Stewardship group continuing to promote understanding of watershed

Increasing awareness of the need for responsible care of the Sylvan Lake watershed has been a key goal

Increasing awareness of the need for responsible care of the Sylvan Lake watershed has been a key goal of the Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society (SLWSS) during the past year.

President Graeme Strathdee outlined projects which have moved forward over the last 12 months towards that goal at the society’s annual meeting Sept. 15.

One of the highlights was development of tattoos which were applied to people on the beach by Strathdee, directors Brian Saby and Judy Payne and Sylvan Lake Mayor Susan Samson when the town and society co-hosted the Alberta Water Quality Association visit and display earlier this summer.

The tattoos feature a red circle with a diagonal red line through two patches of colour, blue on one side and green on the other. The slogan was “Keep It Green. Not Blue-Green”.

The reference is to fact that some Alberta lakes have been closed for recreational use because the toxic blue-green algae blooms have grown. Besides destroying recreational opportunities, the algae, which is fed by chemicals contained in pollutants, also consumes oxygen in the water resulting in fish kills.

The first project Strathdee explained was the video “A Lake Treasure … Under Threat” which was produced by SLWSS directors Kim Schmitt and Henry Sielmann. It combines Sylvan Lake’s history with a description of the current state of affairs and promotes the society’s position on future direction for the watershed.

Listening to Strathdee talk, it’s evident the organization has been very active in the background, taking on projects that have an immediate impact as well as educating towards an overall understanding of the watershed.

The Living by Water project involved residents who were recruited to participate in a Nature Alberta project where they learned about what they could do on their properties to enhance their environment while not harming the watershed. Saby and Steven Johnson recruited participants this year.

“The feedback is that everyone who participated felt this was valuable,” said Strathdee.

Those who participated were also presented with fence post signs designed by the late Kent Williamson, a past president and proponent of the society.

The second annual Watershed Willy event was a fundraiser held at Blissful Beach in honour of Williamson and was attended by several directors. It raised over $2,000 towards the society’s projects.

Perhaps the most crucial work of the society, Strathdee indicated, is their continuing involvement with Sylvan Lake Management Committee (SLMC). He and Schmitt were involved in two sessions with councillors from the counties, town and summer villages surrounding the lake. “We are having an influence,” he said. “The net result is a sort of moderation in the aggressive approach to expansion in the watershed. All the councillors are becoming more sensitive to topics.”

The main project of the SLMC over the past year has been development of a cumulative effects management system. At the request of chairperson Beverly Anderson and Sylvan Lake Mayor Susan Samson, Sylvan Lake is to become a pilot project with Alberta Environment’s involvement.

The system, Strathdee suggested, will provide measures to determine the effect of development at the municipal level increasing population of the area significantly.

Strathdee said when you add up all the population estimates from the Town of Sylvan Lake and counties in their future plans it suggests adding 70,000 people into the watershed. “That’s the equivalent of dumping the population of Red Deer into the boundaries of the watershed.”

“I can’t think of a single benefit from dumping that kind of population into the watershed.”

He added when he showed councillors a chart of that population graphed over the next 50 years “it was a shocker, especially for the municipal people. It’s not going to be an old time cottage area. We’re not going to have mini-governments, that sort of thing is influencing the municipal environment now.”

A backbone of the society’s goal to become the main source of information on the watershed, is its two websites ( and

“Everything possible you want to know is there,” Strathdee said. “Precipitation, how much water evaporates … 2.5 mm per day is the peak evaporation rate from the July to November period. These facts are important, we can contribute this information.”

“You could spend literally hours clicking your way through,” he said. “Monitoring and reporting on the water balance and water quality are our lake priorities,” his report added.

The society also prepared a submission to Alberta Environment on the expansion of the tank farm proposed by CFR Industries on Highway 11 near Kuusamo and its impact on the watershed.

Strathdee concluded that the society “is directed, managed and administered by a dedicated team that fits volunteer duties into busy schedules”.

Following the president’s report, Barry Virtue suggested a subject for future work would be to determine how much of the lake’s outflow is through sub-surface sources. That’s still an unknown, he suggested, despite reports that have indicated its possibility.

A nest of wells could be drilled to see if there’s an interconnection, he said.

Strathdee has committed to following up on this idea.

During the election of directors, Brian Saby, Evan Verchomin, Graeme Strathdee, Karen Herbst, Kim Schmitt and Steven Johnson were re-elected and Nikki Coles was elected to her first two-year term. Saby, Verchomin and Herbst are commencing their fourth year as directors, Strathdee his fifth, Schmitt his ninth and Johnson his 14th year. Bob Samson and Judy Payne were elected last year to two year terms.

At the directors meeting following the annual meeting, Strathdee was re-appointed president, Johnson will serve as vice president and Herbst as treasurer. Payne continues as secretary.

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