SLWSS Newsletter for July 2017

The Sylvan Lake watershed includes about 150 square kilometres of land and water that need the attention of the community.

 

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.

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 has been close to the long term average, as is the level of the 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.

Our Contacts with Institutional Friends

We have generally reduced the intensity of relationships with municipalities and government agencies that do not add clear-cut benefits for the Society and our members.

There is a glimmer of hope that the refreshed inter-municipal Sylvan Lake Management Committee might reactivate the Cumulative Effects Management System project. Until it does so, we will remain on the sidelines, tracking changes and watershed health indicators.

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. So we have reciprocated by inaction, except for sharing SLWSS accomplishments in this report to the 2017 Recreational Lakes community.

Send Us Your Watershed Concerns and Comments on SLWSS Direction and Initiatives

We invite your comments, input and tips on watershed events and practices that you believe increase the risk to the watershed and lake are invited. Smartphone photo evidence is valuable. We like to monitor natural and human risk factors and encourage whistle-blowing, although our QEI team might object to that.

Join the Society. Just $20.

Flipside Kids Learn About Water Quality

This Sylvan Lake News story was published in the April 20 edition:

Children involved in the drop-in programs at the Flipside Youth Centre were taught some things about that big body of water at the north end of town, on April 13.

President Graeme Strathdee and Director-at-Large Susan Samson of the Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society gave an interactive presentation on the science surrounding the waters of Sylvan Lake.

Both representatives provided various examples of what affects water quality in the lake, as well aswhat procedures are used to test the quality of that water, such as pH testing.

“They talked to kids on how they do testing for farm runoff, and what comes out of rainwater thatends up in the lake,” said Deshon Lennard an FCC Youth Services Coordinator with the Town ofSylvan Lake.

Lennard said that in their presentation, Strathdee and Samson explained all the factors that affectthe lake, from tourist activity to bacteria from garbage. Their presentation also had a hands-onaspect, with children carrying out experiments that tested tap water quality.

“The kids got to do a scaled down version of the larger activities, with one simulating the types ofwater in the lake with cups,” said Lennard. “Each cup represented geographic areas in the lake, andthey used food colouring to differentiate the distinct areas of the lake.”

Lennard said that last Thursday’s session was part of a larger educational segment of the youthcentre’s programming called Power-up Thursday, whereby children engage in educational activities,that “engage them in diverse areas of science and math.”

“The kids were very interested and curious,” said Lennard. “They learned something new, and tooksome pride in learning about the water in the lake, because they’re from here.”

Our Stewardship Science message was built around this slideshow of water quality sampling of Sylvan Lake and Golf Course Creek.

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Can you collect a composite sample of lake water like Breda is doing? Flipside kids can.

Thanks to Sam Macdonald, new SLN reporter just arrived from NS, for the reprinted story.

 

 

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.

 

 

Water Quality Sampling in 2016

The Society has organized another water quality sampling campaign in cooperation with the Alberta Lake Management Society (ALMS) because the lake received little runoff from snow melt or early season rain. That means the main loading of the lake by nutrients carried off the land is absent. So 2016 should turn out to be a special case with atmospheric  fallout and internal sources becoming more significant for feeding phytoplankton that start the food chain in the lake.

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Breda prepares to sample a column of water at one of the stations.

ALMS lake tech Breda Muldoon, a graduate of the U of S in toxicology, will lead the project for the Society. Five sampling dates are scheduled between June 12, the first day, and the end of season measurements in September. The captain and guide of his pontoon boat sampling platform is Ed Thiessen of Norglenwold.

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Sample of lake-bottom water recovered for analysis

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Plankton sample captured from the bottom to the top of the lake

To see a photo album of the first day’s expedition, click here. The cover photo shows the ten sampling stations distributed over the lake area, as well as the location of the deepest water point at which extra water and plankton samples are recovered together with instrumental readings of temperature, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen at 0.5 metre intervals down to the bottom at 18 metres.

