Sandy Lake

The contents of this online version has not been altered or modified from the original 1990 publication. It is reasonable to assume that much of the data e.g. water levels, camp grounds/boat launches, etc. is out of date. For updated or additional information on any of the lakes in this atlas please go to Environment Alberta's water web site.

Basic Info
Map Sheets83G/16
Lat / Long53.7833333, -114.0333333
53°46'N, 114°1'W
Area11.4 km2
Max depth4.4 m
Mean depth2.6 m
Dr. Basin Area48.4 km2
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinNorth Saskatchewan River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishYellow Perch, Northern Pike
Trophic StatusNorth: Hyper-Eutrophic
South: Eutrophic
TP xNorth: 221
South: 88 µg/L
CHLORO xNorth: 67.8
South: 29.9 µg/L
TDS xNorth: 359
South: 373 mg/L
Photo credit: D. LeClair


Sandy Lake is a shallow, extensively developed recreational lake that is popular for its yellow perch fishery. Two summer villages, Sandy Beach and Sunrise Beach, and Pine Sands Subdivision are located on the lakeshore. The lake is situated 55 km northwest of Edmonton in the County of Lac Ste. Anne and the Municipal District of Sturgeon. The town of Morinville, 20 km east of the lake, is the closest large population centre. To drive to the lake from Edmonton, take Highway 2 north to Morinville, then Secondary Road 642 west to the causeway that crosses the lake (FIGURE 1).

The lake's name is descriptive of the sandy shoreline and basin. Captain John Palliser noted the lake on his 1865 map, and his assistant, Dr. James Hector, referred in 1859 to "the Sandy Lakes" that were part of the route from Fort Edmonton to Fort Assiniboine (Holmgren and Holmgren 1976).

The Sandy Lake area was probably used by native people prior to European settlement. In 1876, Treaty No. 6 was signed by Plains Cree at Fort Carleton, Saskatchewan. The treaty resulted in the creation of Alexander Indian Reserve 134, located immediately east of Sandy Lake (FIGURE 1). Members of the Alexander Band are descended from these nomadic people, who had followed buffalo herds prior to moving to the reserve. The reserve covers 7,244 ha and had a population of 731 people in 1984 (Alta. Native Aff. 1986).

The first settlers arrived in the area late in the 1800s, probably during the 1880s. The main land use at that time was agricultural, but by the 1920s, recreational development became important as well. In 1923, the first subdivision was established on Sandy Lake (Edm. Reg. Plan. Commis. 1979). Development continued fairly steadily until, by 1988, there were more than 1,000 lots within 1.5 km of the shoreline (Edm. Reg. Plan. Commis. n.d.; Yell. Reg. Plan. Commis. n.d.).

There are no public campgrounds at Sandy Lake, but 2 commercially operated campgrounds, with a total of 212 campsites, provide camping and other facilities. As well, an Alberta Transportation day-use area is located on the east side of the lake just north of the causeway (FIGURE 2). Facilities include picnic tables, a picnic shelter, toilets, a beach and a boat launch. Another public boat launch, owned by the summer village of Sandy Beach, is located on the western shore just south of the causeway. Recreational activities enjoyed at Sandy Lake include fishing, swimming, power boating and camping in summer, and tobogganing, cross-country skiing, ice fishing and snowmobiling in winter. The single institutional camp on the lake is owned by the Girl Guides of Canada. It is located on the east side of the north basin (FIGURE 2).

The two sport fish species in Sandy Lake are yellow perch and northern pike. There are no sport fishing regulations specific to the lake, but general provincial limits and regulations apply (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989). All boats are restricted from entering some posted areas of the lake and power boats are limited to speeds of 12 km/hour or less in other posted areas (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988).

Sandy Lake is very fertile and the water is green during much of the open-water season. The water in the south basin is somewhat clearer and contains less algae than the water in the north basin. Aquatic macrophytes, which grow along most of the shoreline, are particularly abundant at the north end of the lake. Because it is fertile and shallow, the lake has a potential for fish kills in summer and winter. Fish kills have occurred only occasionally, however, most recently during the winter of 1988/89.

