PARLBY CREEK-BUFFALO LAKE WATER MANAGEMENT SYSTEM OPERATIONS OVERVIEW
BUFFALO LAKE MANAGEMENT TEAM
The Parlby Creek-buffalo Lake Water Management Project is located in central Alberta, approximately 70 kms east of Red Deer. This multi-purpose project is an initiative of Albert Environment to stabilize the water levels in Buffalo Lake, provide agricultural back flood, enhance fisheries and support local wetland projects. The water management system was developed in several stages commencing in 1985. Portions of the system had been operational for several years with testing and commissioning occurring since 1986. All phases of construction were completed in 2000/01, with the exception of some mitigation projects.
In 1992, an Interim License under the Water Resources Act was granted for the diversion of water from the Red Deer River to stabilize Buffalo Lake within its historic lake levels. One of the conditions of the license is the development of an operational strategy for the Project.
The Operations Plan for the Parlby Creek-Buffalo Lake Water Management Project guides the management and Operation of the project, in accordance with the Water Act License. The Plan provides direction to Alberta Environment staff for operation of the water management system to ensure the objectives of the project continue to be met.
The Operations Plan was developed in consultation with landowners, stakeholders and interested members of the public through ongoing Advisory Committee meetings, as well as a series of stakeholder meetings and public open houses.
The Parlby Creek-Buffalo Lake Water Management system consists of two major components. The Parlby Creek portion acts as the water conveyance system to divert water from the Red Deer River into Buffalo Lake. Buffalo Lake is the receiving waterbody that makes up the second component of the system.
The water management system includes:
- A pumphouse to withdraw water from the Red Deer River,
- A pipeline and conduit system which conveys the pumped water to a series of small lakes and ultimately to Alix Lake,
- A 20 kilometre long Parlby-Creek channel which transports water from Alix Lake through several control structures to Buffalo Lake,
- A fixed crest weir control structure at the Buffalo Lake outlet which, when over-topped, allows water to enter Tail Creek and flow back to the Red Deer River.
OBJECTIVES OF SYSTEM
The Parlby Creek-Buffalo Lake Water Management system is a multi-use water management project with several specific objectives:
- Provision of agricultural flood control,
- Provision of a water sources for fish and wildlife enhancement,
- Wetlands enhancement
- Stabilization of water levels in Buffalo Lake.
Operation of the system will work towards balancing the objectives that guided development of the project and will vary from year to year based on weather conditions and target lake elevations.
The following guidelines will direct the “normal” operation of the Parlby Creek-Buffalo Lake water management system. Extreme weather conditions such as periods of extended drought or severe flooding may require operations to proceed outside the normal guidelines.
Red Deer River Diversion Pumps, Pipeline and Conduit System
Two electrical vertical turbine pumps are located in the pumphouse on the Red Deer River south of the Village of Alix. The smaller pump has a capacity of 0.35 cubic meters per second (cms), and the larger pump capacity is 1.06 cms. The pumps can be operated simultaneously or individually. The License for the Project authorizes a rate of diversion of 1.42 cms from the Red Deer River.
The pipeline and conduit system conveys water from the pumphouse on the Red Deer River to a series of small lakes and eventually into Alix Lake.
Pumping Season – Pumping typically occurs during the open water season, starting on or around May 1 and continuing until around Oct 31 each year. Operation of the pumps is subject to Red Deer River water quantity and quality, the water levels in Buffalo Lake, or possible flood events within the system.
Residual Flow – When the pumps are in operation, a residual flow in the Red Deer River must be maintained at a minimum of 8.5 cms downstream of the intake site.
Water Quality – Pumping will not occur during periods of high flow in the Red Deer River when there is a significant silt load in the river. High silt content in the river rapidly deteriorates the pumping system, and deposits material in the channels and water bodies along the system.
Fish screen – during pumping operation, a fish screen will be kept in place to avoid the transfer of fish from the Red Deer River into the Parlby Creek-Buffalo Lake system. An automated travelling water screen system was installed at the pumphouse in 2009-2010 to reduce the man hours required for screen cleaning and prevent shut downs due to intake screen blockage.
