The Society’s Year-End Report for 2016


December 2016

To: SLWSS Active Members and Friends

Thank you for your interest in the watershed and support for our lake stewardship projects.

This year end message highlights a few of our efforts to achieve our Society goals. See the SLWSS News for more details on any of these topics, or click on the links included here.

Our slogan “Protecting the lakes natural values and assets through vigilance and science” is now cast in stone in the form of a brick mounted on the base of the new lighthouse.

We monitored Sylvan Lake water quality again in partnership with the Alberta Lake Management Society, the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance and the Sylvan Lake Management Committee. We found that the lake is currently depleted in plant nutrients compared to the historical record.

We co-hosted the Central Alberta Recreational Lakes Association (CARL) conference in May in Sylvan Lake and learned about stewardship initiatives of other lake communities.

Our SLWSS demonstration of low cost Geographic Information System (GIS) technology for watershed monitoring was a popular topic.

Cumulative Effects Monitoring has been slowed by a delay on the part of watershed municipalities to share critical current data on indicators that define and affect the state of the watershed.

We presented evidence of Golf Course Creek contamination by entrained runoff from Town of Sylvan Lake construction sites and recommended that the town adopt stricter standards for new developments within the West Area Structure Plan to prevent erosion and siltation.

We assisted a geophysics team from the University of Calgary to collect data on the Paskapoo formation, an important groundwater aquifer in this region of Alberta.

The Quiet Enjoyment Initiative team made progress on outreach and public education by distributing an informative brochure on noise control courtesy and practice. Some Summer Villages contributed to the cost of printing the QEI brochure.

Our overall assessment of the 2016 state of the watershed is that the lake had high water quality through the open water season and remained free of chronic algal blooms. Early season runoff was absent. Nutrient loading of the lake was low. Annual precipitation was close to normal and the lake level remains close to the historic average according to the official record.

On behalf of the Society Board, Merry Christmas,

Graeme Strathdee, President

Click here for a pdf file of this message.

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:


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.


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.






The SLWSS no longer participates in the affairs of the Sylvan Lake Management Committee

The eight local municipalities of the Sylvan Lake Management Committee (SLMC) administer land within the boundary of the Sylvan Lake Watershed under the powers of the Municipal Government Act. The SLMC has no statutory authority but functions as a point of contact for common inter-municipal issues. The SLWSS and some regulatory agencies like Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) have been observer-members, attending quarterly board meetings and contributing to SLMC working committees for several years.

The case for disassociation is explained in our letter to the chairman and members of that committee. To make a long story short, the SLWSS is a stewardship organization that serves the interests of our community of watershed members. We are an independent registered Society dedicated to monitoring, protecting and conserving the natural values of the Sylvan Lake watershed in the interst of our members.

The main justification for the SLMC has been to implement the Sylvan Lake Management Plan 2000 (SLMP 2000), a document that displaced an Inter-Municipal Development Plan drafted by the watershed community in 1999. The intention was to set common standards for, and to control land development within, the watershed boundary. Subsequently Lacombe County’s Sylvan Lake Area Structure Plan, a statutory municipal document, regulated property within about one mile of the shore of the lake within Lacombe County.

The SLMC exists to implement the SLMP 2000. The following Wordle word cloud version of the document text illustrates its priorities:

slmp-2000-by-wordleWe have found that our SLWSS watershed stewardship goals and priorities occasionally conflict with municipal land development objectives. Our slogan, engraved on our lighthouse brick: “Protecting the lake’s natural values and assets through vigilance and science” captures our Society mission. Where we find common ground, for example on monitoring and reporting on cumulative effects of changes within the watershed boundary, we will continue to cooperate on projects with mutual value.


The Sylvan Lake watershed gets a charge from a University of Calgary geophysics team

A field research team led by Profs. Rachel Lauer and Larry Bentley investigated groundwater aquifer structures on October 22 along a stretch of Range Road 25 at the west end of Sylvan Lake.


The field team of geophysics students (L to R) Daniel Kent-O’Donnell, Malcolm MacDougall, Rachel Deschenes and Jen Hanlon with Profs Lauer and Bentley.

The project is an extension of the Alberta Energy Regulator’s major Sylvan Lake Groundwater Project that has collected geological data using airborne instrumentation to map the subsurface of a large area of Central Alberta including our local sub-watershed. The new data from the field work will help to interpret the results of that research.

The geophysics survey applied a non-intrusive Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) method to image underground conditions along 720-meter transects, or lines, in Lacombe County. The team made measurements along a line of electrodes installed every 10 metres to measure the vertical and horizontal changes in subsurface resistivity. The method consists of injecting a small amount of electrical current into the ground and measuring the voltage changes between the electrodes


The team used a junction box, controller, data logger and power supply to collect earth resistance data.