Drainage Basin Characteristics

Sandy Lake drains a small area that is only about 4 times larger than the lake (Tables 1, 2). There are several small water bodies in the drainage basin, but only one drains into Sandy Lake via a stream. This intermittent stream enters the north shore of the lake. There is no active outflow channel, but at high water levels a creek flows from the southeast end of the lake to the Sturgeon River. It last flowed in 1976 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[c]).

The land in the drainage basin is undulating to strongly rolling with few level areas (Twardy and Brocke 1976). Elevations range from about 700 m above sea level at the lakeshore and over much of the watershed, to 745 m on the Alexander Indian Reserve.

The drainage basin is part of the Moist Mixedwood Subregion of the Boreal Mixedwood Ecoregion (Strong and Leggat 1981). Soils are mainly moderately well-drained to well-drained Orthic Gray Luvisols and moderately well-drained to imperfectly drained Gray Solodized Solonetz. Both soils developed on moderately fine textured to medium-textured glacial till. The main tree species on these soils is trembling aspen. Along the shore of Sandy Lake, receding water levels have exposed beach sand soils. These soils are rapidly drained, coarse-textured Orthic Regosols that support a tree cover of trembling aspen, balsam poplar, willow and alder. Organic soils are present throughout the watershed in level to depressional areas where surface water accumulates. They mainly support a vegetative cover of black spruce and tamarack or sedges, grasses, willows and birch (Twardy and Brocke 1976).

Most of the northern half and some of the southern half of the drainage basin has been cleared for agriculture (FIGURE 1). Much of the land throughout the drainage basin, however, has moderately severe to severe limitations to agriculture and therefore is not considered prime agricultural land (Twardy and Brocke 1976). Most of the land is suitable for forage production and improved pasture and a smaller amount is suitable only for unimproved pasture.

Nonrenewable resource extraction is not an important industry in the watershed. In 1979, oil and gas were being produced from the Alexander Field, which is located immediately northeast of the lake (Edm. Reg. Plan. Commis. 1979). Coal deposits are present, but their recovery is not economical at present.

Recreation is a major land use in the drainage basin. Except for three small parcels of Crown land, all of the land near the lake is privately owned or lies within the Alexander Indian Reserve (FIGURE 2). Between 1923, when the first subdivision was created, and 1977, 953 registered lots were approved in an area that extends approximately 1.5 km from the lakeshore. In August 1977, the Sandy Lake area became subject to the Regulated Lake Shoreland Development Operation Regulations. These regulations restricted major developments until a lakeshore management plan and an area structure plan were prepared. Lake management plans determine the extent of future land developments, allocate land use, and determine ways to minimize environmental impacts and conflicts in the use of the lakeshore. They also recommend preferred lake uses and ways to minimize lake-user conflicts. The area structure plan was adopted by the County of Lac Ste. Anne and the Municipal District of Sturgeon as part of their land-use bylaws in 1981 (Edm. Reg. Plan. Commis. 1979; 1980; 1981). Between 1978 and 1988, 66 lots were registered, resulting in a total of 1,019 lots in the Sandy Lake area (Edm. Reg. Plan. Commis. n.d.; Yell. Reg. Plan. Commis. n.d.). Most of these lots are located on the east and west shores of the north basin in the summer village of Sandy Beach, and on the west shore of the south basin in the summer village of Sunrise Beach.

Lake Basin Characteristics

Sandy Lake is a medium-sized water body that is divided into two basins by a narrows and a causeway (TABLE 2, FIGURE 2). The smaller north basin is shallowest and has a maximum depth of 2.3 m. The south basin reaches a maximum depth of 4.4 m.

