Well Water Quality in the Sylvan Lake Watershed

The Alberta Health well water database is now accessible online. It contains records for 71,698 Alberta wells that were submitted for analysis since 2002 by private well owners. Click on this link to reach the homepage of the website. A tutorial is presented to coach viewers on its use.

Following are some screen capture views of the information retrieved with a “Sylvan Lake” search for 300 wells . The left panel displays the statistical distribution of the chemical analyses and the right side map indicates where well clusters are located. Individual wells are color-coded to quickly show the composition of each water quality property. The website explains why clusters of wells are centered in the nearest surveyed section of land.

The following graphics are screen-captured displays that show the statistical distribution of well water properties or ion compositions for this set of 300 wells. The local bar graphs are overlaid on the data for all of Alberta. In general, local groundwater composition is at the low end of the provincial range.

The bottom graphic is an example of the detailed data table that may be viewed by a cursor flyover of any well dot on the online website map.

Total Dissolved Solids










Well Depth

Well Depth

When the database is active, clicking on any well dot will display the complete set of  water chemistry data:

To compare groundwater data with the composition of Sylvan Lake itself, please consult this source of time series data archived by Alberta Environment and Parks based on data of the Alberta Lake Management Society collected during our lake sampling campaigns. As an overview, watershed groundwater contains higher concentrations of the measured constituents than does the lake water.



Report on the RDRWA’s Winter Lake Day Meeting at Gull Lake

Nicole Kimmel from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry reported on the spread of the invasive Flowering Rush aquatic plant that has been observed in water bodies near Sylvan Lake. Additional advice is posted on the department’s website:

Garry Tang and Garth Gosselin with Alberta Health Services reported on their Recreational Water Program. The presentation highlighted the new Alberta Environmental Public Health Information Network which was launched on February 2, 2018. This link http://aephin.alberta.ca  enables public to access information on domestic well water quality, public health, and Cyanobacteria results in the future.

Brad Peter from the Alberta Lake Management Society discussed the 2017 lake report that compares the conditions observed in 32 lakes across the province.

Chris Ullmann of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry reviewed the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and discussed the value of Environmental Farm Plans that apply risk management principles to contain contaminants and excess nutrients and prevent runoff into water bodies from farm and ranch operations.

Norine Ambrose, the long-time Cows and Fish missionary, explained how to deliver unpopular messages by gaining trust of the target audiences with respectful two-way communications and local relevance.

Craig MacLeod of the Gull Lake Watershed Society provided a status report on Gull Lake projects and how the lake community has cooperated to reduced contamination in runoff.

HT Catering from Lacombe made the trip to Gull Lake in clouds of drifting snow worthwhile.



Who is Extracting Sylvan Lake Watershed Groundwater?

The SLWSS monitors groundwater consumption. Much of that well-water withdrawal is eventually exported from the watershed’s surface and underground inventory as community wastewater. It is collected and processed by the Town of Sylvan Lake in its sewage lagoons. To help treated effluent on its way through Cygnet Lake to the Red Deer River, a comparable volume is pumped from Sylvan Lake itself to supplement Outlet Creek flow. In effect, every flush drops the lake level a tiny amount.

The Town of Sylvan Lake is the main licensed user of well water in the watershed. The municipal system annually delivers about 1.5 million cubic metres of water for domestic, business and other purposes. Water wells registered to the Town of Sylvan Lake are shown as yellow dots in this map that was acquired from the Alberta water well database:

Summer Villages, other lakefront settlements, farm and ranch and industrial users outside the TSL rely on groundwater supplies for domestic needs too. Many of the domestic, agricultural and industrial water wells are shown in this map that includes the Sylvan Lake watershed:




The Sylvan Lake Groundwater Situation in Perspective and Pictures

The Sylvan Lake watershed and its supply of groundwater are dependent on a fine balance between incoming and outgoing water. The net amount is absorbed and stored underground in the soil, porous and permeable geological glacial deposits, and local aquifers and becomes available for domestic and agricultural use. The following ERCB/AGS maps included in this post show how the natural system and its regional water balance works.

The Sylvan Lake watershed and the lake occupy a small part of that area and are located about 20 km west of Red Deer. See the lake aligned in a NW direction in this series of maps. Zoom in if you are viewing the images on a phone. Check the legends for the colour-coded values.

