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.

DSC_0123

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Worms Are People Too

Worms should be honorary people. Why? Because they work harder and contribute more to the environment and food supply than many real people do.

How do we know that? Because wormologists who study them have the facts to back up that claim.

This scientific article published in the Chemical and Engineering News, a weekly magazine of the American Chemical Society, explains why worms are so important to many processes in soils that contribute to crop growth and yields.

Worms help to release and activate nutrients that fertilize plants. While doing so they make those same nutrients more mobile and ready to diffuse into soil-saturating surface water. That partly explains how and why streams carry the plant nutrients N, P and K and other dissolved soil substances off the land and into Sylvan Lake. Worms are the recyclers.

worms cartoon

Worms at work. Read about the science of what they do.

The Stewardship Society’s water quality testing of tributaries and of the lake itself helps us monitor that runoff from diffuse land sources as we have reported in other SLWSS News articles.

Phytoplankton and aquatic plants in the lake then take over and remove those same nutrients as part of their seasonal life cycles and the lake’s food chain. That fortunate natural balance between nutrient input, released in part by those industrious worms, followed by the teamwork of lake organisms to remove them, has to continue or we’re in trouble. Cyanobacterial and algal blooms may occur if either process is adversely disrupted by land use change in the watershed.

That is why the SLWSS remains eternally vigilant, just like our Lighthouse brick slogan says.

 

 

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.