershed?

The book “Landscapes and Cycles” by Jim Steele, an authority on the ecosystems of the Sierra Nevada in California, makes a simple and obvious point about climate change: local climate variables, not global ones, drive locally observable climate change.

So, what do we know about those variables and the response of the Sylvan Lake watershed? Here are a few graphics that summarize facts from the official sources of weather and climate records:

Temperature

Daily mean, maximum and minimum temperatures recorded at the Red Deer Airport are certified by Environment Canada.

 

Mean Temp 1994-2014

T Max-Min 1994-2014

Precipitation

Rain and snow are recorded as daily precipitation. This graph displays 20 years of accumulated precipitation measured at the Red Deer Airport. The slope is highly linear over the period with seasonal differences causing the annual fluctuations in rate.

Cum Precip 1994-2014

Interpolation of data from the Alberta Agriculture Hespero and other regional weather stations around Sylvan Lake, for six townships in which the watershed is located, shows that the annual rate of precipitation has remained constant since 1961. A climate change impact on precipitation is not significant.

50 Years of Precipitation

Wind Speed-Maximum Gusts

The Red Deer Airport records wind gusts above about 32 km/h. Data are missing from the Environment Canada record between 2003 and 2008. Overall no dominant trend in maximum wind gusts is apparent. Higher velocity winds occur periodically, especially when Low and High pressure systems in northwest Alberta combine to create strong NW flows.

Max Gust vs Date

This graph displays 20 years of wind gust data that show the dominant heavy air directions are NW (about 330 degrees) and SE (about 150 degrees).

Max Wind Gusts vs Dir

Sylvan Lake Level

The level of Sylvan Lake is measured continuously and reported in real time for station #05CC003 by the National Hydrometric Service of Environment Canada. Over the 24 year period 1990-2014 the lake level has varied between a low of about 936.5 and a high of 937.2 metres above sea level, a range of 0.7 metres. Note that more than 10 metres of precipitation fell on Sylvan Lake watershed during that 14 year period.

Sylvan Lake Level 1990-2014

A simple overview of data for the Sylvan Lake watershed is that the evidence for climate change, if any, is lost in the variability of the natural systems.

Editorial Comments on Global Climate Change

The explanation and adoption of global warming as the principal cause of climate change, and its dependence on CO2 emissions from anthropogenic sources, is questionable as the following analyses show:

This scatter plot of the Global Average Temperature anomaly for the Lower Troposphere (the layer of the atmosphere closest to the surface of the Earth’s land and oceans) as derived and reported monthly since 1979 from satellite data by the University of Alabama at Huntsville against CO2 measurements from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii suggests that the relationship is a weak one according to the R-squared statistic.

Surprisingly, the S&P 500 stock exchange index data over the same period seems to correlate better with atmospheric CO2:

It seems that betting one’s personal investment portfolio or pension plan on the validity of predictions of climate change theory should not be recommended based on the implications of these two graphs.

Similarly, attribution of fluctuations in regional climate to tiny changes in Lower Troposphere temperatures does not seem justified today.

 

Algal Blooms Reduce Property Values

The following case history for Lake Erie shows how algal blooms have reduced real estate values and recreation uses. So keep your plant nutrients on shore on your own private property. We don’t need Blue/Green algae in Sylvan Lake:

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In a new study, researchers at The Ohio State University estimate algal blooms at two Ohio lakes cost Ohio homeowners $152 million in lost property value over six years.

Meanwhile, a related study suggests that algae is driving anglers away from Lake Erie, causing fishing license sales to drop at least 10 percent every time a bloom reaches a moderate level of health risk. Based on those numbers, a computer model projects that a severe, summer-long bloom would cause up to $5.6 million in lost fishing revenue and associated expenditures by anglers.

Those are the main findings from the first two studies ever to put a precise dollar value on algae impact, both on Lake Erie and two recreational lakes in Ohio. One study appears in the journal Ecological Economics, and the other in the Journal of Environmental Management.

“Our biggest takeaway is that efforts to prevent and mitigate algal blooms have real, tangible benefits for Ohioans, including property values,” said Allen Klaiber, associate professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics at Ohio State.

In the first study, he and doctoral student David Wolf found that property values near two algae-infested lakes in the state’s interior fell $152 million from 2009 to 2015. Sale prices for homes within one third of a mile of a lake fell 11 to 17 percent during that time, while prices for lake-adjacent homes fell more than 22 percent.

A number of additional factors that influence property values were included in the analysis to ensure that the observed losses in property values were directly attributable to changes in water quality. For example, seasonal trends in the housing market, differences in structural characteristics across homes, and spatially varying provision of public services such as school quality were all controlled for in the analysis.

Most of the losses were felt by residents around Buckeye Lake, just east of Columbus. There, residents collectively lost $101 million in home sales over six years. Grand Lake St. Marys in northwest Ohio felt a smaller but still significant loss of $51 million.

