A Brief History of the WWMC

The following is a timeline of events in the history of the Wabamun Watershed Management Council:

  • 2004—Alberta Environment published a report on the health of Wabamun Lake, written by a committee chaired by Dr. David Schindler of the University of Alberta: Lake Wabamun: A Review of Scientific Studies and Environmental Impacts (PDF). The report recommended that “a permanent citizens panel, whose objective is to protect the health of Wabamun Lake,” be established and represent “the community of Wabamun Lake users.”

  • 2005—On August 3rd, 43 rail cars of a CN train derailed on the north shore of Wabamun Lake, spilling fuel oil and a wood preservative into the lake. It was the largest such spill into a freshwater lake in Canada, and it took several weeks to clean up. Most of the oil was recovered and the effects on fish and wildlife—although catastrophic at the time—were largely short-lived. However, concern for the health of the lake among many residents and other lake users was heightened.

Oil coated the lakeshore and vegetation after the 2005 train derailment.

Oil coated the lakeshore and vegetation after the 2005 train derailment.

  • 2006—The Wabamun Watershed Management Council was formed under the auspices of Alberta Environment. The department provided help in organizing the council, including a place to meet, funding and clerical support. Council members were appointed from the federal, provincial and municipal governments around the lake, as well as lake residents and cottage owners, and members of various non-government organizations with interest in the lake (environment and recreation groups). All non-government members were and are volunteers, receiving no remuneration for their work on the council. (Note: a federal representative, from Environment Canada, only attended one meeting, early on; and no such representative has attended a meeting or been appointed since.)

  • 2006-2008—The council met monthly, at first discussing its organization, responsibilities and authority (or lack thereof). Alberta Environment steered the council through the process of establishing a vision, mission, goals, objectives and a business plan. It led seminars instructing council members about lake biology, and federal and provincial legislation and regulations concerning the protection of lake water and watersheds (see Information Sessions).

    The creation of a watershed management plan (WMP) was given high priority as the best way to guide governments and stakeholders in preserving the health of Wabamun Lake. It turned out that such a plan had been completed in 1985 but had not been implemented. So, WWMC members were concerned such would be the fate of any plan they developed. Under the Water for Life strategy, Alberta Environment hoped to develop a template for watershed management plans across the province that would address implementation, among other concerns. Until such a template was produced, progress on Wabamun’s WMP was limited.

    While research continued on the development of a WMP, the WWMC decided there were immediate projects that could be undertaken to educate lake users. The loading of nutrients from the watershed into the lake was determined to be a key issue that lake users needed to know about. Nutrients from fertilizers, septic fields, agricultural areas and other sources flowing into the lake promotes aquatic plant growth, including toxic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). The WWMC with the help of Alberta Environment created brochures and posters to alert people to the dangers of allowing nutrients into the lake. The documents were handed out at events around the lake and door-to-door in lakeside communities.

  • 2008—In partnership with the Federation of Alberta Naturalists (now Nature Alberta), the WWMC piloted a program of Homesite Consultations with volunteer lakeside property owners in Seba Beach. A total of 22 homeowners took advantage of the opportunity to walk through their property with a trained consultant who pointed out simple changes to property or practices that would lessen their impact on the lake.

  • 2009—One of the best ways of preventing nutrients from entering the lake is to have a shoreline (riparian area) with natural vegetation that intercepts runoff water and absorbs the nutrients. Most lakeside cottages have shorelines cleared of vegetation except perhaps for lawns. To encourage lakeside owners to develop more natural shorelines, WWMC member Kelly Aldridge and his brother Doug undertook to upgrade their shoreline on Wabamun Lake as a demonstration on what can be done. This included a Shoreline Naturalization Workshop on their property where the process was discussed with many Wabamun Lake residents and cottage owners. The workshop and project were quite successful and resulted in many lakeside owners pursuing their own projects.

Shoreline Naturalization Workshop, 2009

Shoreline Naturalization Workshop, 2009

The Homesite Consultations continued on 22 more shoreline properties at Moonlight Bay and Kapasiwin. Each owner received a confidential report that recommended voluntary actions the owner could make to improve the health of the lake and increase property value.