The ERT cable connected the 10-inch steel electrodes to the control console and computer that applied the currents between electrode pairs used in the survey and measured the response of the ground to those electrical pulses.


A curious neighborhood cat inspected the ERT cables at an electrode station.

ERT does not have any impact on the environment. After the data are further processed back at the U of Calgary the images of the subsurface will help the team to ground-truth the previously collected airborne geophysical data, make progress toward understanding the structure of the Paskapoo Formation in this area, and improve our understanding of the local aquifer hydrogeology.

At a separate site, senior geophysics student Michael Law used a different Electro-Magnetic exploration method that transmitted a magnetic field into the ground and detected the response using two coils laid out on the pastureland.


Geophysics student Michael Law and Prof. Bentley prepare to explore 100 m below the surface.

Results from both geophysics surveys will be added to the Sylvan Lake Groundwater Project database to improve the knowledge of the Paskapoo formation’s structure and properties surrounding Sylvan Lake.

Although watershed residents rely on groundwater for domestic use, more geological research is still needed to understand the quality, quantity and the hydrogeology dynamics of the aquifers that store and supply that water.

The Range Road 25 study was located at the western edge of the Sylvan Lake watershed basin. Landowners in the project area supported the work and allowed access to their land by the U of C team. Lacombe County permitted use of the roadside ditch for ERT line installation.

The 17th Annual General Meeting of the Society

President’s Report for the SLWSS Annual General Meeting 2016

State of the Watershed 2016

Our comprehensive report “The Sylvan Lake Watershed-Second Edition” documents changes in the key indicators that affect the state of the watershed. Data on Environmental, Social and Economic Cumulative Effects variables are compiled for time periods of one or more decades and present a picture of a relatively stable environment.

Water Quality Monitoring 2016

With the cooperation of the Alberta Lake Management Society technicians, and funding provided by the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance (RDRWA), the Sylvan Lake Management Committee (SLMC) member municipalities, and the SLWSS, the Society has monitored the water quality of Sylvan Lake. Photo albums of the lake sampling expeditions are posted on our SLWSS News blog site. The 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 has remained very high with Secchi disk depth measurements typically greater than 5 metres.

GIS Technology for Watershed Monitoring

The Society demonstrated how Google Earth Pro and publicly available satellite imagery and Geographic Information System (GIS) data can be applied to monitor and analyze the state of the watershed. The methodology was shown to delegates who attended the Central Alberta Recreational Lakes (CARL) forum convened in Sylvan Lake on May 14.

Cooperation with Other Watershed Organizations

We formally reviewed our experience with the Cumulative Effects Management System (CEMS) project in a paper presented to the ALMS annual meeting held in Stony Plain in September 2015.

We maintain official contact with the RDRWA and attend events that complement our interests.

The Cumulative Effects Management System Project

The CEMS project, a joint initiative of Alberta Environment and the SLMC with significant input from the Society, has failed to meet its initial goals and expectations. The Society has proposed an alternative to the CEMS concept as a way to monitor watershed cumulative effects using existing municipal public and GIS records.

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 86 property owners to benefit from Home Assessments. In past years we recognized their dedication to conservation and environmental protection by presenting a unique yard sign. This year Summer Village residents were provided with a pamphlet about the program and how to participate in it. One resident participated. Our evidence is that redevelopment of some lakeshore properties violates the fundamental principles of the Living by Water program.

Government Affairs in 2016

The Society advised the Sylvan Lake Management Committee, the voluntary association of watershed municipalities that have adopted the non-statutory Sylvan Lake Management Plan 2000, that we will no longer participate in the group’s quarterly meetings as an invited observer. The reasons for that Board decision are outlined in this letter.

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.

The major Sylvan Lake Groundwater Project proposed by the Alberta Geological Service and the Dutch specialized consultancy Deltares was not funded by Alberta Innovates so the regional study has been postponed. Consequently, we took no action on watershed groundwater in 2016 to investigate well water quality and aquifer levels.

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

We ordered a ceramic tile for the new lighthouse with inscription: “Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society: Protecting the lake’s natural assets and values through vigilance and science”.

We created several 3 x 4-foot display posters to capture and present the message and work of the Society. These posters are set up at various events in which the SLWSS is invited to participate. They are available for download from our “House of Posters” folder.

 Society Websites for Public Communication

Our websites contain news and reference content on all aspects of the lake, its surrounding land, and the interactions between the two. See:

Society Board and Administration

The Board met quarterly during the fiscal year. Directors are thanked for their service to the watershed. The treasurer’s financial statement for FY 2015-16 summarizes our minimal expenditures. The Society’s PayPal online account has facilitated membership renewal. Our access to Servus bank records is now online.

Graeme Strathdee, President, SLWSS

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.