Dillberry Lake

Basic Info
Map Sheets73C/12, 73D/9
Lat / Long52.5772693, -110.0055433
52°34'N, 110°0'W
Area0.80 km2
Max depth10.7 m
Mean depth2.8 m
Dr. Basin Area11.8 km2
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinSounding Creek Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishRainbow Trout, Yellow Perch
Trophic StatusOligotrophic
TP x15 µg/L
CHLORO x3.4 µg/L
TDS x188 mg/L
Photo credit: Alberta Tourism


Dillberry Lake is a small lake set in rolling aspen parkland on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. It is situated in the Municipal District of Wainwright, approximately 80 km southeast of the town of Wainwright and 80 km south of the city of Lloydminster. The closest population centre is the village of Chauvin, 20 km northeast of the lake. To travel to Dillberry Lake from Lloydminster, take Highway 17 south to Dillberry Lake Provincial Park, which borders on the Alberta side of the lake (FIGURE 1).

The origin of the lake's name has not been documented. Before Europeans arrived, the area surrounding the lake was inhabited by Cree, Blackfoot, Sarcee and Assiniboine Indians. Anthony Henday, the first European to explore Alberta, entered the province in 1754 at a point about 40 km north of Dillberry Lake. Settlers arrived in the region about 1909 and grazing leases were issued, but the land that later became Dillberry Lake Provincial Park was never homesteaded. By 1930, the lake had become a popular recreational area, and in 1932, land was reserved for the park. Cottages were built on the western shore of the lake, and a subdivision was surveyed in 1933. The park was formally established in 1957 and expanded in 1965. By the early 1970s, there were 37 cottages near the lake within the park boundary (Alta. Rec. Parks n.d.). No further development was allowed until late 1988, when leases were offered for several existing lots (Loomis 1988).

Dillberry Lake Provincial Park encompasses all of the Alberta side of Dillberry Lake, parts of Killarney and Leane lakes, and most of Long Lake (FIGURE 1). All of the recreational facilities within the park are located adjacent to Dillberry Lake (FIGURE 2). There are 235 campsites, showers, sewage disposal facilities, playgrounds, a concession, a picnic area, swimming and beach areas, a boat launch and walking trails. Points of interest in the park include unique wind-blown sand dunes, vegetation characteristic of both prairie and parkland, and at least 139 species of birds (Finlay and Finlay 1987). Fishing, power boating, water skiing, canoeing, sailing, observing wildlife, cross-country skiing and swimming are some of the activities available to park visitors. Over most of the lake there are no boating restrictions, but in posted areas such as designated swimming areas, all boats are prohibited, and in other posted areas, motor boats are subject to a maximum speed of 12 km/hour (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988).

Dillberry lake is shallow and has clear, fresh water with low concentrations of algae even in midsummer. Aquatic vegetation grows abundantly in the shallow southern bay and in a narrow fringe along parts of the shoreline. The lake is regularly stocked with rainbow trout, which, along with yellow perch, support a popular sport fishery. Fishing for bait fish and the use of bait fish are not allowed in Dillberry Lake (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989).

Drainage Basin Characteristics

Although Dillberry Lake has a small drainage basin of only 12 km2, the drainage basin is almost 15 times the size of the lake (Tables 1, 2). Most of the watershed lies within Saskatchewan and water drains into the lake primarily from the southeast (FIGURE 1). There is no defined inlet or outlet, so water enters as diffuse runoff, precipitation and, probably, groundwater.

The land in the watershed is flat to moderately rolling, with low local relief provided by kame hills and kettle hole depressions. A kame is a mound of stratified drift deposited by glacial meltwater. Surficial deposits are primarily sand, silt and clay. The soils, which are nonsaline, sandy, low in organic matter, and well-drained to rapidly drained, are easily eroded by wind and water (Renew. Resour. Consult. Serv. Ltd. 1974[a]).

The drainage basin is part of the Groveland Subregion of the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion (Strong and Leggat 1981). The vegetation typically consists of expanses of prairie grasses interspersed with groves of trembling aspen. Sand dune complexes are present, as well. Trembling aspen usually grows on well-drained moister sites such as north-facing slopes, seepage areas and creek banks, whereas balsam poplar usually grows on poorly drained soils that border ponds and lakes. Rough fescue grassland and low shrub communities cover well-drained south-facing slopes. Although rough fescue is the dominant grass species, its abundance has been reduced by intensive grazing; this has permitted secondary species to increase in importance (Renew. Resour. Consult. Serv. 1974[a]). The Dillberry Lake area is one of the few locations in Alberta where poison ivy is found. It grows profusely in several areas, including the northwest side of the lake (Finlay and Finlay 1987).

