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?”

Alberta Lake Management Society Reports on Sylvan Lake

The Alberta Lake Management Society (ALMS) has issued two summary reports on the condition of many of the recreational lakes in the province.

The LakeWatch summary of data from the standard protocol testing of Sylvan Lake showed the lake to be in a low-nutrient oligotrophic condition with favorable water quality for recreational use in 2016 as we also reported at the time.


A separate ALMS LakeWatch report on a subset of five lakes in the Red Deer River watershed, compares Sylvan Lake to these popular destinations: Buffalo Lake, Burnstick Lake, Chestermere Lake, and Gull Lake.


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 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

SLWSS Statement on the West Area Structure Plan

This statement presents the opinion of the Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society on the West Area Structure Plan of the Town of Sylvan Lake.

West Area Structure Plan 2016

We regard Section 8.4. Stormwater Management Plan to be a threat to the water quality of Sylvan Lake because of the Two Laws of the Watershed:

  1. Water flows downhill
  2. Stuff from the land ends up in the lake.

According to Alberta Environment and Parks land runoff coefficient data[1], urbanization of agricultural land will increase the concentration of contaminants in surface runoff water from diffuse and point sources. Nutrient concentrations in Golf Course creek, the principle tributary that drains the West Area, already exceed water quality guidelines for recreational use[2]. West Area Structure Plan development will further degrade tributary and municipal flow-path water quality that is discharged into Sylvan Lake. In particular, loading of the lake with plant nutrients will increase causing an enhanced risk of eutrophication and algal blooms.

We recommend that state of the art water quality technology[3] be applied to continuously monitor water quality of all surface and groundwater flows that enter Sylvan Lake from the West Area Structure Plan land area as one part of a due diligence program to protect the lake and the interests of private property owners. The alteration of the water balance by West Area development will have impacts on public liabilities that are not foreseen by the area structure plan.

Sylvan Lake watershed private property with a current assessed value of $2.7 billion depends on the water quality of Sylvan Lake. The West Area Structure Plan requires a risk management process and a visible, publicized due diligence program to protect the Town of Sylvan Lake, the water quality of Sylvan Lake, and taxpayers from the potential liability of eutrophication[4]. A public commitment to water quality monitoring and public reporting is also a fundamental component of best stewardship practice.

[1] SLWSS Report: The Sylvan Lake Watershed – Second Edition. Figure 20.

[2] SLWSS Report: Golf Course Creek Project 2014

[3] SLWSS Report: Introduction to Lake Water Quality Monitoring

[4] SLWSS Report: The Sylvan Lake Eutrophication Penalty

The statement was read into the record of the Public Hearing by Senior Planner Calvin Symington and copies were provided to Councillors.

Sylvan Lake Lighthouse Opening Ceremony

Here is a Canada Day 2016 photo album of the opening ceremony that was attended by a crowd, most of whom remembered the original iconic structure, the Sylvan Lake mayor and council, Rotary Club officials, and members of the RCMP detachment. Susan (fundraiser-in-chief) and Bob (designer-in-chief) Samson, and a few “brick people” who are now prematurely engraved in stone are present in the throng too.

Sylvan Lake Lighthouse Opening Ceremony  Click on the link to view the photo album..

Bob Samson, from the lighthouse design team.

The Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society’s brick includes the message “Protecting the lake’s natural assets and values through vigilance and science”.  Long-serving  Director Steven Johnson inspects the SLWSS brick and the careful restoration work of Dr. Brian Saby.