Narrow Lake

Basic Info
Map Sheets83I/12
Lat / Long54.5833333, -113.6166667
54°34'N, 113°37'W
Area1.14 km2
Max depth38 m
Mean depth14.4 m
Dr. Basin Area7.17 km2
Dam, WeirDam
Drainage BasinAthabasca River Basin
Camp GroundNone
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishNorthern Pike, Yellow Perch
Trophic StatusOligotrophic-Mesotrophic
TP x11 µg/L
CHLORO x2.7 µg/L
TDS x162 mg/L
Photo credit: E.E. Prepas


Narrow Lake is a small, deep, picturesque lake in the County of Athabasca. It is located 25 km southwest of the town of Athabasca and 140 km north of the city of Edmonton. The closest population centre is Meanook, 19 km east of the lake. To reach Narrow Lake from Edmonton, drive north on Highway 2 to its junction with Secondary Road 663, which is just northwest of Meanook. Turn west onto Secondary Road 663 and drive for about 15 km, then turn north onto a municipal road and drive north for 3 km and west for 2 km until you reach the east side of the lake (FIGURE 1).

The shoreline of Narrow Lake is owned by the Crown and is undeveloped except for two institutional camps. One camp, a Fish and Wildlife Division hunter-training facility, is located on the central part of the eastern shore, and the other, Camp Wright, an Air Cadet League of Alberta facility, is located at the southwest tip of the lake on land leased from the province (FIGURE 2). There are no cottages or permanent residences on the shore. The only public access point is located south of the Fish and Wildlife Division camp. Facilities include a boat launch and picnic shelter. Recreational activities at the lake include swimming, fishing, canoeing and power boating; because of the rapidly sloping lake bottom and high banks, there is no shallow swimming beach. Although there are no specific boating or fishing regulations that apply to Narrow Lake, government regulations apply (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988; 1989).

The water in Narrow Lake is clean and clear and suitable for recreation. The sport fish species in the lake are yellow perch and northern pike. Recreational fishing pressure is moderate. From 1983 through 1987, the lake was the centre of an intense research program on factors controlling water quality and community structure of aquatic plants and animals, based at the University of Alberta's Meanook Biological Station.

Drainage Basin Characteristics

Narrow is a headwater lake that flows into Long Lake, located 0.6 km to the south. Water flows between the two lakes only during spring snowmelt and unusually heavy summer storms (Prepas et al. n.d.). The drainage basin is small relative to the surface area of the lake (Tables 1, 2). Water enters Narrow Lake through runoff, precipitation and groundwater. The inflowing streams and lake outflow (FIGURE 1) are dammed by beaver and flow intermittently. During the mid-1980s, researchers with the University of Alberta investigated groundwater seepage conditions at Narrow Lake (R. Shaw and Prepas 1989[a]; 1989[b]; R. Shaw et al. 1990). Data were collected from a drilling program, analyses of water chemistry, studies of environmental isotopes, computer simulations, calculations of a water budget, and measurements by mini-piezometers and seepage meters. Narrow Lake gains water through the nearshore region from a small, shallow groundwater flow system, whereas in deeper offshore regions, water may move from the lake into the groundwater system. Average groundwater seepage into Narrow Lake was estimated to be 0.28 x 106 m3/year, and the net seepage flux about 30% of the annual input of water to the lake. In the University of Alberta study, inflow from surface runoff was estimated to be 0.315 x 106 m3/year from 1983 to 1987 or 80% of the value provided by Alberta Environment in TABLE 1.

The topography of the land varies from nearly level (0 to 5% slope) to strongly rolling (15 to 30% slope). The drainage basin is part of the Dry Mixedwood Subregion of the Boreal Mixedwood Ecoregion (Strong and Leggat 1981) and the soils are mainly moderately well-drained Orthic Gray Luvisols that developed on glacial till (Kjearsgaard 1972). Extensive muskeg depressions are located throughout the drainage basin, particularly west of the lake. The soils in the level to depressional areas located throughout much of the western part of the watershed are very poorly drained Organics, primarily Fibrisols. The watershed is almost completely forested and the dominant vegetation on moderately well-drained soils is trembling aspen. White spruce, black spruce and willows grow in wetter areas, and birch are common near the lakeshore. The land is suitable only for pasture because of the topography and the poor quality, stony soil (Kjearsgaard 1972).

Lake Basin Characteristics

Narrow Lake is a small, deep lake (TABLE 2) that lies in an old glacial meltwater channel that is oriented in a northeast-southwest direction. The lake is situated in glacial drift, and sedimentary bedrock is located 5 to 10 m beneath the deepest part of the basin (Prepas et al. n.d.). Narrow Lake is about 4-km long and 0.6-km wide at its widest point. It is generally bordered by high banks with slopes of 15 to 30% (Alta. Mun. Aff. 1984). Two deep spots are located at the south end where the basin slopes steeply to a depth of more than 30 m (FIGURE 2); the north end is shallower, with a maximum depth of about 20 m. The sediments in the littoral zone are mainly organic mud and sand, and fallen trees and shrubs are present in numerous areas around the shore. The lake bottom in deeper areas is composed of rich organic material (Prepas et al. n.d.).

