Baptiste Lake

Basic Info
Map Sheets83I/12, 13
Lat / Long54.7500000, -113.5500000
54°45'N, 113°32'W
Area9.81 km2
Max depth27.5 m
Mean depth8.6 m
Dr. Basin Area288 km2
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinAthabasca River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishNorthern Pike, Walleye, Yellow Perch
Trophic StatusHyper-eutrophic
TP xNorth:54
South:49 µg/L
CHLORO xNorth:30.0
South:24.0 µg/L
TDS xNorth:194
South:198 mg/L
Photo credit: F. Schulte


Baptiste Lake is a very productive, moderate-sized lake located within the County of Athabasca in central Alberta. It has two distinct basins joined by a long neck, called the Narrows. The basins are of similar size; the north basin is shallow (16 m), whereas the south basin is deep (28 m). The lake is situated 165 km northwest of the city of Edmonton and 16 km west of the town of Athabasca. To reach the lake, take Highway 2 west from Athabasca and then follow a local access road around the south end of the lake (FIGURE 1) to the public boat launch on the southwest corner.

The lake was named after Baptiste Majeau, an early settler in the area (Holmgren and Holmgren 1976). The first permanent native settlement on Baptiste Lake was established in the 1880s by a group of Metis from Saskatchewan. They lived on long, narrow lake-front lots. By 1904 farming had begun in the drainage basin, and by 1909 most of the land that was not already settled was available for homesteaders (Athabasca Hist. Soc. et al. 1986). Much of the present agricultural land was broken first in the period up to 1915 (Stone 1970).

Although most of the drainage basin, particularly the western section, remains undeveloped, much of the land immediately surrounding the lake is cleared. There are three private campgrounds and five summer villages on the lake. The summer villages of Sunset Beach, South Baptiste and West Baptiste can be reached from the gravel road that goes around the south end of the lake (FIGURE 2). The summer village of White Gull, located at the north end of the lake, can be reached either from the ring road that goes around the south and west sides of the lake, or from a separate exit directly off Highway 2, at the north end of the lake. The summer village of Whispering Hills, located on the east side of the Narrows, has a separate exit from Highway 2. The road used to reach it is not connected to the ring road. The community centre of Grosmont Hall is located at the north end of the lake (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1979[b]). Three privately owned campgrounds offer cabin accommodation, camp and trailer sites, beach and boat launch facilities. They are all located on the south shore of the lake.

The lake is used extensively for fishing, boating and swimming. The public boat launch on the southwest corner is part of a day-use area operated by the County of Athabasca. The area includes a large dock, washrooms, and a picnic shelter and tables. Popular sport fish in Baptiste Lake include yellow perch, northern pike and walleye. To protect spawning sites, the tributary streams to and the outlet stream from the lake are closed to fishing during a designated period in spring (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989). The water quality reflects the nutrient-rich soils in the drainage basin: very dense algal blooms can develop in summer. The shallower north basin generally has denser blooms than the deeper south basin.

In the early 1970s, concerns were raised about the effects of rapid development on the many users of the lake and on aspects of water quality. These concerns were followed up in 1975 with a cottagers' evaluation of lake conditions (Thomas et al. 1977). In 1977, development around Baptiste Lake was restricted when the lake was placed under the jurisdiction of the Regulated Lake Shoreland Development Operation Regulations which were administered by Alberta Environment. From 1976 through 1979 Alberta Environment carried out an intensive water quality study of the lake. The goals of this project were to develop methods for evaluating the impacts of past, present and future developments, and for managing the water quality of Alberta lakes (Trew et al. 1978). In 1977, most lake development was halted while a management plan was developed. In 1979, Alberta Municipal Affairs, in conjunction with the County of Athabasca, developed a plan that would prohibit further subdivision of land for nonfarm-related residential use at Baptiste Lake (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1979[a]). This plan also recommended an approach to deal with concerns about fluctuating water levels and hazardous boating speeds near the lakeshore. As of August 1989, no regulations had been implemented to deal with the concerns on water levels and boating speeds. However, federal boating regulations apply here, as elsewhere in the province (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988).