Water Volume Monitoring – The volume of water diverted from the Red Deer River will be monitored and reported to the Controller of Water Resources each year, including the periods and rates of diversion.
Power Supply Costs – Operation of the electrical water diversion pumps is subject to contract requirements with the power supplier. At present, contract conditions require that the Department pay costs based on the peak demand on the system within a calendar month. Operation of the pumps for a few days within a month results in very high charges and is not considered cost effective. The high cost factor makes it more practical to operate the pumps for most of a month, not short periods of time.
The Buffalo Lake Management Team initiated a wind power feasibility study with the assistance of the provincial Science and Innovations department, several municipalities and private donations. The results of the study were not favourable versus the capital output. Alberta Environment is continuously pursuing efficiencies in power consumption and generation at all pumping projects owned by the department.
Lakes A, B and C Gates – Lake B outlet structure is a gated control structure designed to safely pass pumped flows and maintain Lakes B and C levels. The structure will be kept closed during the winter months.
Alix Lake Control Structure and Spillway – The water level in Alix Lake will be maintained during the open water season for recreational benefits to the Village of Alix. The structure is a self-regulating upstream control structure designed to maintain Alix Lake level at elevation 790.35 metres with an emergency overflow for flood events.
Parlby Creek Conveyance System
The Parlby Creek Conveyance System starts where the water flows over the Alix Lake Control Structure into the Parlby Creek channel and through several control structures to Buffalo Lake. Control structures below Alix Lake include a gated structure into the Wildlife Conservation Area, the Mirror, Spotted Lake and Carlyle backflood control structures.
Annual operating procedures for backflooding along Parlby Creek were developed by the Spotted Lake-Mirror Advisory Committee with recognition that Parlby Creek license priorities guarantee water use for the three backflood operations involved. The Carlyle backflood has priority up to the limit of its license (148 dam3), followed by Spotted Lake and finally Mirror.
Wildlife Conservation Wetland Area Structure – The structure along Parlby Creek allows water to flow into the Conservation Area to allow management of water levels to maintain the quality of the wetland habitat in the area. The structure may be opened during the Mirror backflood. Once the backflood is completed, the structure will be closed to retain the water in the Wetland Area. The gate is operated by Ducks Unlimited under agreement with Alberta Environment.
Mirror Structure – The structure is operated to provide moisture in hay lands to boost hay production and provide wildlife habitat. Flood easements with landowners affected by the Mirror Structure allow the land to “periodically backflood to a maximum elevation of 787.3 metres for a duration not to exceed 30 consecutive days per year”
The Mirror Structure will be closed before spring runoff to allow water to back up in the flood easement area. The structure will then be opened in mid April to allow time for the land to dry out to accommodate hay production. The actual release timing will be closely monitored relative to pike spawning activity in the Parlby system, but the total duration for backflooding is limited to 30 consecutive days by easement agreements. Upon completion of the backflood each year, the structure is left open to allow the passage of water from any major rainfalls.
Mirror Fish Pond – The Alberta Conservation Authority (ACA) pump water from Parlby creek into the fish pond at Mirror. The pond is stocked by Fish and Wildlife.
Spotted Lake Structure – The structure is also operated to provide a backflood on hay lands to boost hay production, while providing water for pike spawning and hatching, as well as wildlife habitat. Flood easements with landowners affected by the Spotted Lake Structure allow the land to “periodically backflood to a maximum elevation of 785.80 metres for a duration not to exceed 60 consecutive days per year”
Spotted Lake Structure will be closed to coincide with the release of water from the Mirror Structure (mid-April). Spotted Lake will be raised to as high as the available water allows, not exceeding the Full Supply Level (785.80 metres). The high water level will be maintained for a brief period (2-7 days) to maximize flooding of the hay lands, then dropped to a stable level elevation (approximately 785.50 metres) for one month until approximately mid-May to accommodate pike spawning and hatching. Over the next two weeks, until the end of May, the water is slowly released to the Crown land boundary (784.00 metres) to accommodate the return of pike hatchlings to Buffalo Lake. Water must be reduced to Crown boundary by May 31 to accommodate hay production within the area.After the backflooding, the gates in the Spotted Lake Structure may be operated to retain water at the Crown boundary.