The shoreline at the north end of the lake is dotted with beaver lodges. Since the recolonization of the area by beaver in the 1940s and 1950s, the lake level has risen. Consequently, many trees close to the shoreline have died. Long-term water level data are not available, but over the period of record (1985 to 1988), the lake level fluctuated by 0.55 m, from a minimum on 31 October 1985 to a maximum on 20 July 1986 (Alta Envir. n.d.[b]). Major fluctuations in lake level are controlled by unusually heavy rainstorms and destruction of the beaver dam on the lake outflow. Figure 3 illustrates changes in the lake's area and capacity with fluctuations in water level, based on the limited water level data available.

Water Quality

The water quality of Narrow Lake was monitored in 1980 and 1981, and in 1983, the lake was chosen for intensive, long-term study by researchers with the University of Alberta. It was chosen for study of internal factors controlling productivity in deep prairie-parkland lakes because of its size, relatively small and undisturbed drainage basin, and proximity to the Meanook Biological Station. The lake is unproductive compared to other prairie-parkland lakes in Alberta. Water quality studies have included work on the open water, the littoral zone, the bottom sediments and groundwater-lake interactions (Prepas et al. n.d.; Prepas 1983[a]; 1983[b]; Prepas and Trew 1983; Prepas and Vickery 1984[a]; 1984[b]; Hanson et al. 1988[a]; Prepas et al. 1988; Prepas and Trimbee 1988; Trimbee and Prepas 1988; J. Shaw and Prepas 1989[a]; 1989[b]; 1989[c]; 1989[d]; J. Shaw et al. 1989; R. Shaw and Prepas 1989[a]; R. Shaw et al. 1989; 1990).

Narrow Lake has well-buffered, moderately alkaline water (TABLE 3) that is often very clear. The dominantions are calcium and bicarbonate. The water column becomes strongly thermally stratified soon after ice-out, and remains so throughout the summer (FIGURE 4). Narrow Lake was only partially saturated with dissolved oxygen when it stratified in the spring of seven of the eight years from 1980 to 1987. The lake was not sampled in the third year, 1982. By August in all seven years, the dissolved oxygen concentrations in water near the deep sediments had decreased to less than 1 mg/L. Dissolved oxygen consumption rates may be a function of the extent of mixing, and thus aeration, during spring and fall turnover. The water column was well mixed in the fall of 1983 (FIGURE 5), and the upper layers of water remained well-oxygenated under ice cover during the winter of 1983/84. Dissolved oxygen in the deeper water became depleted over the winter, and by April 1984, the concentration ranged from 9 mg/L immediately under the ice to less than 5 mg/L near the sediments.

Based on maximum chlorophyll a concentrations, Narrow Lake is considered oligo-mesotrophic. During the open-water period in 1983, the highest concentrations of total phosphorus (16.5 µg/L) and chlorophyll a (5.5 µg/L) were recorded in May, and secondary values were recorded in mid-November (FIGURE 6).

Nutrients in the hypolimnion of Narrow Lake increase during the summer and autumn. In 1983, total phosphorus concentrations over the deep sediments increased from 20 µg/L in mid-June to 250 µg/L in October. Total phosphorus concentrations in the surface waters, however, were low compared to other lakes in the region. The average total phosphorus concentration in the euphotic zone of Narrow Lake during the open-water period in 1983 was 12 µg/L (TABLE 4). From mid-June to mid-September, average total phosphorus and chlorophyll a concentrations in the euphotic zone vary little from year to year (TABLE 5). Over a seven-year period the average summer chlorophyll a concentration fluctuated by 1.1 µg/L and total phosphorus fluctuated by 3.2 µg/L. In 1984, the highest chlorophyll a concentrations were found below the epilimnion, at depths from 9 to 12 m. Total phosphorus and total nitrogen concentrations were not elevated at these depths relative to epilimnetic values, but nitrate plus nitrite concentrations were 5 to 10 times higher.

The loading of total phosphorus to Narrow Lake from various sources has been estimated. Groundwater inflow, which may be the single largest source of phosphorus to the lake, is estimated to contribute 43.0 mg/m2 of phosphorus per year, whereas precipitation and dustfall contribute 20.3 mg/m2 per year and runoff from the watershed contributes 8.0 mg/m2 per year. Techniques for evaluating the release of phosphorus from the bottom sediments in Alberta lakes were developed at Narrow Lake. The phosphorus concentration in the porewater in the top 10 cm of the sediment in Narrow Lake were low relative to the eight other Alberta lakes studied. To a lake depth of 10 m, the average porewater soluble reactive phosphorus concentration was 68 µg/L.

