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Initiative to restore Gull Lake water levels making progress

Invasive species concerned stopped pumping from Blindman River into lake in 2018

Gull Lake water levels are close to the lowest they have been in decades.

However, there are renewed hopes that a water stabilization system that saw Blindman River water pumped into the lake to maintain water levels can be restarted.

Pumping stopped in 2018 after Prussian carp, an invasive species that can be devastating to lakes and their inhabitants, was detected in the Blindman and Red Deer Rivers. Without the pumping and the hot, dry weather in many of the last few years water levels are the lowest they have been since 2004-06 and a five-year stretch ending in 1980.

Gull Lake Watershed Society president Norval Horner said with water levels down about a metre from 10 years ago a number of boat launches and marinas are either unusable or close to it.

“I know at the Ponoka County boat launch near Raymond Shores, last year you had to walk your boat out,” he said, of the launch at the north end of the 130-square-kilometre lake. “And I know there are other boat launches that just aren’t workable right now.

“If the lake would lose another foot from here, that would be a big deal.”

To address the Prussian carp problem, the society, whose members include engineers and biologists, developed a pressurized filtration system that has proven successful in capturing tiny carp eggs so they cannot inadvertently be pumped into the lake. Engineering consultants reviewed the system and declared it 100 per cent successful, said Horner, who lives at Meridian Beach at the north end of the lake.

A committee that included the society and Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation and Alberta Environment and Protected Areas representatives closely reviewed the filtration system.

“They’re satisfied that it’s both reliable and easy to operate,” he said.

The society was given the green light to submit an application to have stabilization pumps restarted on the condition that a new hydrology study be undertaken and that the proposal be taken to stakeholders and the public for input.

The Alberta Agriculture-funded hydrology study, which is designed to show that the pumping program will be effective in boosting lake levels, is expected to be completed in the next few weeks. This spring, open houses will be organized so the public can see what is being considered and ask questions.

“I think we’re close to the two prerequisites that Alberta Environment was looking for,” he said.

Depending on when the stabilization initiative gets the necessary approvals, the filtration system could be in place by the fall.

How it will be funded remains to be determined. It will cost about $500,000 to buy and install the necessary equipment and a 1.2-kilometre water pipeline to the lake.

Others who have an interest in lake levels will be closely watching.

Stettler County Coun. Justin Stevens said boat owners on Buffalo Lake have been having the same problems at marinas and boat launches because of water levels that have been the lowest in more than 20 years.

Like Gull Lake, Buffalo Lake’s water levels were stabilized with a pumping program that brought in Red Deer River water through Alix Lake. The discovery of Prussian carp in Red Deer River ended that six years ago.

“There’s a lot of frustration about the water stabilization program not being utilized,” said Stevens.

The Village of Alix has received approval to begin dredging its lake, also at very low levels, this spring. The work will start at the boat launch and recreation area and could be extended to other parts of the lake in future phases.

It’s questionable whether dredging at Buffalo Lake boat launches and marinas would be worthwhile, said Stevens. The approval would likely be complicated and lengthy and it may amount to only a temporary fix.

Stevens said the county will be closely monitoring the Gull Lake filtration project.

“We’re kind of in wait-and-see mode to see how they make out. If they’re successful, we would like to duplicate their same process.”


Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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