Turning to Lake Erie, the researchers teamed with doctoral student Will Georgic to examine state revenue from sport fishing, which contributes to a $1.7 billion tourism industry. They found that once algae levels reach a “moderate” threshold as described by the World Health Organization (WHO), fishing license sales within 12 miles of Lake Erie dropped 10 to 13 percent.

The researchers further simulated what would happen if a severe algal bloom — similar in extent to the one experienced in 2011 which covered 45 percent of the lake — struck Lake Erie today. In that case, the researchers projected that as many as 3,600 fewer recreational fishing licenses would be sold, and as much as $5.6 million in associated fishing expenditure would be lost in just one summer.

The researchers hope their work will give policymakers the information they need to address algae prevention and cleanup. For instance, the state of Ohio has already invested $26 million to clean up Grand Lake St. Marys, but that amount equals only a little more than half of the lost property value there.

The two studies are part of an ongoing project to gauge not only the costs and benefits of fighting algae, but also the public’s algae tolerance: how much is too much, before people decide to buy homes or go fishing elsewhere?

As it turns out, people have a pretty low tolerance for algae. They devalued a lake property the moment the Ohio EPA announced that the water was unsafe to drink — the lowest warning level by WHO standards — even though the lakes included in the study were recreational and weren’t used for drinking water. They began fishing elsewhere after the warning level rose to “moderate” risk for incidental ingestion of the water. In both cases, higher algae levels didn’t seem to matter.

Wolf summed it up this way: “What seemed to matter most for property value was simply whether the algae levels were perceptible at all, not how bad they got after they became perceptible.”

“People make decisions based on their perceptions, and they get their strongest perception of algae at the beginning, when they first see news stories about the water being unsafe to drink,” Klaiber said. “And that poses a real challenge, because once a lake has an algae problem, it’s really difficult to clean it up enough to make the algae imperceptible again. That’s why we think the biggest ‘bang for the buck’ in regards to state policies would come from preventing algae levels from becoming perceptible in the first place.”

For fishing, aesthetics definitely plays a role. At the “moderate” algae level, water becomes noticeably cloudy. And then there’s the smell.

“People say it smells like sewage or rotten eggs,” Wolf said. “You can’t miss it.”

“These are things that would not contribute positively to the aesthetics of your walleye trip,” Klaiber added.

Ohio is one of the first states to compile this kind of data, because the Ohio EPA set up a special working group in 2008 to take precise measures of algal levels in Lake Erie and all major inland lakes.

Further, Ohio is a “public disclosure” state, meaning that financial information for all property transfers and sales are publicly available. Most Ohio county auditors posts the data on their websites, making it easy for anyone to access.

Klaiber and Wolf stressed that they didn’t collect any information about who owned the houses they studied — just the property values, sale or transfer prices for properties that changed hands during the study period, and the distance from those properties to the affected lakes.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Ohio State University. Original written by Pam Frost Gorder. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal References:

  1. David Wolf, Will Georgic, H. Allen Klaiber. Reeling in the damages: Harmful algal blooms’ impact on Lake Erie’s recreational fishing industryJournal of Environmental Management, 2017; 199: 148 DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2017.05.031
  2. David Wolf, H. Allen Klaiber. Bloom and bust: Toxic algae’s impact on nearby property valuesEcological Economics, 2017; 135: 209 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2016.12.007

SW-Julie O-Hann

 

SLWSS monitoring of Cumulative Effects shows little change in key indicators

The value of property that surrounds water bodies can be sensitive to water quality and the condition of other natural assets. For that reason the Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society (SLWSS) monitors lake water quality, land use changes, and property valuations over time.

Our report compiles in-watershed municipal data in a series of charts that are useful indicators for detection of land use changes and watershed health that are affected by creeping urbanization.

The total of all Equalized Assessments in the watershed has leveled out at about $3 billion. That is the property valuation at risk if Sylvan Lake water quality is impaired.

Equalized Assessments 2004-2016

Two population density ratios derived from Alberta Municipal Affairs data are useful reminders of changes in urbanization within the Sylvan Lake watershed. Growth in the number of dwellings per hectare has only been significant in the Town of Sylvan Lake (TSL) and the Summer Village of Jarvis Bay. Little change has occurred in land areas of Lacombe and Red Deer counties.

Dwellings per Ha

The TSL has also shown growth in population density that increases the  potential diffuse source impact of that urban area on the lake and watershed environment. Note that TSL’s population per hectare exceeds that of the Summer Villages and the two very low density rural counties.

Muni Pop per Ha

 

Human noise pollution is disrupting parks and wild places

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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:

https://theconversation.com/human-noise-pollution-is-disrupting-parks-and-wild-places-78074

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.

The Biodiversity Monitoring Institute Reports on Alberta

The Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) has released a series of reports that can be used to observe changes in land use and environmental variables.

See these web pages:

Land Cover

Human Footprint Map

Species

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.

News from the Alberta Recreational Lakes Forum 2017

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.

Groundwater Research

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.

Community Outreach

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”.