  • 2010—Because of budget cuts, Alberta Environment withdrew its funding and clerical support from the WWMC (it continued providing a representative on the council and a meeting venue). As a result, the WWMC decided to become a provincial not-for-profit society under the Societies Act, allowing its directors some legal protection, the ability to raise funds and act independently of government. Bylaws were written and approved by the board and the provincial government.

    The WWMC opened its membership to any Albertan with interest in the health of the lake. At first, $10 was charged for annual dues to help the WWMC fund its projects. But in 2014 it was decided that in the interest of getting our information out to the most people as possible, membership should be free, with donations encouraged. General Members receive information about the WWMC and lake issues. They can attend any general meeting of the council and can vote at Special meetings and the Annual General Meeting. The council also created a Corporate Membership where businesses and organizations interested in helping maintain the health of the lake can donate $100 and have their name and logo displayed in the newsletter, on the website and at WWMC functions. Go to Get Involved for more information about becoming a member and making donations.

  • 2012—The owner of a large piece of the watershed (1/4 section), on the north shore just east of Fallis, cleared all trees, shrubs and other vegetation from the land, exposing it to erosion and resulting in tonnes of earthen material entering the lake. Many watershed residents and other lake users complained to Parkland County, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, and the WWMC about how this was allowed to happen. The WWMC expressed its concerns in meetings with the county and provincial governments. Both governments inspected the property and issued enforcement and stop orders. These orders were amended over the years, but the erosion and deposition into the lake continued. The WWMC continued to monitor the situation and kept in contact with both governments about progress in reducing the erosion and returning the property into a healthy state for the lake. Progress was slow. Go to Samco/Ridge Water Resort for more information.

The cleared land eroding into the lake.

The cleared land eroding into the lake.

The WWMC organized two Invasive Weed Workshops to inform lake users about the dangers of the weeds and how to control them.

Dr. Stephen Spencer presented to the Council about the “Status of Fisheries in Wabamun Lake.”

  • 2013—A crucial part of any watershed management plan is a State of the Watershed Report that outlines the current health of the lake and watershed, lists the information that is lacking about such health and recommends action to improve that health. The WWMC hired Aquality Environmental Consulting Ltd. to research and write such a report for Wabamun Lake. The WWMC launched the Wabamun Lake State of the Watershed Report in August of 2013 in Seba Beach. Over 200 people attended the launch at which Jay White of Aquality gave a presentation, summarizing the report. Although the report classified the condition of the lake as “fair”, there was considerable lack of current information for some aspects of lake biology and condition. It has been a goal of the WWMC to address some of those aspects.

  • 2014—One of the shortcomings outlined in the State of the Watershed Report was the lack of information about the health of the riparian area around the lake. The WWMC partnered with the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance to survey the riparian area of Wabamun Lake using an Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV or “drone”). Riparian Health Assessment of Wabamun Lake is the report of the results of the study.

Map showing relative health of riparian areas on Wabamun Lake

Map showing relative health of riparian areas on Wabamun Lake

  • 2015—Two members of the WWMC board served on the steering committee to develop Parkland County’s Wabamun Lake Sub Watershed Land Use Plan. Other members included representatives from the county, the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance and Alberta Environment and Parks. The plan was written by Stantec and focused on how the county was to manage land use within the Wabamun watershed. The project was completed in 2017 and the report serves as an information document for Parkland County and future watershed management initiatives by the WWMC and others..

    In the summer, members of the council went door-to-door in the various communities around the lake, informing people about the WWMC’s programs, the State of the Watershed Report and leaving reference material with regard to nutrient loading, healthy shorelines, etc. These walkabouts were well received by the property owners and were repeated in 2016 and ‘17.

  • 2016—As more and more people come to Wabamun Lake to recreate, boat launch sites and capacity have become an issue for lake users and residents. In June, the WWMC convened a meeting of all municipal Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) from the Summer Villages (Seba Beach, Betula Beach, Lakeview, Point Alison and Kapasiwin), the Village of Wabamun and Parkland County to address the boat launch issue. Also in attendance were members of the WWMC Board, as well as representatives of Alberta Environment and Parks, and the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance. It became evident at the meeting that a milestone had been reached as everyone in attendance was in agreement that there is a need for effective management and stewardship of the watershed and that working together is fundamental to achieving that goal. In this and subsequent meetings of CAOs, it was agreed that boat launch capacity and the risks posed by invasive species (mainly mussels from eastern Canada) would be top priorities.