The elevation of Sandy Lake has been monitored since 1959 (FIGURE 3). The lake generally was at a lower level between 1959 and 1973 than it was between 1974 and 1987. The historic minimum level, 696.76 m, was recorded in 1970, and the historic maximum level, 698.06 m, was recorded in 1974, a year of high precipitation. This historic fluctuation of 1.30 m would result in a change in the lake's area on the order of 20% (FIGURE 4).

Water Quality

Water quality in Sandy Lake was monitored by Alberta Environment approximately monthly during the open-water season, and once in late winter, in each of 1978, 1979, 1988 and 1989 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]; Mitchell 1983; Alta. Envir. 1984).

The lake has well-buffered, fresh water with a calcium concentration that is relatively low for a prairie lake (TABLE 3). The dominant ions are bicarbonate and sodium.

Sandy Lake is shallow and does not thermally stratify during the open-water period (FIGURE 5). During 1988, the concentration of dissolved oxygen in the north basin became slightly depleted near the sediments during August (FIGURE 6). Depletion was more severe in the south basin, where the concentration declined to about 1 mg/L near the sediments in late July. Dissolved oxygen concentrations often become very low during winter. In the north basin in March 1988 and February 1989, the entire water column was anoxic. In the south basin, the concentrations immediately below the ice were 2.1 mg/L in March 1988 and 2.7 mg/L in February 1989. On both dates, the water in the south basin was anoxic at depths of 3 m or more. A severe fish kill occurred in March 1989.

The two basins of Sandy Lake differ in trophic status. The north basin, which is most fertile (TABLE 4), is hyper-eutrophic and the south basin is eutrophic. In 1988, the maximum chlorophyll a concentration in the north basin was 125 µg/L and the maximum total phosphorus concentration was 410 µg/L (FIGURE 7). These variables were considerably lower in the south basin in 1988: chlorophyll a reached a maximum of 53 µg/L and total phosphorus reached a maximum value of 125 µg/L , (FIGURE 7). In both basins, these maxima occurred during September.

Chlorophyll a concentrations can vary considerably among years. This point is illustrated by average open-water chlorophyll a data (µg/L) for Sandy Lake (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]):

North Basin
South Basin


In both basins, the chlorophyll a concentration was, on average, about 2 to 3 times higher in 1978 and 1988 than in 1979. The wide variation between years is probably related to differences in climatic conditions. The difference between basins reflects differences in total phosphorus loading.

Total phosphorus loading to Sandy Lake from external sources is estimated to be 1,557 kg/year (TABLE 5). The supply of phosphorus to the north basin (738 kg/year) is smaller than the supply to the south basin (819 kg/year), but when the supply is expressed per unit of lake surface, the annual areal loading to the smaller north basin (0.32 g/m2 of lake surface) is considerably higher than the annual areal loading to the south basin (0.09 g/m2 of lake surface). In both basins, the largest external source of total phosphorus (approximately 50%) is runoff from agricultural and cleared land. In the north basin, inflow from the upstream lake is the second largest contributor (30%), whereas in the south basin, precipitation and dustfall provide the second highest load (25%). Sewage inputs, at 2% and less, are minor. Sewage inputs were not measured directly at Sandy Lake; they were calculated from data collected for other lakes. Total phosphorus loading from internal sources such as sediments has not been estimated for Sandy Lake. The high phosphorus peaks recorded in both basins in September 1988 (FIGURE 7) suggest that internal loading is substantial and would account for a large part of the total phosphorus loading to the surface waters.

Biological Characteristics


The phytoplankton in Sandy Lake has not been studied intensively. One sample was taken from the south basin on 18 August 1983 by Alberta Environment (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]). The biomass of 17.91 mg/L comprised 75% diatoms (Bacillariophyta), 13% green algae (Chlorophyta) and 7% blue-green algae (Cyanophyta). The diatom Stephanodiscus niagarae accounted for 72% of the total biomass.

