Chestermere Lake

Basic Info
Map Sheets82P/4
Lat / Long51.0333333, -113.8166667
51°1'N, 113°49'W
Area2.65 km2
Max depth7.0 m
Mean depth3.47 m
Dr. Basin Area5.00 km2
Dam, WeirDam
Drainage BasinBow River Basin
Camp GroundNone
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishRainbow Trout, Yellow Perch, Northern Pike
Trophic StatusMesotrophic
TP x32 µg/L
CHLORO x6.0 µg/L
TDS x175 mg/L
Photo credit: unknown


Chestermere Lake is a small offstream reservoir situated 7 km east of Calgary on Highway 1 in Municipal District No. 44 (FIGURE 1). Its proximity to over one-half million people and its ease of access result in tremendous recreational pressure. It is popular for sailing, windsurfing, swimming, skin-diving, fishing and skating.

The derivation of the lake's name is uncertain. The reservoir was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) for irrigation purposes. One of the company directors at the time was Lord Chester. The name may also come from the Latin castra meaning "camp" and mere meaning "lake" (Holmgren and Holmgren 1976). Before settlers arrived, Blackfoot Indians roamed over the dry plains. The first ranches were developed near the Bow River to the south, but cattle and horses grazed as far north as the Chestermere area. Homesteaders arrived between 1883 and 1900 to fence the open prairie and break the rich land (Peake 1982).

When the CPR built its trans-Canada railway line in the 1880s, the Canadian government gave the company alternate sections of land along the right-of-way. In southern Alberta, the CPR exchanged the alternate sections for two large blocks of land; one near the town of Brooks and one near the town of Strathmore, which is just east of Chestermere Lake (Thompson 1971). The CPR developed these blocks into agricultural showcases and sent brochures to Europe to inspire immigration. Hundreds of Russian, Dutch, French and Scandinavian people soon arrived. Mortgages were signed with the CPR, and in return the CPR agreed to supply irrigation water at 50¢ per acre. By 1943, the CPR was losing money in the Strathmore block and offered to cancel the mortgages if the farmers would cancel their water rights. Not all farmers agreed to this, and in 1944 the CPR cancelled the mortgages and gave the farmers $400,000 plus all the irrigation equipment in place at the time. The block of land at Strathmore became the Western Irrigation District (WID). Similar events had occurred in the Brooks block, which became the Eastern Irrigation District in 1935 (Chestermere Hist. Soc. 1971; Thompson 1971).

Part of the irrigation system built for the Strathmore area by the CPR in 1910 included a weir on the Bow River within Calgary and a canal and two dams and headgates on a natural slough which became the impoundment now known as Chestermere Lake. The original purpose of the lake was to act as a balancing reservoir to quickly meet fluctuating demands in the irrigation system. Now the reservoir is operated for both irrigation and recreation. The WID still operates the reservoir. Water flows into secondary canals at the north and south ends of the reservoir to irrigate over 36,000 ha of land and to supply stockwater to more than 800 farms (West. Irrig. Dist. n.d.).

The secondary canals and reservoir right-of-way are owned by the WID. The land around Chestermere Lake is almost all privately owned and most of it is within the summer village of Chestermere Lake (FIGURE 2). In 1988 there were 443 developed lots, of which 340 front on the shore; 200 were permanent residences. The best public access is at John Peake Memorial Park on the northwest end of the lake, just north of the Highway 1A crossing (FIGURE 2). This day-use area, operated by the summer village of Chestermere Lake, provides a boat launch, washrooms and picnic tables for a small fee. In 1988, a beach was developed at the park. There are two other small day-use areas on municipal reserve land. Anniversary Park is on the west shore, and Sunset Park is on the east. Both offer picnic tables and washrooms and both are very popular with windsurfers. The maximum speed for power boats on the entire reservoir is limited to 12 km/hour (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988).