Hamlet of Mirror Water Supply – The Hamlet of Mirror had access to the water diverted from the Red Deer River for their domestic water supply. The Hamlet used to pump water from Parlby Creek into a reservoir twice a year during the open water season (May 1 to October 31). They now receive domestic water from a regional water system.
Carlyle Structure – The structure is also operated to provide increased moisture in hay lands to boost hay production and to allow passage of pike into Spotted Lake for spawning. Timing of the water operation of the Carlyle Structure is dependent of the fish movements each year and are performed by the local landowner in consultation with Alberta Environment through an agreement with the department.
Upon completion of the backflood each year, the Carlyle structure is left open to allow the passage of water from any major rainfalls.
Lateral drains – Gated lateral drains are located along the conveyance system to accommodate natural flows and passage of backflood waters to and from the Parlby system. Landowners are responsible for the operations of the gates to control flow onto and off of their property. The Department is the owner of the lateral drains and gates and responsible for ongoing maintenance.
Parlby Creek Channel Maintenance – The Parlby Creek Channel is maintained by the Department to accommodate the efficient conveyance of water. Aquatic weed growth will be monitored regularly in the channel and will be removed by the department in an environmentally approved manner as required.
Parlby Creek Right of Way – The right of way is monitored for terrestrial weed growth and control measures implemented as necessary. Maintenance of the fencing along the right of way is a shared responsibility between the Department and adjacent landowners.
Farm Crossings – Farm crossing are located along the Parlby system to allow access to farmland bisected by the channel. Maintenance of the farm crossing is the responsibility of the Department.
Buffalo Lake Component
The Buffalo Lake Component of the water management project includes Buffalo Lake, Tail Creek Weir and Channel. The water diverted from the Red Deer River enters the lake at Parlby Bay and then flows through the Narrows into the main portion of Buffalo Lake. Water from Buffalo Lake will flow into Rockeling/Rider bays (at the northeast end of the lake) when higher levels are reached. Tail Creek is the outlet of Buffalo Lake that flows into the Red Deer River.
Buffalo Lake Water Levels – Diversion of water from the Red Deer River will occur until the water levels in Buffalo Lake reach the elevation of 780.85 metres or the channel capacity is reached. Once the maximum elevation has been reached, pumping will stop until lake levels recede to 780.60 metres. The fluctuation of 25 cm is intended to encourage a diversity of aquatic plant growth along the shoreline of Buffalo Lake. The pumping program will re-initiate once the lake level drops to the lower elevation (780.60 metres). Water diversion from the Red Deer River may occur when the lake is at Full Supply Level (780.85 metres) in order to meet needs within the conveyance system for, backflooding, or fish and wildlife benefits along the Parlby Creek component of the system.
Rockeling Bay Structure – Rockeling Bay and Rider Lake are located in the northeast corner of Buffalo Lake. At higher water levels, water can flow between Buffalo Lake and Rockeling Bay. The wetlands located on Rockeling Bay and Rider Lake support a breeding population of endangered piping plovers and several waterfowl species.
The North American Waterfowl Management Plan and their agent, Ducks Unlimited, proposed the construction of a water conveyance works from Buffalo Lake into Rockeling Bay and Rider Lake. At present the Rockeling Bay – Rider Lake project has been delayed because the department has not been able to secure land affected by increased water levels.
In the event that land can be secured, the Rockeling Bay control structure could be operated to periodically allow water to flow into Rockeling Bay when Buffalo Lake is at elevation 780.85 metres. It is anticipated that flooding of Rockeling Bay and Rider Lake would occur only once every second or third year.
Tail Creek Structure – the structure is a sheet pile fixed crest weir that controls the water level in Buffalo Lake at the elevation 780.85 metres. The weir is designed at a fixed elevation and cannot be operated to affect water levels in the lake. In the event of water levels above 780.85 metres, the water will spill over the weir and flow into the Red Deer River via Tail Creek.