Drainage Basin Characteristics

The drainage basin is described in detail by Trew et al. (1987); much of the following description is condensed from that report (also see TABLE 1).

Baptiste Lake is a headwater lake with 12 tributary streams, which flow mainly into the western and southern shores. The outlet stream, Baptiste Creek, flows from the northeast side of the lake into the Athabasca River (FIGURE 1). The 12 streams drain 92% of the Baptiste watershed; the remaining 8% drains directly to the lake by way of diffuse runoff. In 1977, 58% of the watershed was forested; the dominant tree species were black spruce, trembling aspen, balsam poplar, willow and birch. Sixteen percent of the watershed was cleared for agriculture, mainly mixed farming and 25% was covered by lakes, ponds and marshes. Less than 1% was developed for country residential use.

The uppermost bedrock unit underlying Baptiste Lake is the Upper Cretaceous La Biche Formation of marine shales. The hills to the west are formed by exposure of the Upper Cretaceous Wapiti Formation of sandstone, mudstone and coal. The lake is situated in a bedrock depression that is part of a preglacial buried bedrock valley, 15 m below the lake bottom. A tributary buried valley trending northwest to southeast converges with the main channel beneath Baptiste Lake (Crowe 1979; Crowe and Schwartz 1981). Groundwater from deep aquifers discharges into Baptiste Lake through the buried valley.

Glacial till, which is the dominant surficial deposit in the watershed, ranges from 30- to 100-m thick. Overlying the till, near the outlet stream and southeast of the lake, are lacustrine deposits, which are thin layers (0.2- to 3.0-m deep) of dark grey, stone-free silt (Dark Gray Luvisols and Organics). Fluvial deposits, which were formed by deposition from running water, are found at the north end of the lake. Soils that have developed in this area include Dark Gray Luvisols, Humic Eluviated Gleysols, Orthic Gray Luvisols and Organics. Aeolian sands (mostly under Degraded Eutric Brunisols and Orthic Gray Luvisols), which are deposited by the wind, are present at the southwest end of the lake. Soils in the western part of the drainage basin are classified as suitable for pasture only; in the immediate vicinity of the lake, soils are variable and their arability rating ranges from poor to good. The soils are generally medium textured and originate from the La Biche Formation (Kjearsgaard 1972).

Most of the shoreline of Baptiste Lake is privately owned. In 1977, 100 people were estimated to be permanent residents of the watershed. Additional people occupy the cottages near the lake in summer. In 1977, there were 310 cottages and 15 permanent residences on the lake, but half of the cottages were used year-round. Over 100 of the cottages were built before 1966 and 20% were locally owned (Thomas et al. 1977). An equal number of registered lots had not yet been developed (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1979[a]). By 1988, there were approximately 420 cottages on the lake, of which 14% were permanent dwellings.

Lake Basin Characteristics

Baptiste Lake has two moderate-sized basins connected by a shallow channel, the Narrows, which has a maximum depth of 5.5 m (FIGURE 2). The shallower northern basin is generally less than 8.5-m deep in the western section and has a small, relatively deep hole, maximum depth 15.5 m, in the eastern section. There are three long, shallow bays on the eastern side of the north basin; the most northerly of these forms the channel to the lake outflow. The south basin, with the exception of a small shelf on the most easterly section, has steep sides throughout and three areas near the centre that are more than 20-m deep.

Water levels have been recorded on Baptiste Lake since 1960 (FIGURE 3). During this period, long-term average water levels have been relatively constant, although there have been substantial short-term fluctuations. The difference between highest and lowest recorded water levels is almost 2 m; the highest level was recorded in 1971, the lowest in 1980. Changes in the lake's area and capacity, to an elevation of 578.52 m, are shown in Figure 4. There are no permanent structures on the lake outflow, although it is dotted with beaver dams, deadfall trees and aquatic plants (Winhold and DeBoer 1987), as are most streams in the region.

