Lake Water Level

The water level of Wabamun Lake can be a perennial topic of concern among lakeside residents and other lake users. For some the lake is too high; for others it is too low. The lake level of Wabamun is largely governed by the amount of snowfall over the winter and the results of rain events or dry spells during spring and summer. Wabamun Creek (southeast corner of the lake) is the sole outlet of the lake. However, its effect on water level is small—being characterized like a straw draining a swimming pool.

The weir at the start of Wabamun Creek on May 19, 2019. On that day, the water was flowing 19 cm (7.5 in.) above the weir. Photo credit: Neil Fleming

The weir at the start of Wabamun Creek on May 19, 2019. On that day, the water was flowing 19 cm (7.5 in.) above the weir. Photo credit: Neil Fleming

Weir

A weir has been placed at the lake outlet since 1927 to maintain lake level. Ever since then, there has been much controversy about what that level should be, and versions of the weir have been vandalized over the years. In 1990, the top of the weir was set at its present elevation of 724.55 m (2,376.5 ft.) above sea level. A complete history of Lake Level and Outflow Regulation can be found in the 2004 Schindler report, Lake Wabamun: A Review of Scientific Studies and Environmental Impacts (PDF) , pp 13-17.

If more water is entering the lake than is leaving it, the water will rise above the level of the weir. However, if less water is entering the lake than leaving it, then the lake water level can drop below the weir mostly as a result of evaporation, which is the chief cause of water loss. 

The weir when water is not flowing. Photo taken in the summer of 2015 by Neil Fleming.

The weir when water is not flowing. Photo taken in the summer of 2015 by Neil Fleming.

Beaver

On occasion in recent years, beaver have dammed Wabamun Creek east of the weir and restricted water flow over the weir. With the cooperation of the Paul Band First Nation, the dams have been removed to facilitate creek flow.

TransAlta

As part of the mining approval with the Alberta Energy Regulator, TransAlta diverts natural runoff from the Highvale Mine site into the Sundance Cooling Pond. Cooling pond water is then treated at Wabamun Lake Water Treatment Plant located at the Sundance site. TransAlta has an approval requirement with Alberta Environment and Parks to release the treated water into Wabamun Lake. The amount released each year is based on the estimated loss of runoff from the mine site. 

Inflow and Outflow

Hydrological studies of the lake over the years identified the following major causes of water inflow and outflow (averages from 2011 to 2013; source: Parkland County’s Wabamun Lake Sub-Watershed Land Use Plan Technical Report [PDF], p. 57).

  • Inflow

    • 84%—Precipitation and surface runoff

    • 13%—TransAlta replacing runoff water

    • 4%—Ground water

  • Outflow

    • 74%—Evaporation from the lake surface

    • 14%—Wabamun Creek (when flowing)

    • 10%—Ground water

    • 2%—Water Licences

Each of the above is subject to the variability of the environment, and the figures can vary widely from year to year.

Historic Lake Levels

In the WWMC's 2013 State of the Watershed Report (PDF), the following historical information (1915-2013) about lake level was presented:

      • The maximum lake level recorded was in 1927 at elevation 725.17 meters (2,378.56 feet) above sea level.

      • The minimum lake level recorded was in 2003 at elevation 723.72 meters (2,373.80 feet).

Lake water level over the years, 1915-2018, provided by Alberta Environment and Parks. The 2017-18 data are unvalidated and subject to adjustment. The horizontal red line represents the height of the weir at Wabamun Creek.

Lake water level over the years, 1915-2018, provided by Alberta Environment and Parks.
The 2017-18 data are unvalidated and subject to adjustment. The horizontal red line represents the height of the weir at Wabamun Creek.

Current Lake Level

For current lake level information, go to the federal government's Real-Time Hydrometric Data for Wabamun Lake, and Alberta Environment and Parks’ Alberta Rivers page (zoom down to Wabamun Lake). As well, go to the Alberta Climate Information Service for information about weather and climate.