Ave Ann Total Precip-Fig4.2-ECC
Central Alberta is relatively dry region and typically receives 500 mm of precipitation annually. The graphic above shows that the foothills to the west receive slightly more rain and snowfall than does the central corridor.
Ave Act EvapoTrans-Fig4.4-ECC
About 60% of the incoming precipitation sublimes or evaporates from snow, ice, wetlands and lake surfaces and by transpiration from crops and forested areas. This maps shows that watershed loses about 300 mm of water by those processes.
Ave Ann Act Runoff-Fig4.7-ECC
The typical annual surface runoff is less than 45 mm.

Continue reading “The Sylvan Lake Groundwater Situation in Perspective and Pictures”

What Happens Under Sylvan Lake Ice in Winter?

In all our monitoring programs we focus on Sylvan Lake water quality , yet the records show that those data don’t change very fast. In comparison, lake water temperature (T) does cycle dramatically as it can vary from near zero Celsius (C) under the ice and 4 C above the sediment in the winter, to as high as 23 C in a very warm summer. Those Ts and their rates of change must have an impact on the chemical and biological process: on the aquatic populations, the food chain, and on the general health of the lake.

Let’s walk through an annual cycle starting in a fall season. First, cold fall and winter weather removes heat from the surface layer. As the density of liquid water increases when it is cooled, the colder, denser, surface water sinks, mixes, and gradually lowers the T of the whole water column. Water reaches a maximum density at 4 degrees C, so the deeper areas of the lake never freeze right to the bottom. Eventually an ice layer forms on the surface and seals the surface of the lake from the atmosphere. The density and T gradients stabilize the water column as this first Alberta Environment graph of T measurements at different depths at the deep-water sampling station shows:

In the January-March period in the listed years between 1984 and 2002 the lake water at the 10 metre depth cooled to between about 1.2 and 3.3 C. Under the ice at 1 m depth the recorded Ts were between 0 and 2 C. Right at the bottom of the lake at the 16 metre depth, Ts reached about 4 C where water reaches its maximum density. At that point, both warmer or colder volumes of water will be more buoyant and will rise, mix, exchange heat, and equilibrate at a new level in the water column. That density-driven mixing makes the lake a dynamic place.

The fall and winter T conditions that caused the lowest vertical T gradient in 1984 and the highest one in 1999 are illustrated in these two graphs acquired from the Alberta Agriculture weather archives:

Temperatures in Fall 1983 and Winter 1984

Temperatures in Fall 1998 and Winter 1999

A simple explanation for the difference between the two lake T profiles is difficult to see however early rapid heat removal in 1984 by the very low November minimum Ts may have been the primary cause. In contrast, the 1998 fall season was relatively warm.

That is quite a difference in refrigeration. Cooling the 420 million cubic metres of Sylvan Lake water by an extra 2 C required removal of 3740 Terajoules of thermal energy!

Continue reading “What Happens Under Sylvan Lake Ice in Winter?”

Is There Evidence for Climate Change in the Sylvan Lake Watershed?

In his book “Landscapes and Cycles” Jim Steele, an authority on the ecosystems of the Sierra Nevada in California, makes a simple and obvious point about climate change: local climate variables, not global ones, drive locally observable climate change. See the Landscapes and Cycles website for case histories and examples of ecological change.

So, what do we know about those local and regional variables and the response of the Sylvan Lake watershed? Here are a few graphics that summarize facts from the official sources of weather and climate records:


Daily mean, maximum and minimum temperatures recorded at the Red Deer Airport are certified by Environment Canada.


Mean Temp 1994-2014

T Max-Min 1994-2014


Rain and snow are recorded as daily precipitation. This graph displays 20 years of accumulated precipitation measured at the Red Deer Airport. The slope is highly linear over the period with seasonal differences causing the annual fluctuations in rate.

Cum Precip 1994-2014

Interpolation of data from the Alberta Agriculture Hespero and other regional weather stations around Sylvan Lake, for six townships in which the watershed is located, shows that the annual rate of precipitation has remained constant since 1961. A climate change impact on precipitation is not significant.

50 Years of Precipitation

Continue reading “Is There Evidence for Climate Change in the Sylvan Lake Watershed?”

SLWSS Comments for the Public Hearing on the Amendment of the Birchcliff Land Use Bylaw #199/17

The Summer Village of Birchcliff has invited public comment on its review of several clauses of its land use bylaw that control the size of structures and impermeable surfaces on private property. The SLWSS provided the following  recommendations on the specific and more general aspects of land use regulation on October 13:

Continue reading “SLWSS Comments for the Public Hearing on the Amendment of the Birchcliff Land Use Bylaw #199/17”