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:
Alberta Environment and Parks archives historical water quality data for Sylvan Lake.
Click on this link for a pdf file of the composition of the lake water downloaded in October 2017.
The N-P-K plant nutrient, chlorophyll, and Secchi disk data track the natural variability of Sylvan Lake.
As Sylvan Lake is a bathtub-like water body, some components like the conserved indicator ions sodium and chloride have become more concentrated over time as surface and groundwater, and fallout from the air, carry soluble substances into the lake, and evaporation removes water during the open water season
The effect of the watershed human population on lake water quality is demonstrated by the increasing concentrations of some ions that are introduced from diffuse contaminant sources such a winter road salting. As expected, the lab-measured specific conductance has increased slowly as the salinity of the lake has risen.
Sampling campaigns completed during the last two decades have been facilitated by Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society volunteers in partnership with the Alberta Lake Management Society field technicians. Partial funding in recent years was provided by the Sylvan Lake Management Committee, the RDRWA and Alberta Environment and Parks. The total cost of a May-to-October 5-day campaign is close to $10,000. Water quality monitoring is not free.
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.
The following case history for Lake Erie shows how algal blooms have reduced real estate values and recreation uses. So keep your plant nutrients on shore on your own private property. We don’t need Blue/Green algae in Sylvan Lake:
The value of property that surrounds water bodies can be sensitive to water quality and the condition of other natural assets. For that reason the Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society (SLWSS) monitors lake water quality, land use changes, and property valuations over time.
Our report compiles in-watershed municipal data in a series of charts that are useful indicators for detection of land use changes and watershed health that are affected by creeping urbanization.
The total of all Equalized Assessments in the watershed has leveled out at about $3 billion. That is the property valuation at risk if Sylvan Lake water quality is impaired.
Two population density ratios derived from Alberta Municipal Affairs data are useful reminders of changes in urbanization within the Sylvan Lake watershed. Growth in the number of dwellings per hectare has only been significant in the Town of Sylvan Lake (TSL) and the Summer Village of Jarvis Bay. Little change has occurred in land areas of Lacombe and Red Deer counties.
The TSL has also shown growth in population density that increases the potential diffuse source impact of that urban area on the lake and watershed environment. Note that TSL’s population per hectare exceeds that of the Summer Villages and the two very low density rural counties.
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:
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!