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 by the soil 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”

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”

The President’s Annual Report for 2017

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.

The boundary of the Sylvan Lake watershed as defined by Alberta Environment and Parks was acquired from the Alberta Lake Management Society in GIS file format. It is compared to other reference perimeters in this Google Earth Pro image. Watershed municipalities have not agreed on a legal boundary.

The SLWSS Cumulative Effects database is updated to include the most recent data reported by Alberta Municipal Affairs. The information is posted as a set of graphics without commentary. Apart from growth in the Town of Sylvan Lake, most variables remain stable. Data are converted to parameters/hectare to facilitate projections of the characteristics of a future more densely populated watershed.

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 is about 0.1 metre below the long term average. The 2017 level of Sylvan Lake dropped about 0.2 metres after July1 from lack of precipitation and water diversion by the Town of Sylvan 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.

Contacts with Governments

We have reduced communications with municipalities and government agencies that do not add clear-cut benefits for the Society and our members. When the inter-municipal Sylvan Lake Management Committee reactivates the Cumulative Effects Management System project we will reassess our involvement. We continue to track watershed changes and report on watershed health indicators independently.

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. We shared SLWSS accomplishments in this report to the 2017 Recreational Lakes community.

8 metres of precipitation fell on Sylvan Lake but the level hardly changed over 14 years!

The graphical record of precipitation as recorded by Alberta Agriculture for the two townships that contain the Sylvan Lake watershed, plus a decade of lake level data measured by Environment Canada’s National Hydrological Service, are compiled here.

The surface of the lake received about 8 metres of cumulative precipitation in the period 2000-2016:

90. AB Ag CUM PPTN 2000-2016

Between 2000:

1. ag.05CC003.2000-01-01.2000-12-31.1.1.0.0.0.0.e

and 2014:

16. ag.05CC003.2014-01-01.2014-12-31.1.1.0.0.0.0.e

the maximum summer lake level remained close to 937 metres above sea level.

Where did all that 336 million cubic metres of water go that fell directly onto the 42 square kilometres of lake surface during that 16 years?

That’s not even the whole story. Of the 864 million cubic metres of water that fell on the surrounding 108 square kilometres of watershed land area, about 20-30% of it entered the lake as flow in the tributaries and roadside ditches.

The whole lake contains just 420 cubic metres of water, so a lot of water has come and gone in 16 years. On average, the lake is just 10 metres deep.

The answers to that question about water loss are that a small amount overflowed into Outlet Creek when it used to drain through Cygnet Lake on its way to the Red Deer River and Saskatchewan. Some of it become groundwater by infiltration. Most of it just evaporated. It went away. It didn’t stay around long enough to be sold or taxed.

You can see that natural evaporation process in action if you watch the lake surface carefully. Just concentrate. The lake level charts above show that about 0.25 metre of water disappeared after July 1. That was about 2 millimetres per day!

 

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.

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