Buffalo Lake Integrated Shoreland Management Plan: A model for lake management?

Buffalo Lake Integrated Shoreland Management Plan: A model for lake management?

Buffalo Lake Integrated Shoreland Management Plan: A model for lake management?


The Government of Alberta recently published the Buffalo Lake Integrated Shoreland Management Plan  (BLISMP) with the view of managing current and future pressures on Buffalo Lake and its ecology.  One might first wonder, when did the Government of Alberta start publishing Shoreland Management Plans? The answer lies in the fact that the Province owns a right-of-way (ROW) that rings the lake.  The water level of the lake is highly managed with water from the Red Deer River, and the ROW reaches to the elevation of 781.2 metres surrounding the lake, reflecting the 1:100 year flood zone.   The resulting Crown land ranges in width from several metres to several hundred and “comprises of approximately 1585 hectares” of littoral (wet) zone and riparian area.

The Crown ownership of the ROW (as opposed to the bed and shore as set out in the Public Lands Act) certainly gives the province a central role in shoreline management but the general approach could be easily translated to other lakes by municipalities using their planning powers.

The BLISMP contemplates four different management areas within the ROW (Existing Developed Recreational Use, General Use, Limited Use and Restricted Use) and further encourages municipalities to place greater setbacks through the implementing of environmental reserves during subdivision and development setback conditions.

The focus of the plan is managing activities that are likely to undermine riparian function and fish and bird habitat.  While the plan isn’t fully protective of ROW lands many of the targets set out in the plan are laudable.  Some activities are not permitted in all management areas including:

  • permanent  structures or commercial buildings (although the discretion to authorize structures under the Public Lands Act is maintained),
  • serviced camping sites,
  • off high vehicle use in the summer in the littoral (wet) areas,
  • agricultural cultivation,
  • utility corridors,
  • oil and gas exploration or development, and
  • sand and gravel development.

Many other activities are otherwise limited (or may be permitted with constraints).   Livestock watering and grazing is to be phased out.

It must be observed that these limitations and the plan itself reflect merely a policy intent on the part of the government.  Granted, some of the activities would already be prohibited under the Public Lands Act.  Nevertheless, the approach taken demonstrates the value and need of having a centralized plan as the primary mechanism to deal with development around a lake surrounded by five municipalities.    Also, the ability to target areas strategically for access and development ensures impacts on key ecological aspects of the lake can be minimized.  In turn, and if properly administered there is the possibility of managing the cumulative effects of development on the lake into the future.

Other lakes, such as Sylvan and Pigeon, have a much harder task, both in terms of the number of jurisdictions and the level of development pressure (past and present).   Still, the BLISMP serves as a good starting point in dealing with shoreline preservation, which could be adopted by municipalities in how they develop their lakes.

Shoreline management is but one chapter of a truly integrated lake management management plan as many water quality issues would require casting the planning net much more broadly to include upland areas.   Granted, casting that larger net makes hauling in a plan successfully a bit more of a challenge.



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  • What can be done about Quads in Lakes? | Environmental Law Centre (Alberta)
    Posted at 22:53h, 30 April Reply

    […] Provincial legislation is a key piece of the puzzle. The Public Lands Act gives the province ownership of the “beds and shores” of all permanent and naturally occurring water bodies. This ownership ends at the “bank”. Defining the bank can be tricky as the Surveys Act focuses on vegetation distinctions while the common law focuses on the high water mark. The ELC’s Guide to Wetland Law and Policy concludes that permanent marshes or wetland vegetation should be part of the bed and shore owned by the province. For an example of provincial management beyond the bed and shore, see our post on the Buffalo Lake Management Plan. […]

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