 

 

 

 

The Sylvan Lake Groundwater Project

It’s still just a $1.5 million proposal, but it’s been submitted, and the groundwater modeling teams at the Alberta Geological Survey (AGS) and the top-gun Dutch groundwater consultancy Deltares are hoping that funding will be provided by the Alberta Innovates-Energy and Environment Solutions program in the competition category of Water Technology. Applications must be filed by April 15. Successful projects will be announced on May 25.

Although most people don’t know it, this is a big deal for the land, water and people in this defined project area:

Sylvan Lake groundwater study area 2016

Area proposed for the groundwater model analysis

The AGS has already studied the geology of the subsurface and the availability of water and its water quality in this area. Important background data are in place. The following paragraphs extracted from the project application explain the goals and scope of the proposed work. The full proposal will be linked here when it is officially released as public information.

This project will deliver a sophisticated three-dimensional (3D) Water and subsurface Information management SystEm (3D-WISE), developed in collaboration with key stakeholders. The integration of 3D subsurface, groundwater and surface water models – including water quality – into a user-friendly spatial planning tool is innovative and will push Alberta forward in sustainable water use, land use and rural economic diversification. There is a need both for enhanced system understanding and to balance a diversity of stakeholder values and perspectives. Therefore, engagement and empowerment of stakeholders from the very beginning is crucial to maximize the value of the user-friendly and freely available end product, 3D-WISE. To meet this ambitious objective the project team consists of 11 partners, including universities, local and provincial stakeholders, policy makers, regulators and research institutes.

Alberta’s Water for Life Strategy has three primary goals: safe, secure drinking water; healthy aquatic ecosystems; and reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economy. Many of the decisions affecting these goals are made at the sub-regional and community levels. However, the capacity to make informed choices on these issues at this level is often lacking. This project addresses that gap in the Sylvan Lake sub-watershed area by 3D-WISE. 3D-WISE will empower water managers and decision makers at all levels to test, explore, and forecast the dynamic linkages between development and climate scenarios and impacts on surface and groundwater quality and quantity at different spatial and temporal scales. This will allow them to make informed choices about water abstraction and supply, resources (water, energy) and land use in the context of government policy, legislation, and economic conditions. With ongoing development pressures and increased climate uncertainty, fast and reliable access to such knowledge is a necessity to be able to respond to economic development opportunities in a timely fashion while ensuring the protection of the natural environment. 3D-WISE will be based on three main pillars: cyberinfrastructure, science and knowledge, and socio-hydrology.

The project will also be supported with resources and expertise of local stakeholders including the Town of Sylvan Lake, the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance, and the Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society and by groundwater experts at the Universities of Alberta and Calgary. If the project is funded, everyone will find that numerical modeling of complex groundwater systems gives you both valuable insights and a headache.

 

Mapping the Sylvan Lake Watershed

The SLWSS mission is simple: Protect the water quality of Sylvan Lake. To do so, it helps if we know what we are talking about. Due diligence for sound decision-making requires knowing lots of stuff.

And there is plenty to know about as publicly available data confirm.

Satellite and aerial images of the lake and the surrounding land are helpful to show the agricultural and urban environments that affect the state of the watershed.

Sylvan Lake Watershed Boundary.v2

Click to enlarge

The two major tributary catchments for Golf Course Creek and Northwest Creek are easily seen at high resolution. The boundary of the watershed is shown as a white line. The significance of that perimeter is that precipitation falling inside the line will potentially flow into the lake because of the contour of the terrain, carrying dissolved and suspended minerals, nutrients and contaminants with it. Note that the eastern section of the Town of Sylvan Lake lies outside the watershed boundary. Much of the stormwater, and all of the waste water, that is collected by the Town is diverted eastwards and out of the watershed.

Geographic Information System (GIS) software can consolidate and display layers of large sets of data as maps. The map below is a  multi-layer GIS graphic that contains several categories of data including the topography, roads, the Alberta township grid, two railway berms (that interfere with Golf Course Creek catchment flow and create a series of wetlands in the gully between the two), pipeline networks, plus the many regional tributary flows that are highlighted boldly in blue.

Watershed Master Map.v2

Click to enlarge

Protecting the lake and watershed starts with knowing the facts. The SLWSS, and the watershed municipalities, have the knowledge about land use and the surface and groundwater sources to do so.