Guidelines For Lakeshore Use

Alberta's Lakes and their Shores - A Fragile and Valuable Resource

In Alberta, only 2.5 per cent of the landscape is covered by water bodies (lakes, streams, rivers, etc.). As pressures increase to develop lakes for recreational cottages and other uses, our fragile and limited lakeshore resources are increasingly impacted. Careful management is therefore required to protect lakes and their shores against permanent disturbance or loss.

Lakeshore property owners play an important role in ensuring that all lakes and their shores remain undamaged and that access along publicly owned shorelines is maintained. The purpose of this brochure is to provide lakeshore property owners and the public with guidelines for appropriate lakeshore use.

Common Lakeshore Problems

Natural and man-made disturbances to lakeshores do occur. Pressure ridges caused by wind and the natural process of ice thrusting may push up the shore in late winter. Any modification or disturbance to the banks, bed or shores of a lake can result in future erosion problems.

Although rooted aquatic plants growing in the shallow waters of lakes are often seen as nuisance weeds, they are important to the health of lakes in many ways. They stabalize the bed and shore, reduce soil movement and erosion, and are important habitat areas for fish, waterfowl and other wildlife. Aquatic plants also make use of nutrients in lakes that would otherwise contribute to unwanted algae growth.

Water, Lake beds and their Shores are a Public Resource

The beds and shores of most permanent and naturally occurring water bodies are owned by the Province of Alberta. Pubically owned lake beds and shores are a resource for all Albertans to enjoy. In the same way, water and its quality is a highly valued natural resource. Approvals are therefore required for any activity that may disturb the bed and shore of a water body. Approvals are also required to use or divert water.

Locating the Bank of the Lake

Water levels in lakes fluctuate naturally. The shore of a lake is that part of the lakebed which is exposed when water levels are low.

That line where land ends and the bed and shore of a water body begins is called the legal bank. In most cases it's a distinct line formed by the normal, long continued action or presence of surface water along the land at the edge of the water body. The location of the bank isn't affected by occasional periods of drought or flooding. This bank separates public land from the adjacent land.

Lakeshore properties can be separated from the lake by a municipally owned and administrated reserve. These reserves (municipal or environmental) ensure that sensitive banks and lakeshores remain protected, and that public access to them is maintained. These reserves are generally located between the lakeshore lot boundary and the bank of the water body. From the bank towards the water is considered Public Land.

Most lakeshore properties do not extend to the water's edge. land titles used with survey plans for lakeshore subdivisions will show whether the lakeward boundary of the lakeshore owner's property is the bank or a municipal reserve. It's important to remember that the subdivision survey plan shows the location of the bank, not the water's edge. Determining the location of the bank is often difficult. Contact your local public land manager if you are unsure where the bank is located.

What You Can Do on Bed and Shore

Temporary and removable structures which do not disturb the bed and shore of the lake, may be erected on lakebeds without authorization. Examples of these include small removable piers or docks, and boat lifts. These structures are for seasonal use only, must not prevent public access along the shore and must be completely removed from the lake bed or shore before winter.

Damaging Lakeshore Practices and Unauthorized Uses

Removal of tree cover or any other vegetation between the developed area and the lake should be avoided. Natural, undisturbed wooded "buffer-strips" help protect the lake's water quality by trapping pollutants and preventing erosion. Buffer strips also provide habitat for birds and other wildlife, as well as greater privacy for lakeshore owners.

Creating beaches by dumping sand or other material on the bed and shore requires authorization as it alters the characteristics of the lake and can cause harmful effects to water quality and fish habitat. Imported material can be a source of pollution that introduces nutrients into the lake, enhancing algae growth and turning the lake green. When algae decays it uses oxygen in the water and can contribute to late summer or winter fish kills.

Lakes in a natural state are stable ecosystems. Alterations to them may be harmful and eventually affect the ecology of the lake. Any unapproved activity that alters the bank, bed, or shore of a lake, or the management of the water, may be considered to be an unauthorized use of public resource. Such unauthorized uses may be investigated, require restoration and / or mitigation, or may result in fines and / or legal action.

When Authorization is Required

Authorization is required to divert water, or prior to developing the following structures or modifications on lake beds, shores and floodplains:

  • any project (temporary or permanent) involving the disturbance or modification of a lake's bed, shore or floodplain;
  • any projects that involve the placement onto or the removal of material from the bed, shore or floodplain. This includes the removal of pressure ridges caused by ice thrusts and the placement of sand for beaches;
  • any commercial development (temporary or permanent);
  • the cutting or removal of aquatic vegetation;
  • erosion protection, retaining walls, groynes, breakwaters and causeways;
  • permanent piers, boat launches, boathouses, etc.,and other improvements supporting these structures;
  • permanent waterline installations into or beneath the lake, and;
  • other permanent structures on the bed, shore or floodplain on the lake.

Anyone wishing to carry out any permanent developments on public lakeshores must have legal access to that proposed lakeshore development before authorization can be given.
Written authorization for lakeshore projects must be obtained before construction begins. Contractors should ensure that authorizations have been received by their clients before construction begins.

How to Obtain Authorization

Complete an "Application for Lakeshore / Water Body Modification" form for your proposed lakeshore project. The application form is available from your nearest Public Lands, Land and Forest, or Natural Resources office. the following information must be submitted with your application.

  • a legal land description
  • a location plan*, a site plan*, and a cross-sectional sketch* which show the existing conditions of the site and the proposed works in relation to property lines;
  • a letter explaining your proposal, why it is needed, and when it is to be built; and
  • the appropriate fee (if required) to cover the cost of processing the application.
    * See the application form for more details and an example

Proposals are reviewed for potential impact's to the lake's bed and shore, flood plain, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, or public access. Applicants are advised in writing, when a project is approved.

Modifications to Environmental or Municipal Reserves will also require approval from the muniipality that owns the land.

Consult Before You Construct

Check with regional Public Lands, Lands and Forest, or Natural Resources office before constructing any bed and shore modifications. Authorization may be required. Staff at these offices can also assist you regarding the most appropriate manner or location to develop a lakeshore project. Their assistance can minimize the potential for harmful effects to the water body and will ensure that sensitive fish and wildlife habitat is protected.

For more information about approvals needed for developments on lake beds and other shore land areas in Alberta, contact your nearest regional Public Lands (PL), Lands and Forest (LF), or Natural resources (NR) office in:

Northwestern Alberta

  • PL: Grande Prairie (538-52690), Barrhead (674-8231)
  • LF: Peace River (624-6221) Grande Prairie (538-8080), Slave lake (849-3061), Whitecourt NE Slopes (778-7153)
  • NR: Peace River (624-6167)

Northeastern Alberta

  • PL: St. Paul (645-6336)
  • LF: Lac La Biche (623-5240)
  • NR: Edmonton (427-5296), Leduc (986-6286)

Central Alberta

  • PL: Edmonton (464-7955), red Deer (340-5451)
  • NR: Edmonton (427-5296), Red Deer (340-5310)

Southern Alberta

  • PL: Lethbridge (381-5487)
  • LF: Rocky Mtn. House S.E. Slopes (845-8250)
  • NR: Calgary (297-6582), Lethbridge (381-5396)

To obtain information regarding individual land titles, property boundaries or subdivision plans, contact any private registry of Alberta or your local municipal government office.

Remember! Alberta's water bodies are a fragile and limited resource. Let's work to ensure they are preserved for all of us to enjoy, now and in the future.

PYB NO I / 453
ISBN 0-86499-899-6
(Revised 1997)

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