Dr. David Schindler’s Letter to St. Albert Mayor and Council

August 2002
Mayor and Council
St. Albert, Alberta

Dear Mayor and Council Members:

I have been closely following the debate about the Big Lake bypass for several years. I recognize the need to move more traffic in the area, but it seems to me that there are other ingenious solutions to the problem that would not involve invading the Big Lake natural area.

Much has been made of the importance of Big Lake as a waterfowl staging area and a natural area that provides recreation and education for young people. I agree with these sentiments, and there is little to add, except that the destruction of similar areas that were important to me as a child growing up in northern Minnesota makes me reluctant to go home. A highway expansion covers the stream and pond where I used to fish and watch birds and turtles, and an exchange on a 4-lane highway covers another stream and gully where I used to hunt. I moved to Canada so that my own children could experience similar natural areas, which they did in northwestern Ontario. If such areas are eliminated, it is small wonder that we find bored teenagers hanging around malls and bars, getting into social problems of all sorts. The social values of natural ecosystems are very numerous, but sometimes difficult to see.

There are some scientific concerns as well, that I have not seen discussed. Big Lake is at the eastern end of one of the most important groundwater aquifers in central Alberta. Such water bodies and their surrounding wetlands are extremely important in replenishing groundwaters. This must be of concern, given the recent drought, increasing human demand for groundwater, and climate warming (already about 2.5 degrees Celsius in the past half century at Edmonton International Airport). Recent studies at the University of Regina indicate that the past half century may have been the wettest period in the last 500 years. There were prolonged droughts, some lasting over a decade, in the same period, even without climate warming or human use.

You probably saw the project on lost lakes, streams and wetlands of Edmonton, done by two of my students and run as a feature earlier this year in the Edmonton Journal. It is clear that this area has already had the surface waters that recharge its aquifers severely crippled, and I think that we must cease such activities if we hope to have groundwater for human use in the future.

Wetlands also serve as valuable “filters” to maintain water quality, and to prevent rapid flow events following extreme rainfall and snowmelt events. Paved surfaces increase the amount of runoff, and speed the rate at which rainwater reaches rivers and lakes. This was a major factor aggravating the recent floods in Europe.

In summary, I believe that there are many reasons to avoid a major roadway through the Big Lake natural area. Perhaps modifications to the St. Albert trail, routes further to the west, or best of all a rapid transit system, would be alternate solutions to the traffic problem. Of one thing I am sure: a mayor and council who are farsighted enough to preserve Big Lake will be remembered by future generations.


D. W. Schindler, FRSC, FRS
Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology
University of Alberta


Dr. Schindler’s letter was also published under the title “Protect Big Lake”, September 6, 2002, Saint City News – St. Albert

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