Biological Characteristics


The phytoplankton in Narrow Lake was studied in detail from 1984 to 1986 (Prepas et al. n.d.; 1988). From year to year, variations occurred in the relative contributions of diatoms and blue-green algae to the algal peaks observed below the epilimnion, at depths of 9 to 12 m. In 1984, the greatest biomass at these depths consisted of two layers, an upper layer where the blue-green alga Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (Cyanophyta) was dominant, and a lower layer where another blue-green species, Oscillatoria limosa, was dominant. In 1985, diatoms (Bacillariophyta) were more abundant than in 1984. The diatom Asterionella formosa was the dominant alga to a depth of 7 m and greatly contributed to the chlorophyll peak, which was observed at depths from 6 to 10 m and was dominated by A. flos-aquae. In both years, the production of new algal biomass was not confined to surface waters only, however, the maximum rates of production occurred above the depth of the blue-green algal maxima (9 to 12 m). The dominant species observed in 1986 included the blue-greens Oscillatoria limnetica, Pseudoanabaena sp. and Aphanothece sp., the diatoms Synedra sp. and Navicula sp., and unidentified flagellates.

The macrophyte community in Narrow Lake was studied in 1985 (Prepas et al. n.d.; Chambers and Prepas 1988). Plants grew to depths of 5 to 5.5 m and the distribution of the various species was very patchy. Overall, the submergent community was dominated by the macroalga stonewort (Chara sp.) and a carnivorous species, bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris). Plant beds dominated by the aquatic fern quillwort (Isoetes sp.) were found in the north and central parts of the lake, and plant beds dominated by pondweeds (Potamogeton spp.), especially Richardson pondweed (P. richardsonii), were present throughout the lake. Emergent vegetation consisted of bulrush (Scirpus sp.) and several species of bur-reed (Sparganium spp.). A small patch of yellow water lily (Nuphar variegatum) was located near the public boat launch.


The zooplankton community in Narrow Lake was sampled in 1981, 1983 and 1984 (Prepas et al. n.d.; Prepas 1983[a]; Prepas and Vickery 1984[a]). In all years sampled, zooplankton peak biomass (57 mg/m3 dry weight in 1984) occurred at depths from 6 to 12 m. Like the algal peak, this peak was below the epilimnion. The dominant species in July 1981 were the large cladoceran, Daphnia pulex, and phantom midge larvae (Culicidae: Chaoborus sp.). The copepods Diaptomus oregonensis, Mesocyclops edax, Diacyclops bicuspidatus thomasi and Acanthocyclops vernalis were less abundant.

The benthic macroinvertebrate community of Narrow Lake was studied intensively during 1985 and 1986 (Hanson et al. n.d.; 1988[a]; 1988[b]; 1989[a]; 1989[b]). Total biomass was much higher in the littoral zone than in the sublittoral and profundal zones (TABLE 6). In terms of biomass, scuds (Amphipoda), midge larvae (Chironomidae) and snails (Gastropoda) were dominant in the littoral zone, whereas midge larvae were dominant in the sublittoral zone and midge larvae, phantom midge larvae (Culicidae: Chaoborus sp.), and aquatic earthworms (Oligochaeta) were the dominant macroinvertebrates in the profundal zone. Back swimmers (Hemiptera: Notonectidae) and mayflies (Ephemeroptera: Leptophlebia sp.) were very abundant near shore at ice-out. Unionid clams (Anodonta grandis simpsoniana) were found primarily in the littoral zone and reached a biomass of 124 g/m2 (live weight). Field experiments in Narrow Lake suggested that the significantly slower growth rate of clams in Narrow Lake, compared with nearby Long Lake, results from cooler water temperatures in the littoral zone of Narrow Lake. Muskrats prey on unionid clams in Narrow Lake and discard the empty shells along the shoreline in piles called middens. In a one-year period (July 1986 to July 1987) muskrats ate 37,000 clams in the north basin of the lake. This represented 6% of the biomass of clams in the north basin and had a strong effect on the size-structure of the clam population; muskrats ate the large, fastgrowing clams.


Five species of fish are present in Narrow Lake: yellow perch and northern pike are most abundant, and burbot, Iowa darter and brook stickleback are present in smaller numbers. Fish and Wildlife Division stocked the lake with walleye eggs in 1955 and kokanee fingerlings in 1967, 1968 and 1969, but these introductions were not successful (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). Neither species established a population in the lake, probably because of an absence of suitable spawning sites.