Sand dune communities differ from those growing on other soils in the area (Renew. Resour. Consult. Serv. 1974[a]). In areas that are eroding actively, vegetative cover is sparse. Sand flats and stabilized depressions, on the other hand, are covered by herbaceous species and low shrubs such as creeping juniper and common bearberry. Dune slopes that face north and east are stabilized by a forest cover of trembling aspen that often is severely stunted, and have an understory dominated by choke cherry and saskatoon. Dune crests and south-facing slopes are dominated by grasses, and also support prickly pear cacti.

In Alberta, most of the Dillberry Lake watershed lies within the provincial park. A large area is used for recreational purposes such as camping, day use and cottages. On the Saskatchewan side, land is used extensively for cattle grazing, and cattle use the lake for water.

Lake Basin Characteristics

Dillberry Lake has a small surface area of only 0.8 km2 (TABLE 2). The lake bottom is irregular: most of it is less than 3-m deep but there are four areas with maximum depths of 6 to 10.7 m (FIGURE 2). Because there is no surface outlet, the residence time of water in the lake is very long (TABLE 2).

The elevation of Dillberry Lake has been monitored since 1971 (FIGURE 3). The difference between the historic maximum (620.18 m, recorded in 1975) and minimum (619.31 m, recorded in 1981) values is 0.87 m. During the 1980s, lake levels have generally been lower than those recorded during the 1970s. In unusually dry years, only the deeper parts of the lake contain water (Andriuk and Nordstrom 1978). Changes in the lake's area and capacity with fluctuations in water level are illustrated in Figure 4.

Water Quality

The water quality in Dillberry Lake has been monitored jointly by Alberta Environment and Alberta Recreation and Parks since 1984. Samples were taken approximately monthly during the open-water season and once each winter (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]). Dillberry Lake has fresh water, whereas most other lakes nearby are saline. The water is well-buffered and the dominant ions are magnesium, calcium and bicarbonate (TABLE 3). The chemical composition of the lake water is influenced by groundwater and diffuse runoff. When groundwater in the area of the lake was analysed in 1974, the major groundwater source to the lake was identified as a calcium-bicarbonate type from shallow drift aquifers (Renew. Resour. Consult. Serv. Ltd. 1974[a]).

Dillberry Lake is typical of shallow water bodies: it is easily mixed by wind and rarely stratifies during summer. Levels of dissolved oxygen were high throughout the water column in August 1986 (FIGURE 5) and August 1985. During winter, dissolved oxygen decreases gradually with depth. In February 1987, the concentration decreased from 8 mg/L immediately under the ice to 1 mg/L at a depth of 10 m. The concentration of dissolved oxygen throughout most of the water column in 1987 was sufficient to overwinter fish. Dillberry Lake has been stocked with rainbow trout since 1955 without any evidence of winterkill.

Dillberry Lake is oligotrophic - chlorophyll a levels are low and transparency is high (TABLE 4). During the period from 1984 to 1985, the highest chlorophyll a concentration recorded was 5.8 µg/L in September 1984 (FIGURE 6). It is typical of lakes with relatively low nutrient levels that transparency and concentrations of total phosphorus and chlorophyll a vary little over the summer. Between May and October each year from 1984 to 1988, chlorophyll values in Dillberry Lake varied by only 2 to 3 µg/L and total phosphorus concentrations varied by 6 µg/L or less. As well, there was little difference in average chlorophyll and phosphorus values between years. Variations in Secchi transparency over the open-water season can sometimes be caused by wind activity disturbing the bottom sediments. For example, the shallow Secchi depth recorded on 9 August 1984 (FIGURE 6) occurred after a storm during the previous night mixed sediment into the overlying water. Over the period of record, the average Secchi depth for the open-water season ranged from a minimum of 3.3 m in 1988 to a maximum of 4.7 m in 1985. The loading of total phosphorus to Dillberry Lake has not been estimated, but possible external sources of phosphorus include cattle, sewage from cottages and camps, land clearing and shoreline erosion.

