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.





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:


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.



Sylvan Lake Water Quality Tested Again

July 12 was the second day of the Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society-led 2016 campaign to sample and analyze the water quality of Sylvan Lake as part of the Society’s long-term project to monitor the condition of the lake and its tributaries. Alberta Lake Management Society’s field technician Breda Muldoon, a U of S toxicologist by training, follows the official lake monitoring protocol so that data meet the standards of the Alberta Environment lakes database. Charter captain Ed Thiessen of Norglenwold, and SLWSS directors Steven Johnson of Birchcliff S.V. and Graeme Strathdee of Sylvan Lake provided on-board assistance.


Steven Johnson and Breda Muldoon consult on data logging at the deep-lake station.

See this photo album for more lake sampling action.

The water, plankton and invasive species samples that are collected are analyzed by Edmonton-area labs and results are eventually disclosed to the public by ALMS in a Lakewatch-series report, like this one for 2014.

Extra samples are taken this year to compare the nutrient composition near the surface and bottom of the lake at its deepest point. Phosphorous (the element P), an important nutrient for green phytoplankton, accumulates in the lake sediment and is released to the hypolimnion, an oxygen-depleted layer. As an in-lake diffuse source of P it is important for us to understand the potential for fertilization of chronic algal blooms when that layer is mixed through the water column by seasonal temperature cycles and water density changes.

The 2016 water quality monitoring project is funded by Alberta and feeral government agencies that support the work of ALMS, the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance, and the SLWSS. The Sylvan Lake Management Committee has accepted our invitation to participate in the project as a learning experience. The inter-municipal group will contribute $500 to the project and provide two on-board observers for the August sampling dates.




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.

Geographic Information System for the Sylvan Lake Watershed

The brand new SLWSS Geographic Information System (GIS) demonstrated at CARL  2016 received rave reviews from participants.

Two mapping technologies, QGIS and Google Earth Pro, have been applied to compile and display watershed information for stewardship applications. Here are a few examples:

CARL Hydraulic Units.v2-001

Note: Click on any image to enlarge it

Where is the boundary of the watershed.? It must be there somewhere.

This image shows several different perimeters, one based on an Alberta Hydraulic Unit map that only encloses part of the watershed; A wiggly white one that makes no sense; and a practical red one that accurately follows the high land.

A Google Earth Pro survey tool allow precise identification of changes in the slope of the basin using satellite-based ground elevation data. Regional tributaries shown above in purple flow into and away from Sylvan Lake depending on the topography.

This next colorful map shows a few of the many layers of GIS data acquired from Alberta and national data banks:GIS Data Dump-001

Ground topography; Lake bathymetry; Soil types; Roads; Tributaries; The watershed boundary; Fishery survey stations; Railroads

TSL Divide-001

In the image above, GIS survey tools are overlaid on this Town of Sylvan Lake imagery to locate the 50th Street ridge that determines if stormwater flows east and out of the watershed to the Red Deer River, or west towards Golf Course Creek.

Green map pins at the peak of the ridge also define the area of the town that is inside or outside of the watershed boundary. Stormwater paths determine the direction of flow of any spilled contaminants or urban pollution. Sylvan Lake is exposed to that  west side flow.

Railway Berm Wetlands-001

High resolution Google Earth Pro satellite imagery (one computer pixel can represent one square foot on the ground) and layers of GIS data, enable rapid investigation of land areas that are important for water quality protection.

The land between the railroad berms west of 60th Street is part of the recently annexed West Area five quarter sections that extend from Highway 11 to the lake shore.

Caution will be required to preserve the wetland services of that gully which is also the flow path of the important Golf Course Creek tributary.