    Based on a 2013 Parkland County Lake Wabamun Boat Launch Study, work was begun to identify and assess the formal and various informal boat launches on the lake. The WWMC worked with Parkland County and TransAlta to find a suitable place for an additional public boat launch site on the south side of the lake.

Crowding at boat launches, especially on weekends, is a growing issue on the lake.

Crowding at boat launches, especially on weekends, is a growing issue on the lake.

The WWMC assisted the Love Your Lake program in assessing over 600 Parkland County like-side properties on Wabamun for their contribution to the health of the lake. Reports were generated for each property and owners could download their private reports free of charge with no obligation.

  • 2017—After many good intentions and false starts, the Wabamun Lake Watershed Management Plan finally got underway with the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance agreeing to lead the development of the plan. In collaboration with Alberta Environment and Parks, the WWMC and watershed municipalities, a draft Terms of Reference was drawn and made available to the public.

    Further Love Your Lake assessments were done in the Village of Wabamun and summer villages.

  • 2018—On January 2, 2018, the lake ice on Wabamun expanded laterally and heaved up and buckled the shoreline along the north shore of the lake, from Seba Beach east to just west of the Village of Wabamun. There was some shoreline upheaval along the south shore, but the greatest damage was along the northwest shore. The damage to the shoreline was extensive in many areas including damage to buildings and structures.

The 2018 ice heave caused extensive damage along the northwest shore.

The 2018 ice heave caused extensive damage along the northwest shore.

As a result of the ice heave that caused significant damage to shoreline properties, the WWMC organized a Shoreline Restoration Workshop on May 11 and 12, featuring David Polster of Polster Environmental Services Ltd. Fifty people showed up for the classroom session on May 11 and about 20 showed for the practical session on May 12 where willow and other cuttings were gathered to plant at the shoreline property of Pat and Lesley Taylor.

Dave Polster watering the willow saplings planted to stabilize the shoreline on the Taylor property.

Dave Polster watering the willow saplings planted to stabilize the shoreline on the Taylor property.

The North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance hired Petra Rowell to write the Watershed Management Plan for Wabamun Lake. A steering committee was organized from representatives of the various governments, industry (TransAlta) and lake residents and users. The first committee meeting was held in March of 2018, and the research and writing began.

The use of fertilizers on lawns has been a topic of conversations between the WWMC and the various municipalities around the lake. Use of such fertilizers causes phosphorus and other nutrients to enter the lake and aid in the production of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). In 2018, the summer villages of Seba Beach, Lakeview and Betula Beach passed bylaws restricting the use of fertilizers and herbicides in their communities.

In September, the owner of the cleared and eroded quarter-section of watershed east of Fallis, Samco Developments Ltd., applied to Parkland County for a development permit to build on the property a 300-lot RV campground, the Ridge Water Resort and Enroute and Destination Campground. Later that month Samco held an open house on the proposed development (a condition of the application process). Many local residents and members of the WWMC attended. As a result of the information presented, WWMC helped organize opposition to the development, gathering information and working with other groups, such as the Wabamun Area Stewardship Alliance that was formed to oppose the development.

Initially, Parkland ruled the application incomplete. After much back-and-forth with the county, Samco submitted a complete application in November of 2018. In December, Parkland refused to grant the permit and Samco appealed the refusal to the county’s Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (SDAB). A hearing was scheduled for January 14, 2019.

On November 13, 2018, Parkland County Council voted to begin construction of the $2,000,000 boat launch on the south side of Wabamun Lake, near the Sundance power plant. Construction was expected to begin in 2020.

  • 2019—To accommodate all the people who wished to speak at the January 14 Samco hearing, the SDAB held an additional hearing on January 28. The WWMC made a presentation at the hearing, largely based on the law the SDAB would be using to make its decision and how the development would affect the health of the lake. On February 12, the SDAB released its decision: Samco’s appeal was denied. In other words, the development cannot proceed. The decision was largely based on the development being "not compatible with neighbouring uses." Go to Samco/Ridge Water Resort for more information.

    During the summer of 2019, the WWMC partnered with the Alberta Lake Management Society to do water and vegetation sampling on Wabamun Lake to establish a baseline of information about the quality of the water and vegetation in the lake. This information will be used to compare to later studies in an effort to understand how the lake is changing over time as a result of climate change, development, etc.