The fish community was studied by the University of Alberta from 1983 through 1988 (Abbey and Mackay n.d.; Hanson et al. n.d.). Young-of-the-year perch hatch at a length of 5.9 mm during the third week of May and attain an average length of 46 mm by early October. Growth of young perch in Narrow Lake is very slow compared to growth in three of the four other lakes studied in the Boyle-Athabasca region, and few individuals attain a length of 15 cm. The growth of northern pike has not been studied in detail, but pike greater than 80 cm in total length are rarely caught. Young pike (less than 50 mm in total length) prey on both invertebrates and vertebrates (yellow perch) in Narrow Lake (Chapman et al. 1989).


Narrow Lake does not appear to be extensively used by waterfowl. During the period from 1985 to 1987, two pairs of Common Loons successfully reared young on the lake and one pair of Belted Kingfishers nested in the central basin. Common Goldeneye used nest boxes along the shore and several pairs of Mallards nested on floating grass mats in the south basin. During 1988, several pairs of Red-necked Grebes raised young in the south basin, and during the period from 1985 to 1988, at least one pair each of Goshawks and Great Horned Owls maintained territories around the northern basin (Hanson et al. n.d.).

Beaver and muskrats are present throughout the lake and mink are seen occasionally along the shore. Mule deer and white-tailed deer have sometimes been seen drinking from the lake. Coyotes are common in the area and black bears have occasionally been observed at a nearby land-fill site (Hanson et al. n.d.).

M.E. Bradford, E.E. Prepas and J.M. Hanson


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

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-----. 1988[a]. The effects of water temperature and clam density on the growth of a unionid clam. Freshwater Biol. 19:345-355.

-----. 1988[b]. Population size, growth, and production of a unionid clam, Anodonta grandis simpsoniana, in a small, deep, boreal forest lake in central Alberta. Can. J. Zoo]. 66:247-253.

-----. 1989[a]. Effect of size-selective predation by muskrats (Ondatra zebithicus) on a population of unionid clams (Anodonta grandis simpsoniana ). J. Animal Ecol. 58:15-28.

Hanson, J. M., E.E. Prepas and W.C. Mackay. 1989[b]. Size distribution of the macroinvertebrate community in a freshwater lake. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 46:1510-1519.

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Prepas, E.E. 1983[a]. The influence of phosphorus and zooplankton on chlorophyll levels in Alberta lakes. Prep. for Alta. Envir., Res. Mgt. Div. Rep. 83/23, Edmonton.

-----. 1983[b]. Orthophosphate turnover time in shallow productive lakes. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 40:1412-1418.

-----. 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.

Prepas, E.E. and J. Vickery. 1984[a]. The contribution of particulate phosphorus (>250 µm) to the total phosphorus pool in lake water. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 41:351-363.

-----. 1984[b]. Seasonal changes in total phosphorus and the role of internal loading in western Canadian lakes. Verh. Internat. Verein. Limnol. 22:303-308.

Prepas, E.E., M.E. Dunnigan and A.M. Trimbee. 1988. Comparison of in situ estimates of chlorophyll a obtained with Whatman GF/F and GF/C glass-fiber filters in mesotrophic to hypereutrophic lakes. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 45:910-914.

Prepas, E.E. and A.M. Trimbee. 1988. Evaluation of indicators of nitrogen limitation in deep prairie lakes with laboratory bioassays and limnocorrals. Hydrobiologia 159:269-276.

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-----. 1989[b]. Relationships between phosphorus in shallow sediments in the trophogenic zone of seven Alberta lakes. Water Res. [in press]

-----. 1989[c]. Potential significance of phosphorus release from shallow sediments of deep Alberta lakes. ms submitted to Limnol. Oceanogr.

-----. 1989[d]. Temporal and spatial patterns of porewater phosphorus in shallow sediments, and potential transport in Narrow Lake, Alberta. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 46:981-988.

Shaw, J.F.H., R.D. Shaw and E.E. Prepas. 1989. Advective transport of phosphorus from lake bottom sediments into lakewater. ms to be submitted.

Shaw, R.D. and E.E. Prepas. 1989[a]. Groundwater-lake interactions: II. Nearshore seepage patterns and the contribution of groundwater to lakes in central Alberta. J. Hydrol. [in press]

-----. 1989[b]. Anomalous short-term influx of water into seepage meters. Limnol. Oceanogr. 34:1343-1351.

Shaw, R.D., J.F.H. Shaw, H. Fricker and E.E. Prepas. 1990. An integrated approach to quantify groundwater transport of phosphorus to Narrow Lake, Alberta. Limnol. Oceanogr. [in press]

Shaw, R.D., A.M. Trimbee, A. Minty, H. Fricker and E.E. Prepas. 1989. Atmospheric deposition of phosphorus and nitrogen in central Alberta with emphasis on Narrow Lake. Water, Air, and Soil Poll. 43:119-134.

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