Detailed hydrology budgets were prepared for Baptiste Lake from 1976 through 1978 (Trew et al. 1987). The total annual inflow of water varied 2.5-fold over the three years studied. Total inflow contributions were: streams 67%, direct precipitation 18%, groundwater 10% and diffuse runoff 5%. Over the same period, hydraulic losses were estimated at 67% of the total for the outflow, 18% by lake evaporation and 16% by groundwater. Based on these budgets, the water residence time would be 6 years (TABLE 2).

Patterns of groundwater flow in Baptiste Lake were estimated a second time in 1986 (R. Shaw and Prepas 1989). The 1986 study focused on an area within 100 m of shore. Groundwater flow in the north basin increased with distance from shore, and in the deeper south basin decreased up to a distance of 35 m from shore, then increased for the remainder of the transect. These patterns are unusual, for in many lakes, groundwater flow decreases rapidly with distance from shore. The reverse pattern, observed in Baptiste Lake, is consistent with the view that there is an offshore hydrological connection between the underlying aquifer and lake bottom sediments. In addition, the estimate of groundwater inflow from the 1986 study (11% of the water budget) is remarkably similar to the previous study (Crowe and Schwartz 1981) which used an independent technique.

The sediments of Baptiste Lake were examined with 8-m-long cores collected in 1977 in the deeper part of the south basin (Hickman et al. 1978). Sedimentation rates have averaged 1.8 mm/year over the past 4,600 14C years (based on dating with the isotope carbon-14). The cores were composed of organic matter for the top 140 cm, laminated clay-organic matter for the next 100 cm, and laminated organic clay plus carbonate bands for the remainder. The diatom and pollen record indicate that Baptiste Lake has undergone little change in the last 4,600 14C years-it has always been highly productive. There were indications in the record that productivity in the lake increased some 1,500 years ago.

Water Quality

Water quality in Baptiste Lake was studied intensively from 1976 through 1979 by Alberta Environment (Trew et al. 1978; 1987), from 1980 through 1982 by the University of Alberta (Prepas 1983; Prepas and Trew 1983; Babin 1984; Prepas and Vickery 1984; Babin and Prepas 1985), and from 1983 through 1988 by Alberta Environment as part of a long-term monitoring program (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]; 1989). Sediment chemistry and groundwater patterns were evaluated in 1986 (J. Shaw et al. 1989; J. Shaw and Prepas 1989[a]; 1989[b]; 1989[c]; R. Shaw and Prepas 1989). Baptiste Lake provides an excellent opportunity to follow the long-term dynamics of a naturally hyper-eutrophic lake.

The Alberta Environment study from 1976 to 1979 included a detailed assessment of total phosphorus and nitrogen inputs from streams in the Baptiste watershed. The export coefficients (total input divided by drainage basin area) developed for forested and agricultural lands were 0.14 and 0.27 kg/ha per year, respectively, for total phosphorus. These figures were similar to coefficients developed from a large study in the United States. In contrast, the export coefficients for total nitrogen for forested and agricultural lands, 2.50 and 2.13 kg/ha per year, respectively, were lower than for other locations. These export coefficients developed by the Baptiste Lake study have been used to estimate phosphorus and nitrogen loading from forested and agricultural areas in many similar regions of Alberta.

Major ions are similar in both basins, and are similar to those in many freshwater lakes in Alberta. The water is well-buffered and calcium and bicarbonate are the dominant ions. The surface water is moderately coloured (TABLE 3).

Temperature and oxygen dynamics differ between the two basins (FIGURE 5, 6). The shallower north basin mixes incompletely in spring, and is weakly thermally stratified during summer. For most of the ice-free period, water in the deep hole is anoxic for as much as 7 m above the bottom sediments. In winter, the bottom waters are anoxic; it is unlikely that the total water column ever is entirely anoxic under ice. In the deeper south basin, thermal mixing is incomplete in spring. In contrast to the north basin, mixing is incomplete in autumn as well. In the south basin, water in the hypolimnion has low (less than 2 mg/L) or no dissolved oxygen throughout most of the summer and autumn. This basin is moderately well-oxygenated at fall turnover (up to 58% in 1982). Under ice cover, dissolved oxygen concentrations are rapidly depleted, as from 1982 to 1983, when the depletion rate was 0.775 g/m2 per day. Because the south basin is relatively deep, there still is sufficient dissolved oxygen in the top 10 m of water by late winter to overwinter fish.

