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Lake management

Alberta is home to many lakes of various sizes, the majority of which are in the northern half of the province. Lakes are one of our province’s important water sources, being used to support municipal water use, irrigation, industrial use, and hydropower production. Lakes are also used for recreation, sport fishing, and as important biodiverse habitats. All of these uses make them an important part of our watershed systems.

Most of Alberta’s lakes are naturally rich in nutrients but can be negatively impacted when additional nutrients are added. Changes in nutrient levels can alter water quality and aquatic communities, cause algae blooms or aquatic plant growth, and ultimately make lakes less healthy and less aesthetically appealing. Variation in nutrient levels can happen due to changes in land cover, shoreline development, wastewater leakage, agricultural activity, vegetation removal, or stormwater runoff from urban areas. This means that municipalities have a large role to play in lake management.

Alberta Environment and Parks has proposed the creation of a provincial framework to guide lake management decisions, which would:

  • Support lake management and funding
  • Tailor actions to suit local needs and priorities while aligning with provincial social, economic and environmental objectives
  • Clarify roles of lake management authorities
  • Be developed in consultation with key water management stakeholders

AUMA is currently participating in an Alberta Water Council project, which is developing recommendations for the framework. 

Photo Source: Town of Sylvan Lake 

AUMA policy on lake management

AUMA partnered with the Alberta Summer Villages Association to develop lake management policies which guide our input to the development of a provincial framework. We support the concept of developing a provincial framework to guide lake management decisions in terms of increasing the resources and attention dedicated to improving the health of Alberta’s lakes. However, given the challenges that many lakes are currently facing, development of the framework should not detract from immediate action to abate urgent quality and quantity issues.

AUMA made the following recommendations of principles to include in the lake management framework:

  • Lake health is determined by surrounding land uses and is factored into land use planning decisions.
  • Lake health is also determined by the health of surrounding bodies of water, including groundwater aquifers, wetlands and riparian areas and should be managed within the context of overall watershed health.
  • The responsibility of municipalities for land use planning and for bodies of water within their boundaries (Section 60(1) of the Municipal Government Act) is recognized in management frameworks.
  • Municipalities surrounding lakes work collaboratively and with the support of the provincial government and engagement of stakeholders to protect lake health.
  • Each lake is a unique ecosystem and is managed based on applicable science and direct monitoring.
  • Responsible recreational use of lakes supports lake health.
  • Management decisions recognize that the sustainability of economic activities around lakes, including urban style development and industrial and agricultural practices, depend on their ecological integrity (i.e. lake health takes priority).

In addition to these principles, AUMA suggests that the approach taken to river health, setting total loading limits and managing monitoring against those limits, provides a proven model on which to base the approach to lake management.

Priorities for healthy lakes

AUMA members have identified two priorities for action related to healthy lakes: ice fishing huts and septic fields.

Ice fishing huts

During our 2012 Annual Convention, AUMA members adopted a motion to urge the government to provide increased education and enforcement with regard to responsible ice fishing ,including the introduction of a mandatory registration program for ice fishing huts to assist in their timely removal from Alberta lakes. Registration of huts will allow authorities to contact their owners if they are left on the lake after the end of the season. If the owners do not remove these huts, they will be held accountable for failing to comply with the legislation. Education will be an important element in controlling this problem as compliance is likely to improve with better understanding of the safety hazards and environmental impacts of abandoning ice huts.

Septic fields

AUMA is concerned about the impact of septic fields on human and lake health. We support the application by the Summer Village of Grandview to the Minister of Municipal Affairs for an exemption under Section 66(1) of the Safety Codes Act enabling municipalities to enact bylaws to eliminate septic fields near water bodies. This would provide municipalities with an effective mechanism to reduce nutrient loading, which is currently degrading water quality in lakes throughout Alberta and threatening the health of Albertans.

Resources and examples of lake management

Association of Summer Villages of Alberta – Created a guide for Lake Stewardship, including examples of actions taken by Summer Villages to maintain the health of their local lakes.

Government of Alberta – Provides a webpage with information on legislation and science regarding Alberta lakes.

Non-profit organizations such as the Alberta Lake Management Society (ALMS) and Alberta Habitat Management society (Cows and Fish) have websites containing a variety of information on lakes and how to keep them healthy.