Lakeshores

Many of Alberta's recreational lakes have residential development around them. As more and more lakeshore properties are developed, the potential for the modification and erosion of the banks and shores of a lake also increases. In time, entire lakeshore margins may become altered.

Many common shoreland development activities can have unanticipated impacts to a lake. Many of these impacts are also cumulative. Public land and resource managers and, increasingly, the public are becoming concerned about:

  • Changes to water quality
  • Erosion of lands
  • Increase in user conflicts
  • Increased boating use
  • Loss of habitat and natural shorelines

Most modifications to shorelands require riparian landowners to obtain prior authorization before undertaking any works. This ensures that

  • Construction of works does not occur during sensitive timing periods when fish spawn or birds nest
  • Any unanticipated issues can be addressed prior to undertaking construction activities
  • All the province’s interests in managing the aquatic and water resources are addressed and reflected in an approval

For details on approval requirements for a particular activity and an application form, see:

Common Lakeshore Activities

Aquatic Plant Control

Aquatic vegetation beds in the shallow littoral zone of a lake serve many essential functions to the health and ecology of a lake. First and foremost, these areas are the breeding, nesting and shelter areas for many bird and fish species. Large-scale removal of this vegetation removes this important habitat from the lake ecosystem.

Aquatic vegetation has the ability to limit shore erosion by significantly reducing the erosive energy of waves that would otherwise directly strike and erode the lakeshore. In doing so, stands of aquatic vegetation also trap and stabilize sediment that would otherwise be deposited elsewhere.

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) recognizes that riparian property owners wish to clear aquatic vegetation and place piers on lakebeds to facilitate boating access to the open waters of a lake. Subject to any Restricted Development / Activity Areas (RDA), an approval process has been established to provide for the limited cutting of aquatic vegetation to create boat lanes. A summary of the cutting guidelines are outlined in the brochure Aquatic Vegetation Removal From Alberta Lakes. Contact your local Lands Division office for specific information on any restrictions.

Lakes that currently have RDA areas mapped:

Beaches, Beach Renovations and Sand Dumping

Very few lakes or parts of a lake have shores of natural sand. Beaches usually need to be constructed. The deposit of sand changes the natural characteristics of the shore and the adjoining littoral area within the lake.

Sand is generally placed on the shore and on the lakebed in shallow water. Unfortunately, sand placed within the nearshore area of a lake can cover quality fish habitat, and, if the source is uncertain, can introduce weeds, fine sediment or other deleterious substances to the water.

Much of the material often ends up being washed away over a short period of time by the constant action of water at the shore. Most of this material is moved elsewhere along the shore or out into the lake itself.

Beach construction is generally allowed on private property, that is, above the Ordinary High Water Mark or bank of a lake. Consideration is also given to a reasonable area for community/public beaches and beaches in provincial parks.

Dredging

The removal of fill or sediment from the bed of a water body requires prior approval as such an activity may have a significant effect on the aquatic environment.

Environmental Reserves

subdivision ownership map

Not all properties near a lake share a boundary directly with the lake. Often a titled parcel of land separates a residential or recreational property from the lake. Such parcels are generally referred to as environmental or municipal reserves.

These reserve parcels are titled, owned and administered by the local municipality and are established at the time of subdivision for the purpose of maintaining public access and a buffer area between developed areas and the lake. They are generally required to be maintained in a natural state.

Erosion Protection Works

Riparian landowners who share a boundary with a water body have a Common Law right to protect their land from erosion. This right extends only to the natural boundary of the property. Owners therefore have a right to construct erosion protection works on their own land; however, they require the consent of the Crown to extend such works below the natural boundary (the bank).

Erosion protection works should be designed considering the erosion potential of the shore and bank, as well as the expected wave environment for the site. Not all sites require a structural/hard engineering solution (e.g., riprap). In many cases, allowing native vegetation to regrow or the planting of vegetation will add the required structural stability to limit erosion of land.

Use the following downloadable Calculation Sheet or Web-based Calculator to determine the erosion potential of your site.

Erosion Potential (EP) Scores and Categories

EP Score Erosion Potential Erosion Control
0-20 Low Allow natural regeneration to occur. Allow emergent vegetation to re-grow. Scores at upper end of range, use bio-engineering techniques.
20-35 Medium Use bio-engineering and armouring to control erosion. Requires engineering design and review.
35 + High Use engineered solution. Requires engineering design and review.

Marinas (Open Water and Inland)

Marinas in Alberta are either constructed directly in a water body or by excavating private land to create a basin that is connected to a water body.

  • Inland Marinas
    A long-term Public Lands Act disposition is not required to construct an inland marina basin on private land. However, the breaching of the bank to the lake to allow the marina basin to fill or the dredging of an access channel in the lake does require a written approval. In addition, municipal and/or federal approvals may be required.
  • Open water Marinas
    The development of an open water marina is a significant undertaking, often involving the construction of a breakwater to protect the harbour basin. A formal Public Lands Act disposition will be required to occupy the bed of the lake. The applicant is required to submit a development plan for the proposed marina development or for the expansion of an existing one. The approval process includes a pre-application meeting to clarify regulatory requirements, a public notification requirement to determine if the proposal is in the public interest, and finally a multi-jurisdictional review of the detailed plan being proposed.

Permanent Structures (Breakwaters, Groynes and Piers)

Permanent structures placed on the bed of a lake can significantly alter the movement of water in a lake, thereby altering the erosion, transport, and deposition of sediment along a shore. Such structures can also interfere with the public's right of navigation and the reasonable access to and around the shores of a lake.

In general, permanent structures on the bed and shore of a lake are not approved for private use. They may be approved for commercial or public uses.

Seasonal Structures (Docks/Piers, Boat Lifts and Shelters, Swimming Rafts and Wharves)

By policy, AEP does not currently require an approval for the placement of docks and associated mooring facilities on the bed and shore of a lake or river, provided that their use is reasonable, they are temporary structures for seasonal use, and they do not interfere with navigation. At the end of the recreational season, all such structures must be completely removed from public land and stored on private property over the winter.

Reasonable use is defined as:

  • The balance between a riparian owner's right to access, construct, place and use a temporary pier or wharf on the bed of a navigable water body for the purpose of facilitating navigation
  • The rights of another adjacent riparian owner
  • That which is in the general public's interest, including their right of access along the shore of a Crown owned water body, navigation, etc.

Some exceptions apply to the placement of mooring structures, particularly in those areas or circumstances:

  • Where a local municipal development plan, a lake management plan, or a water management plan limits or restricts such uses
  • Where an environmentally-sensitive area or a management concern is identified by the province or federal government, and restrictions have been established
  • Where such structures may adversely block public access along the bed or shore of the lake.
  • Where the proposed structure's design may interfere with the normal flow of water or is likely to increase the probability of bank or shoreline erosion

Users are advised to contact their local municipal planning office, and provincial or federal regulatory offices to determine if there are any areas on a lake subject to a restriction. Structures placed in any of the above areas may be required to be removed, or require prior approval.

Additional Information About Lakeshores

For information on water body navigability, boating safety, and private buoys and other navigational aids, visit:

For information on deleterious substances, fish habitat, and harmful alternation, disruption or destruction (HADD) of fish habitat, visit:

In Alberta, Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices are located in Lethbridge, Calgary, Edmonton and Peace River. For addresses and other contact information for each of these Alberta District offices, visit:

Additional Resources on Lakeshore Use

 

Page Information

Updated: Jul 21, 2015