Baptiste Lake is hyper-eutrophic (TABLE 4). It has always been productive, although changes in land use in the drainage basin have undoubtedly added to its productivity. In the north basin, total phosphorus concentrations increased threefold from early June through late August over each of the seven years that data were collected (TABLE 5, FIGURE 7). In the south basin, total phosphorus concentrations are highest in spring and fall, and oscillate in summer as a function of runoff and transport of phosphorus up from the bottom sediments. In both basins, total phosphorus concentrations near the bottom increase when water over the sediments is anoxic. Thus, total phosphorus concentrations increase under ice in winter. On 30 March 1983 in the south basin they ranged from 87 µg/L at the surface to 170 µg/L over the bottom sediments. Increases in total phosphorus concentrations in the surface waters during the ice-free season are associated with periods when deep phosphorus-rich water is mixed into the surface water. Also, porewater in the euphotic zone of Baptiste Lake is relatively rich in phosphorus. In 1986, for example, soluble reactive phosphorus concentrations in porewater averaged 456 ± 65 µg/L. Reactive iron (Fe2+) concentrations, on the other hand, are relatively low, only 256 ± 36 µg/L in 1986. Over seven summers, average phosphorus release rates from these shallow sediments were estimated to be 11 mg/m2 per day. These rates were the highest for the 16 lakes studied in central Alberta. These phosphorus release rates from the shallow sediments are also much higher (sevenfold) than external inputs estimated for the same time period. Although the open-water patterns of total phosphorus are similar each year in both basins, there are year-to-year differences within each basin (TABLE 5).

The year-to-year variation in chlorophyll a concentrations in Baptiste Lake is greater than for phosphorus (TABLE 5). In the north basin, chlorophyll concentrations for the ice-free period generally are lowest in June and October and reach their highest peak in July and August (FIGURE 7). A similar pattern was found in the south basin. The open-water patterns in the south basin were associated with differences in spring air temperatures; summer chlorophyll a concentrations were highest when air temperatures were warmest in April. Chlorophyll a concentrations are consistently higher in the north as compared with the south basin, because the north basin is shallower and phosphorus is recycled more rapidly between the open water and sediments. The highest chlorophyll a concentration recorded was 840 µg/L from surface scum in the north basin on 30 August 1976. Chlorophyll a concentrations were very patchy over the surface. In 1977, the mean daytime rates of photosynthesis were estimated at 973 and 684 mg C/m2 of lake surface area per day for the north and south basins, respectively. In the same study, the mean annual rate of carbon fixation was estimated at 302 mg C/m2 per year.

Biological Characteristics


The phytoplankton community at Baptiste Lake was examined in detail for an 18-month period in 1976 and 1977 (Trew et al. 1987), in January 1984, and from May through October from 1984 through 1986 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]). In spring, the prominent group is diatoms (Bacillariophyta), particularly Stephanodiscus astraea and Asterionella sp. (TABLE 6). As well, dinoflagellates (Pyrrhophyta) do well in spring some years, and in August most years. In summer, blue-green algae (Cyanophyta) are the dominant group, particularly Anabaena flos-aquae, Microcystis aeruginosa, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, Coelosphaerium sp. and Gomphosphaeria sp. The prominent dinoflagellate is the large Ceratium hirundinella. In fall, the diatoms return, including Stephanodiscus sp. and Melosira sp. Blue-green algae are prominent in summer, likely because of poor oxygen conditions over the bottom sediments and the high total phosphorus concentrations (Trimbee and Prepas 1987; 1988). Baptiste Lake has occasional animal deaths that may be associated with toxic blue-green algae (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.; Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]; Hoyes 1988). They reportedly include sheep, cattle, fish and dogs.