A survey of aquatic macrophytes was conducted by Alberta Environment in August 1979 (FIGURE 8). The most widespread emergent species were common cattail (Typha latifolia), common bulrush (Scirpus acutus) and common great bulrush (Scirpus validus), which were particularly dense in the south basin. Other species frequently recorded were sedges (Carex spp.) and reed grass (Phragmites communis). Sweet flag (Acorus calamus), giant bur-reed (Sparganium eurycarpum) and yellow water lily (Nuphar variegatum) were also identified. Pondweeds (Potamogeton spp.) were the most widespread submergent macrophytes. In addition to the six pondweed species identified, northern watermilfoil (Myriophyllum ex-albescens), stonewort (Chara sp.) and coontail (Ceratophylllum demersum) were common, and widgeon grass (Ruppia occidentalis), water crowfoot (Ranunculus sp.) and naiad (Naias flexilis) were noted occasionally.


The zooplankton and benthic invertebrates in Sandy Lake have not been studied.


Sandy Lake is managed for sport fishing. No catch data are available, but the fishery is most popular for northern pike in spring and yellow perch in winter. Fishing derbies for both species are held during winter. From 1954 to 1959, the lake was stocked each year with northern pike and/or yellow perch (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). During the 1950s, pearl dace were reported present, and in 1984, a few walleye were caught in the deepest part of the lake. These walleye were likely a remnant population, as they have not been reported since 1984, and there is little walleye spawning habitat available (Watters 1989).

Sandy Lake has a history of summer and winter fish kills, as, for example, in June of 1959 and 1964, in the winter of 1970/71, in April of 1987 and in late winter of 1989. The 1989 incident was a severe kill that affected both northern pike and yellow perch. Test nets in May 1989 caught some pike but no perch (Watters 1989).


The extreme north end of Sandy Lake is rated very good to excellent for waterfowl production (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). Nesting cover is plentiful and loafing areas are available. Ducks sighted on this basin include Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, American Widgeons, Mallards, Shovellers, Pintails, Gadwalls, Bufflehead and Ring-necked Ducks. Great Blue Herons are also present. Waterfowl production at the far end of the north basin, although good, is limited by the overgrown nature of the shoreline and a lack of offshore emergent aquatic vegetation (Ducks Unltd. (Can.) n.d.). The remainder of the north basin and all of the south basin have a relatively poor rating for waterfowl production.

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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-----. 1989. Guide to sportfishing. Fish Wild. Div., Edmonton.

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Ducks Unlimited (Canada). n.d. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

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-----. 1979. Sandy Lake: Background information and management philosophy. Edm. Reg. Plan. Commis., Edmonton.

-----. 1980. Sandy Lake: Management plan alternatives. Edm. Reg. Plan. Commis., Edmonton.

-----. 1981. Sandy Lake area structure plan. Prep. for Co. Lac Ste. Anne, MD Sturgeon and SV Sandy Beach by Edm. Reg. Plan. Commis., Edmonton.

Energy, Mines and Resources Canada. 1973, 1974, 1975, 1980. National topographic series 1:50 000 83H/13 (1973), 83G/9 (1974), 83G/16 (1975), 83H/12 (1980). Surv. Map. Br., Ottawa.

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Mitchell, P.A. 1982. Evaluation of the "septic snooper" on Wabamun and Pigeon lakes. Alta. Envir., Poll. Contr. Div., Water Qlty. Contr. Br., Edmonton.

-----. 1983. Trophic status of Sandy and Nakamun Lakes. Alta. Envir., Poll. Contr. Div., Water Qlty. Contr. Br. Unpubl. rep., Edmonton.

-----. 1989. Alta. Envir., Envir. Assess. Div., Envir. Qlty. Monit. Br., Edmonton. Pers. comm.

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

Twardy, A.G. and L.K. Brocke. 1976. Soil survey and land suitability evaluation of the Sandy Lake-Nakamun Lake study area. Prep. for Alta. Envir. by Pedol. Consult., Edmonton.

Watters, D. 1989. Alta. For. Ld. Wild., Fish Wild. Div., Dist. Office, Edmonton. Pers. comm.

Yellowhead Regional Planning Commission. n.d. Unpubl. data, Onoway.