Tail Creek Channel Maintenance – The channel of Tail Creek below Buffalo Lake will be monitored and maintained to allow water passage during periods of high water levels
Tail Creek Channel Right of Way – The right of way will be monitored for terrestrial weed growth and control measures implemented as necessary. Maintenance of the fencing along the right of way is a shared responsibility between the Department and adjacent landowners.
Farm Crossings – Farm crossing are located along Tail Creek to allow access to farmland bisected by the channel. Maintenance of the farm crossing is the responsibility of the Department.
RESPONSE TO FLOOD EVENTS
Parlby Creek Portion – When the diversion pumps are operating, a major rainstorm in the Parlby Creek drainage area could result in flooding within the system. In the event of a major storm event, all pumping will be stopped until the natural water flows have returned to normal levels. Instrumentation along Parlby Creek is monitored to manage channel flows and monitor local rainfall. The Mirror, Spotted and Carlyle structures are usually left open after the backflood is completed to accommodate any potential flood events.
Buffalo Lake Portion – If a major storm event or events cause the lake to exceed 780.85 metres when the pumps are in operation, the pumping program will stop until water levels have receded to 780.60 metres. The 1:100 Year flood elevation for Buffalo Lake has been calculated to be 781.20 metres. The Province of Alberta acquired shoreline around the lake to provide protection to the elevation 781.20 metres. The Tail Creek weir is a fixed crest weir at 780.85 metres and is designed to pass the 1:100 year flood. The Department has no ability to mitigate flooding events on Buffalo Lake by releasing additional water over the weir.
The Parlby Creek-Buffalo Lake Water Management project may not be able to maintain the target water levels in Buffalo Lake during various weather and lake level conditions, primarily due to evaporation. However, applications to divert or withdraw from the system which do not fall within the objectives for the project (see Page 2) should be evaluated under the conditions stated below. Any applications to remove water from the system or perform any other works that could potentially impact the water would require an approval from Alberta Environment, Regulatory Approvals section.
Withdrawal projects that are located upstream of Buffalo Lake (Parlby Bay) may be considered based on historical natural flows that existed before the Parlby Creek-Buffalo Lake Water Management project was implemented.
Projects for domestic and small stock watering (5 acre-feet or less per year) may be considered and evaluated.
Applicants for domestic, municipal, and agricultural uses for 5 acres feet or less may be approved unless it can be determined that they would have a negative impact on downstream license holders for riparian water users. Applicants that could potentially benefit from the pumping scheme would only be considered if they can live with the following conditions:
Priority for water from the project is to meet the needs of;
- The backflood schemes for Spotted Lake, Mirror, and Carlyle,
- The stabilization of Buffalo Lake.
- Wetlands enhancement
- Fisheries management and enhancement
Applications may be considered only when the above system priorities are met. Water that could be made available would be considered on a cost recovery basis. The priority requirements suggest that new applicants would have to evaluate the economics of their project to accommodate storage of water for periods when they would not be allowed to pump. Storage of enough water for three or four years may be necessary.
Groundwater applications that could impact surface water would have to meet the surface water condition listed above. The groundwater requirements are intended to prevent applicants from drilling in area close to a water body and effectively getting water from the surface water source.
Water withdrawal projects located in the non-contributing areas of the basin may be considered. Projects in non-contributing area of the basin where water would not normally get to the lake except in extremely wet years will be considered for approval on their own merits.
Water withdrawal projects that require water to be taken directly from Buffalo Lake should not be considered.
MAINTENANCE OF MITIGATION PROJECTS
Maintenance of specific mitigation projects is negotiated with local authorities and other partners.
Water Levels – An automatic gauging station at Rochon Sands monitors the water levels in Buffalo Lake. Please visit Alberta Rivers website
Lake Water Quality Monitoring – Lake water quality will be monitored on an ongoing basis.
For More Information Visit the Publications, Resources, & Links tab.
The Operations Plan for the Parlby Creek-Buffalo Lake Water Management System will be formally reviewed 10 years after approval. The first formal review should take place in 2012. Major changes or extreme weather conditions have required a review of operations in some years. The Buffalo Lake Management Team and the Spotted Lake-Mirror Advisory Committee can assist the Department to assess the need for review of the Operations Plan.