The macrophyte community in Baptiste Lake was surveyed in 1984 (Stocked and Kent 1984). Twenty-two species were identified (FIGURE 8). Macrophytes were generally restricted to depths of 3 m or less and ringed the entire lake. They were most prominent in the north basin. The most widespread and abundant emergent species were common great bulrush (Scirpus validus), common cattail (Typha latifolia) and yellow water lily (Nuphar variegatum), and the most widespread submergent species were Richardson pondweed (Potamogeton richardsonii), large-sheath pondweed (P. vaginatus) and northern watermilfoil (Myriophyllum exalbescens). The 1984 study noted macrophytes to a maximum depth of 3.5 m, whereas a subsequent study found rooted macrophytes to a depth of 4 m (Chambers and Prepas 1988). The littoral zone covers an area of about 3 km2 (FIGURE 4).


The zooplankton was investigated in 1976 and 1977 (Trew et al. 1987) and data were prepared on relative species abundance. From 1980 to 1982, zooplankton biomass was evaluated and 32 species were identified (Prepas and Vickery 1984). The dominant cyclopoid copepod was Diacyclops bicuspidatus thomasi. It was prominent from early spring through mid-July. The dominant calanoid copepod was Diaptomus oregonensis, which was found in high numbers throughout most of the ice-free season. The cladoceran Daphnia galeata mendotae was common throughout the summer and Chydorus sphaericus became numerous in late summer. Populations of Daphnia in the north basin peaked in July and August, whereas in the south basin this peak occurred much later. From 1980 to 1982, zooplankton biomass was greatest in July or August.

The benthic invertebrate community in the littoral zone of Baptiste Lake has not been studied intensively but there is an ongoing study of the benthic fauna in the sublittoral and profundal zones of the south basin of the lake (Dinsmore and Prepas n.d.). From 19 June to 15 November 1988, 32 samples were collected with an Ekman dredge from the sublittoral zone and 128 samples were collected from the profundal zone.

The dominant taxa of the sublittoral zone were midge larvae (Chironomidae), aquatic earthworms (Oligochaeta), fingernail clams (Sphaeriidae) and scuds (Amphipoda). The average biomass (wet weight) was 3.2 g/m2, which was very similar to the average biomass measured in the sublittoral zone of the north (3.8 g/m2) and south (3.0 g/m2) basins of nearby Amisk Lake but less than the average biomass (6.2 g/m2) measured in the sublittoral zone of Narrow Lake. The dominant taxa were the same for all three lakes.

The dominant taxa in the profundal zone of Baptiste Lake were phantom midge larvae (Chaoborinae), midge larvae and aquatic earthworms. The average biomass (wet weight) in the profundal zone of Baptiste Lake was 3.7 g/m2 , which is somewhat higher than the average biomass in the profundal zone of Narrow Lake (2.3 g/m2) and much higher than the average biomass in the profundal zone of the north (0.4 g/m2) and south (0.6 g/m2) basins of Amisk Lake. Baptiste is the only one of the three lakes to have large numbers of phantom midge larvae, which are normally free-swimming, collected in the sediment samples.


The fish community in Baptiste Lake includes yellow perch, northern pike, walleye, cisco, burbot, white sucker, spottail shiner, Iowa darter, brook stickleback and ninespine stickleback. Arctic grayling are found in the tributary streams. Yellow perch are the most popular sport fish in spring and walleye and northern pike are the most popular in summer.

There was a commercial fishery on Baptiste Lake from 1942 through 1948 and in 1953 and 1964. The lake has not been fished commercially since 1964. The focus of the commercial fishery was to provide cisco for the mink farms near Lesser Slave Lake. A few pike, walleye and perch usually were caught as well. The average annual catches for each species over the nine years of record were: 26,099 kg of cisco, 1,101 kg of pike, 777 kg of walleye and 124 kg of perch. The largest commercial harvest was in 1943, when a total of 85,414 kg of cisco was removed by 20 licensees (Alta Rec. Parks Wild. 1976).

