Residents await assessment of Sylvan Lake water levels

Communities around Sylvan Lake are awaiting the results of water level computer modelling to decide whether to invest tax dollars in tinkering with the lake’s outflow channel.

Town of Sylvan Lake Mayor Susan Samson looks out over the lake along Lakeshore Drive on Wednesday morning. The water level in the lake is the highest recorded in over 60 years

Town of Sylvan Lake Mayor Susan Samson looks out over the lake along Lakeshore Drive on Wednesday morning. The water level in the lake is the highest recorded in over 60 years

Communities around Sylvan Lake are awaiting the results of water level computer modelling to decide whether to invest tax dollars in tinkering with the lake’s outflow channel.

A recent lake assessment report commissioned by the province confirmed water levels are at a historic high and suggested a number of options to increase flow through the outlet channel. The options range in price from $1.7 million for an elaborate dam-like water control structure to $50,000 for a basic outlet maintenance program.

However, the report notes it is unclear exactly why water levels are so high and that 90 to 95 per cent of water lost is through evaporation and has nothing to with outflows.

The Sylvan Lake Management Committee reviewed the study on Wednesday and decided more background work was needed, said Sylvan Lake Mayor Susan Samson.

“We still don’t have enough information to move forward on what is the correct decision,” said Samson.

That data will come in the form of water balance modelling that will be undertaken by Alberta Environment. It will test each option and determine what impact, if any, they would have on lake levels.

Samson said the report clearly says the outlet creek is functioning as it should. Widening that creek and greatly increasing water flows could cause flooding downstream, she said.

“Who will pay and who will be liable for flooding downstream?”

Even if lake levels could be lowered, it could spawn another set of problems because shallower, warmer water is more prone to blue-green algae blooms that have plagued a number of Alberta lakes.

Financial considerations must also be part of any decision.

“We have five summer villages that have minimal resources and this is highly impacting them.

“It’s a very complex problem. I wish it was as easy as just going out and doing something,” said the mayor.

The communities may decide not to bother with trying to manipulate lake levels. Instead, a better use of resources might be to protect shorelines from erosion caused by high water levels — the approach favoured in the government report.

The committee next meets on Dec. 5, although it could meet earlier if Alberta Environment’s modelling work is completed sooner.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com