The water in Chestermere Lake is usually clear and algal blooms are not often a problem. However, aquatic plants are widespread and are a nuisance to boaters and anglers. Sport fishing for perch and pike is popular both in summer and winter. Provincial sport fishing regulations are in effect, but there are no additional regulations specific to Chestermere Lake (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989).

Drainage Basin Characteristics

The natural drainage basin of Chestermere Lake is very small, barely larger than the area of the lake (Tables 1, 2). Natural runoff had provided only enough water to create a small slough before water was diverted from the Bow River.

Chestermere Lake lies in a shallow depression on a level to gently rolling glacial till plain in the Fescue Grassland Ecoregion. The dominant soils in the basin are Orthic Black Chernozemics, which have developed under grasslands and have almost no restrictions for agriculture although there are occasional patches of surface salts. The soils in the valley north of the Highway 1A crossing are a mixture of Humic Gleysols and Solodized Solonetz that have developed on glaciolacustrine clays overlying glacial till (MacMillan 1987). The natural vegetation of the region was dominated by rough fescue with secondary quantities of Parry oat grass. Now there is little natural grassland left in the area as most of this ecoregion has been cultivated for grain crop production or mixed farming. Shrubs such as rose, saskatoon and buckbrush grow in seepage sites and on the north slopes of coulees (Strong and Leggat 1981). The Chestermere drainage basin has also been altered by the major complex of Highways 1 and 1A near the lake (FIGURE 1).

Lake Basin Characteristics

Chestermere Lake was built to be an offstream reservoir to balance flows to the WID. It is a small impoundment, only 5.12-km long and 0.77-km wide (TABLE 2), and provides little storage. The lake basin is an elongate oval that slopes very gently from the north end to a maximum depth of 7 m (FIGURE 2). The slopes along the east and west shores and along the south weir are slightly steeper.

The shoreline north of Highway 1A is sandy; emergent vegetation is dense and the backshore is marshy. In 1988, a beach was being developed at the day-use area. The shoreline south of Highway 1A is almost entirely man-made; the east and west shores are held by concrete, stone or wood retaining walls and a weir crosses the south end. There is some natural sandy shore near the outlet of the WID Main Canal in the southeast corner of the reservoir and some natural marshy shore at the municipal reserve on the east shore. The lake bottom is soft mud (Thompson 1971).

More than 99% of the water entering Chestermere Lake is diverted from the Bow River where the WID weir crosses the river just downstream from the Calgary Zoo. Alberta Environment owns and operates the weir and the WID Main Canal which flows through the city of Calgary and then into the southwest corner of Chestermere Lake. Approximately 55% of the outflow leaves in a secondary canal from the southeast corner and 45% leaves via a secondary canal at the north end (FIGURE 2). The volume of flow is high; from April to October an average of 179.0 x 106 m3 flows through the lake, resulting in a mean residence time of only 11 days (TABLE 2). When flow rates are high, the retention time drops to 4.7 days. From October to April the canals are closed and almost no water flows into or out of the lake (West. Irrig. Dist. n.d.).

The lake level is controlled and is therefore predictable (FIGURE 3). From 1980 to 1988, the summer levels varied about 0.4 m each year. In October the level is drawn down about 1.5 m to protect retaining walls around the lake. The winter level is stable until late April when diversion starts and the lake is filled rapidly. The lake was drawn down approximately 1.5 m in the winter of 1987/88, but because no measurements were taken this does not appear on Figure 3. During the winter, the area of the lake is about 75% of the area at the full supply level (FIGURE 4).

Water Quality

The water quality of Chestermere Lake was monitored by Alberta Environment in 1971 and 1972 (Masuda 1972), in 1978 (Exner 1978) and in 1983 and 1984 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[b].).

The water quality of Chestermere Lake is strongly influenced by the water quality of the Bow River. Chestermere is a well-buffered, freshwater lake; its dominant ions are calcium, sulphate and bicarbonate (TABLE 3). The lake mixes occasionally during the summer, but stratifies temporarily during hot, calm weather (FIGURE 5). In 1983, the dissolved oxygen concentration was high and uniform from top to bottom except during a brief period of thermal stratification in late July and early August. At this time, there was noticeable dissolved oxygen depletion below 4 m (FIGURE 6). Winter dissolved oxygen concentrations have not been monitored but winter fish kills are not a problem in the lake (Lowe 1988).

