Seasonal docks require a permit on Alberta lakes

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

At the moment, most seasonal docks in Alberta require a permit. However, Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) is working on a mooring disturbance standard. When it is finished, docks which meet the requirements will not need a permit.

The permit is called a Temporary Field Authorization (TFA), says the AEP TFA user guide. It applies to docks, piers, mooring anchors for buoys, boat lifts and shelters, swimming rafts, and wharves. Permanent structures require a formal disposition. These include breakwaters, sand traps, and piers.

Since 2011, in Alberta any seasonal dock on public land for more than 14 days requires authorization, says Jason Penner Communications Advisor at Alberta Environment and Parks. In 2019, Environment and Parks made a simplified application and user guide for season docks. These are available on its website.

The TFA requirement applies to all structures put into a lake between May 15 and September 30, says the Alberta government’s website.

The new permit requirement is having some growing pains.

Shane Knutson owns Red Sky, a development of lake lots, by Joussard.

Last fall, he tried to fill out the TFA, but couldn’t find the form. When he called Alberta Environment and Parks, the employees had never heard of it.
At the time, it was hard to access the program to do the right thing.

The forms are now available online.

Waterfront and semi-waterfront owners can fill out a TFA form, says the user guide. Non-owners, must also include written consent from the owner.

Knutson figures one goal of the the permits is to cut down on the number of people who put up docks, then trespass over other people’s land to access them. This isn’t as big of a problem on Lesser Slave Lake and surrounding lakes as further south.

Once the mooring disturbance standard is in place, says Penner, “waterfront landowners and semi-waterfront landowners (those that share a boundary with an environmental reserve) following the requirements in the disturbance standard would not need to apply for a TFA to have a temporary seasonal mooring structure. This is because the disturbance standard creates the general permission, as long as the structure meets the requirements as laid out in the disturbance standard.”

The mooring standard will be best practices, Knutson says. Including things like always putting the dock in the exact same place, and having reflectors on it.

Alberta lakes tend to be shallow with a long riparian area, says Knutson, so docks are often quite long. With the strong winds on Lesser Slave Lake, all docks have to touch the bottom of the lake. Around Joussard, there are at least a dozen long docks which are put into the lake in pieces. These are dragged into the lake with a vehicle, then clicked together. Driving on the lake bed can disturb the aquatic plants and create a dead zone underneath.

However, Knutson has seen fish swimming in the shadow of docks and birds building their nests underneath. Done properly, he says, a dock “creates as much habitat as it ruins.”

Earlier this year, AEP sent the draft mooring document to key stakeholders and held online meetings. Stakeholders were to have returned their feedback to AEP on the proposed mooring disturbance standard by May 25.

AEP’s first priority is education, says Penner. “The overwhelming majority of people want to stay within the rules.”

Docks, beaches, and aquatic plant control all fall under the category of lake shores on the Alberta government website. All of these have specific requirements to protect the ecology of the water body.

Timing is one factor. Fish spawning and bird nesting are factors which are important to the ecology of the lakes.

Penner says, “Lesser Slave Lake contains 14 species of fish, including several species that are targeted for Indigenous and recreational fisheries.
Spawning method, habitat and timing vary by species and occur in the spring, early summer, fall and winter months.

Key date ranges are:

walleye, pike, perch: April 16 – July 15
lake whitefish: September 1 – May 31
burbot: February 1 – April 30

“Most migratory birds are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Convention Act [a federal policy which impacts wetlands in Alberta].
Timing restrictions and setback distances apply (as per the Public Land Act Master Schedule of Standards and Conditions (MSSC)) when activities pose a risk to sensitive bird species or during sensitive times (nesting) in addition of course to any federal requirements.”

Another factor is the removal of aquatic plants.

A related document on the removal of aquatic vegetation is available on the provincial government’s website, but was archived on March 1, 2011.

“There is no new version of that archived brochure,” says Penner.
“Environment and Parks is considering a code of practice that would lay out rules and standards for aquatic vegetation removal. Until then, projects are reviewed by Environment and Parks on a case by case basis.”

The new AEP mooring disturbance standard isn’t finished, so for this season, at least, all mooring structures require in the lake for 14 days or more require a TFA.

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