Biological Characteristics


The phytoplankton community was sampled for Alberta Recreation and Parks on 13 August and 16 July in 1974 (Renew. Resour. Consult. Serv. Ltd. 1974[b]). Vertical net hauls were taken in July and unconcentrated surface samples were taken in August. In the later sample, unidentified species of very small plankton were most numerous, and cryptomonads (Rhodomonas sp.) and chlorophytes (Coelastrum sp.) were secondary in importance.

Emergent macrophytes were studied briefly by Fish and Wildlife Division in 1955 and 1965 (Paetz 1955; Hunt 1965). Emergent macrophytes grew densely in the shallow bay at the southern end of the lake. Otherwise, they were limited to areas off the points of land on the northern and southern shores and to a narrow band around part of the lake. The littoral zone has a sandy bottom that discourages the growth of rooted aquatic plants in most areas. Submergent species were not examined in the older studies, but observations made in 1988 indicated that they generally were not abundant (Noton 1988).


Recent data on the invertebrate community are not available. Fish and Wildlife Division recorded observations made during June 1955 and July 1965 (Paetz 1955; Hunt 1965). As well, in July 1974, two vertical net hauls of zooplankton were taken at two depths (Renew. Resour. Consult. Serv. Ltd. 1974[b]). The greatest numbers of organisms per cubic metre (2,459) in 1974 were found at a depth of 8.5 m. Calanoid copepods were most abundant; they accounted for 75% of the total numbers at 1.7 m and 85% at 8.5 m. Cyclopoid copepods were not present in the shallower sample and cladocerans were of secondary importance in both samples. During the same study, the number of benthic invertebrates in two Ekman dredge samples taken at 1.7-m and 8.5-m depths was recorded. Scuds (Amphipoda) and midge larvae (Chironomidae) were most abundant at the shallower depth, whereas clams (Pelecypoda) were most abundant in the deeper sample.


Yellow perch, rainbow trout and Iowa darter inhabit Dillberry Lake. Rainbow trout is an introduced species that was planted first in August 1955 (Paetz 1955). There are no suitable spawning areas in the lake, so trout are planted on a regular basis. From 1981 to 1987, the lake was stocked 7 times with an average of 30,000 10-cm-long rainbow trout (Alta. En. Nat. Resour. 1981-1985; Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1986; 1987). The lake is managed for recreational fishing, and is popular with local anglers. Fishing intensity, which is moderate, is greatest in winter when trout stocked the previous summer have grown to a size suitable for eating (Walker 1988). There are no commercial or domestic fisheries on the lake.


Dillberry Lake itself is not used extensively by waterfowl, but the drainage basin provides a varied selection of habitats that range from aquatic to terrestrial and arid prairie to forest. At least 139 bird species have been recorded in Dillberry Lake Provincial Park. The large mud flats on nearby alkaline Killarney lake are used by migrating shorebirds in fall. Leane and Long lakes (FIGURE 1) provide habitat for nesting waterfowl and marsh birds such as Eared Grebes, Common Loons, Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Long-billed Marsh Wrens, as well as prairie grassland species such as Sprague's Pipit and Horned Lark. Great Blue Herons from a colony at Freshwater Lake to the northeast come to the park to feed, and Sharp-tailed Grouse use several areas in, or adjacent to, the park as dancing grounds (Finlay and Finlay 1987).

Within the park, 21 species of mammals have been reported. They include white-tailed jackrabbit and long-tailed weasels, Franklin's ground squirrels, and mule and white-tailed deer. Six species of amphibians and reptiles are found, including chorus and northern leopard frogs, Canadian toads and garter snakes (Finlay and Finlay 1987).

M.E. Bradford


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-----. n.d.[b]. Tech. Serv. Div., Hydrol. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. n.d.[c]. Tech. Serv. Div., Surv. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

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Noton, L. 1988. Alta. Envir., Envir. Assess. Div., Envir. Qlty. Monit. Br., Edmonton. Pers. comm.

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Renewable Resources Consulting Services Ltd. 1974[a]. Preliminary report: Dillberry Lake resource inventory and analysis. Prep. for Alta. Rec. Parks, Parks Div., Edmonton.

-----. 1974[b]. Dillberry Lake resource inventory and analysis. Prep. for Alta. Rec. Parks, Parks Div., Edmonton.

Strong, W.L. and K.R. Leggat. 1981. Ecoregions of Alberta. Alta. En. Nat. Resour., Resour. Eval. Plan. Div., Edmonton.

Walker, G. 1988. Alta. For. Ld. Wild., Fish Wild. Div., St. Paul. Pers. comm.