Spring Runoff in Golf Course Creek

The early snow melt runoff flowed quickly for a few days in late March. Here is the Golf Course Creek culvert that carries flow under Highway 11A into Marina Bay, then Sylvan Lake:


Watch this music video of the peak flow in March 2017.

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.


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.


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.


Sample of lake-bottom water recovered for analysis


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.


Keep Nutrients on the Land……..Not in the Lake

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AB Ag) research on nutrient transport has evolved over two decades is relevant to the situation in the Sylvan Lake watershed. About 67% of the land area within the watershed boundary is used for agriculture. Those uses are also diffuse sources of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) nutrients as a result of the cycle of growth and decay of organic material on the land. During the growth phase plants extract needed elements from the soil, particularly from the inter-granular water in the root zone that contains soluble building-block species of N and P. Plant decay, promoted by organisms in the soil, is continuous and releases cell nutrients back to the soil inventory for re-use. Farmers know that and use soil test chemical analyses to determine how much fertilizer must be added to grow the next crop, without adding an excess. Growing and harvesting food crops also mines the soil and removes nutrients that must be replaced to maintain crop yields.

P in Cell Walls

Phosphorus is an important element in phospholipids that form cell walls that can decay and disperse.

P in DNA

Cell DNA contains phosphate groups that can also be recycled into the environment.

AB Ag has found that the concentration of nutrients in the top few centimetres of soil is also an important source of available N and P in runoff into streams and water bodies. So is manure that is stored for use or dispersed on the land as nutrient-rich fertilizer. Typically, nutrient levels are the highest in spring runoff, then drop as the ground warms up and plants grow, trap, and retain N and P. The next graph shows SLWSS results from water quality sampling of Golf Course Creek in 2014 that confirm the AB Ag finding. Data from other Sylvan Lake tributaries follow the same pattern. The lowest N and P concentrations in those streams have always been above those measured in Sylvan Lake and summarized by ALMS in Lakewatch reports. So the natural nutrient cycle on agricultural and forested watershed land loads the lake with nutrients on an annual cycle.

N and P in GCC

SLWSS water quality sampling results for Golf Course Creek in 2014. High levels of N and P were found in Spring runoff. Nutrient concentrations through the summer remained above those observed in the lake itself.

The element phosphorus is often the critical limiting factor that controls the trophic state of lakes. Sylvan Lake’s long term average Total Phosphorus analysis of 21 micrograms per litre keeps the lake in a meso-eutrophic state with typically low chlorophyll-a concentrations associated with suspended plant matter. Algal blooms have been rare. The watershed community counts on it staying that way. That is why AB Ag’s application of field research findings and modeling studies into practical best management practices are important. Phosphorus is better fertilizing plants on watershed land than algae and plants growing in Sylvan Lake.

Instead of presenting a technical review of the excellent experimental and modeling nutrient transport work of AB Ag, the department’s publications can speak for themselves. Here is an introduction to a few that illustrate the scope and caliber of that research. Reports on three field studies:

are complemented by a fact sheet, a link to the very important Soil Phosphorus Limits Project web page, and a Phosphorus Sources and Sinks analysis:

The latest AB Ag approach to analyzing nutrient transport in Alberta watersheds will soon be available in a series of reports that will be posted on an Alberta Agriculture and Forestry publications web page. This post will be updated when those documents are approved for release.

An important Sylvan Lake watershed question, not yet answered, is about the magnitude of annual N and P nutrient loading of the lake from the surrounding agricultural land. The AB Ag work provides the basis for addressing that lake nutrient loading issue. Attempts to estimate the phosphorus and nitrogen loads by measuring tributary water quality and cumulative flow have yielded unsatisfactory results. Consequently, knowledge of nutrient transport processes in the Sylvan Lake watershed are inadequate to allow due diligence predictions of the impact of urbanization on the scale imagined in municipal plans.