The cisco at Baptiste Lake have been heavily infested with a tapeworm, Triaenophorus crassus, since records were kept first (Miller 1943). For example, in 1945, 130 out of 284 fish were infested (Alta. Rec. Parks Wild. 1976). Triaenophorus has a life cycle that involves three distinct hosts: as an adult tapeworm it lives in the intestine of pike and releases its eggs into lake water in early spring; the eggs hatch into larvae which must be swallowed by a copepod, Diacyclops bicuspidatus thomasi, to survive. If the host copepod is swallowed by a coregonid fish, such as cisco, the larvae form cysts in the flesh of the fish. When the cisco is eaten by a pike, the cysts develop into adult tapeworms in the pike's intestine and release eggs to the water to start the cycle all over again. A dramatic experiment was carried out in 1945 in an attempt to reduce or eliminate this parasite from the lake (Miller and Watkins 1946; Northcote and Larkin 1963). The objective of Miller's experiment was to lower the pH to 5 in a band of water 1-m deep along 13 km of the Baptiste Lake shoreline where tapeworms released eggs. The acidic conditions would kill the larval Triaenophorus before they could be consumed by copepods. On two occasions in May 1945, a total of 18 tonnes of sulphuric acid was applied to the designated areas. Unfortunately, the experiment did not work, mainly due to incomplete information on how lake water circulates and how ions exchange between lake water and bottom sediments.

The fish in Baptiste Lake are managed for the popular sport fishery. Two recent creel surveys have evaluated the spring (Berry 1986) and summer (Sullivan 1985) sport fishery (TABLE 7). The harvest per-unit-effort for yellow perch was very high in the spring survey (1.09 perch/angler-hour), but was very low (0.01 perch/angler-hour) during summer. In contrast, pike harvest was fairly constant, at 0.13 pike/angler-hour in spring and 0.10 pike/angler-hour in summer. The walleye harvest was relatively low for both time periods. However, these results are somewhat misleading, especially for the summer fishery. Baptiste Lake is not well suited for creel surveys due to the large number of cottages and access points. During winter, anglers could be interviewed on the ice, but after ice-out, surveys were limited to shore contacts at the public boat launches. During the summer survey only 20% of anglers on the lake use the public boat launches. Thus, the harvest rates for perch and walleye during the summer are likely very low because angling success of visitors to the lake is probably much lower than that of cottagers who are familiar with the lake. In addition, the harvest of pike is low because most anglers wish to catch perch and walleye and avoid areas where pike occur, despite the fact that pike 90- to 110-cm long have been caught during intensive surveys of the fish community in the littoral zone of the lake (Jansen n.d.).

Two graduate students at the University of Alberta studied the yellow perch at Baptiste Lake from 1985 through 1988 (Abbey n.d.; Jansen n.d.). Young-of-the-year yellow perch grew from an average total length of 5.9 mm when they hatched in May to 60 mm by early October. In comparison to four other deep lakes studied in the County of Athabasca, the growth rate of these young perch was high.


Detailed studies of the wildlife at Baptiste Lake have not been done. Waterfowl known to nest on the lake include American Widgeons, Mallards, teal, Common Loons and Red-necked Grebes. American Bitterns and American Coots can be spotted on the lake from April to October and Great Blue Herons and Ospreys are frequently seen fishing in the lake. Ring-billed Gulls are commonly seen, but it is not known whether they nest on Baptiste Lake. It is not considered a major flyway stop for migratory birds, although they do stop on the unpopulated areas of Baptiste Lake (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1979[b]; Hanson 1989).

E. E. Prepas


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-----. 1979[b]. Baptiste Lake management study: Summary of evaluation and management alternatives. Prep. for Co. Athabasca and SV Sunset Beach by Plan. Serv. Div., Reg. Plan. Sec., Edmonton.

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Prepas, E.E. and D.O. Trew. 1983. Evaluation of the phosphorus-chlorophyll relationship for lakes off the Precambrian Shield in western Canada. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 40:27-35.

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Stockerl, E.C. and R.L. Kent. 1984. Aquatic macrophyte survey of Baptiste and Nakamun Lakes, 1984. Prep. for Alta. Envir., Poll. Contr. Div. by Okanagan Diving Serv. (ODS) Consult., Edmonton.

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