High Water and Lakeshores

Several lakes in the province are facing issues of high water levels as a result of snow melt and higher precipitation throughout the spring.

Many residents around these lakes may be wondering what effect the higher water levels may have on the shoreline. They may also wonder what, if anything, they can do to help prevent shoreline damage or erosion or to stem water flow from their properties.

Below is some basic information on what you can do and what you need to do it.

The Crown claims ownership of the bed and shore of all permanent and naturally occurring water bodies under Section 3(1) of the Public Lands Act. The line that separates the Crown owned bed and shore of a water body from adjacent private land is called the legal bank or the ordinary high water mark. Water levels naturally rise and fall in lakes across Alberta and for lakefront property owners this can result in a decrease of property above the legal bank and ordinary high water mark.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What can I do to help prevent erosion of the shore in front of/on my property?

Riparian landowners who share a boundary with a water body have a common law right to protect their land from erosion. This right only extends to the legal bank and does not include landowners who share a boundary with an environmental or municipal reserve. Owners therefore have a right to construct permanent erosion protection works on private land.

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

A Water Act authorization may be required if the proposed work has an adverse effect on the lake. Also, an additional authorization may be required from the local municipality if an environmental reserve or municipal reserve is in place.

Temporary flood protection measures can also be installed for a flood event. Temporary measures can include installing sand bags and other non-erodible materials to protect infrastructure on private land and should be removed when the flood event is completed.

What can I do once the water level has receded to reduce the possibility of this occurring again?

Homeowners, with the proper authorizations, can apply to Environment and Parks to install permanent erosion protection or carry out bank stabilization measures; these require authorization under the Public Lands Act and Water Act if work is occurring on the bed and shore of the lake or an area below the ordinary high water mark.

Modifications to shorelines can result in the direct or indirect loss of valuable fish and wildlife habitat. Modifications also have the potential to prevent public access along a shoreline and poorly designed or constructed modifications can contribute to future shoreline erosion problems.

Please see the following fact sheet for more information on how to apply for a joint Public Lands Act and Water Act application.

The water is approaching my home. What can I do to prevent the water from reaching my personal property?

If the private landowner feels it is necessary to discharge water or install flood protection measures in order to protect their property, it is critical that the landowners do so in a manner that does not negatively impact any adjacent landowners or any downstream/down gradient water users. The activity conducted to protect private land should only be limited to the amount necessary to provide this protection and no more. Sandbags are generally the first "go to" in terms of flood protection.

How long will it take for my application for Water Act and Public Lands Act authorizations to be approved?

Application review times usually vary from a couple of weeks to a couple of months depending on the proposed project. During an emergency, efforts will be made to significantly shorten turn around times if necessary and justified.

Can I begin work without the approval?

If the private landowner feels it is necessary to conduct any emergency works in order to protect critical infrastructure in immediate danger such as household, utilities, roads etc., the emergency work should be limited only to the amount necessary to provide protection and no more.

If emergency work is necessary, the private landowner is required to report the activity to Environment and Parks by contacting 1 800 222-6514. It is incumbent on the private landowner to demonstrate that any emergency work completed was conducted in a diligent manner.

What happens if I work without an approval?

Modifying a shoreline without appropriate authorization(s) is subject to enforcement action and provincial fines up to $50,000 for an individual or $500,000 for a company or organizations.

What happens if my property floods? Does Environment and Parks have any sort of emergency recovery funding to clean up my property?

Damages caused by flooding on private land are the responsibility of the land owner. Environment and Parks does not provide funding.

Who do I talk to if I have questions about my application?

Each application is assigned to a regional Water Act coordinator and/or a regional public lands officer for the applicable application. The contact for the application reviewer(s) will be provided to the proponent once the application(s) is assigned.

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Posted: Jul 14, 2017