Chestermere Lake has moderately high nutrient levels. Phosphorus was the focus of a study in 1978 because the average concentration in the lake (28 to 36 µg/L, TABLE 4) is much higher than the average concentration in the Bow River at the WID Main Canal diversion (7 µg/L, Exner 1978), which provides almost all the water in the lake. In spring, before diversion begins, the total phosphorus concentration in the lake is high (139 µg/L, FIGURE 7). Total phosphorus levels drop quickly when the diversion from the Bow River starts, but levels stay higher than expected given the rapid flushing rate of approximately once every 11 days. Detailed sampling along the WID canal in 1978 showed distinct increases in total phosphorus below stormwater inputs within the city of Calgary. Since then, only one additional storm drain has been built to empty into the canal; a moratorium on the addition of any more storm drains was imposed in 1983 (Colborne 1988). The total phosphorus concentration was also high in Nose Creek, which enters the Bow River immediately upstream and on the same bank as the WID canal diversion. The total phosphorus concentration of water leaving Chestermere Lake at the north end was considerably lower than that of water entering the lake in the WID Main Canal, likely due to phosphorus uptake by the lush macrophyte beds and algae in the lake.

Chestermere Lake is mesotrophic. Chlorophyll a concentrations are highest in early spring when the total phosphorus concentration is highest, but drop when water diversion starts and then rise again in late summer (FIGURE 7).

Biological Characteristics


There are no data regarding species of algae in Chestermere Lake. Diatoms (Bacillariophyta) were consistently abundant in three samples collected between 6 May and 16 June in 1969, and green algae (Chlorophyta) were common (Thompson 1971).

Macrophytes grow profusely throughout most of Chestermere Lake except in the deeper water in the southern half. The dominant genus is Potamogeton (pondweed). In autumn 1988, local residents contracted a private company to mechanically remove the weeds and their roots from a 0.25 ha area. It was hoped that growth would be appreciably reduced for at least two years (Lajeunesse 1988).


Three plankton samples were taken between 6 May and 16 June in 1969 by Fish and Wildlife Division (Thompson 1971). The zooplankton was dominated by the cladoceran Daphnia sp. and the copepod Cyclops sp.

Twenty-five bottom samples were taken by a 15-cm Ekman dredge in May 1969; 22 were within the littoral zone at a water depth less than 4.5 m (Thompson 1971). The average dry-weight biomass of benthic invertebrates was 26.7 g/m2. Numerically, midge larvae (Chironomidae) were most abundant (37%), aquatic earthworms (Oligochaeta) were 30% of the total, scuds (Amphipoda) were 24% and clams (Pelecypoda) were 5%.


There are at least four species of fish in Chestermere Lake: yellow perch, northern pike, white suckers and longnose suckers. Rainbow trout occasionally migrate into the lake via the WID canal but they are not common (Thompson 1971). Angling for pike and perch is popular. There is no commercial or domestic fishery on Chestermere Lake.


There are no data regarding wildlife at Chestermere Lake. The intense recreational use and predominance of retaining walls along the shore do not provide good wildlife habitat.

J.M. Crosby


Alberta Environment. n.d.[a]. Devel. Op. Div., Irrig. Headworks Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. n.d.[b]. Envir. Assess. Div., Envir. Qlty. Monit. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

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

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

-----. n.d.[e]. Water Resour. Mgt. Div., Dam Safety Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

Alberta Forestry, Lands and Wildlife. n.d. Fish Wild. Div. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. 1988. Boating in Alberta. Fish Wild. Div., Edmonton.

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

Alberta Research Council. 1972. Geological map of Alberta. Nat. Resour. Div., Alta. Geol. Surv., Edmonton.

Chestermere Historical Society. 1971. Saddles, sleighs and sadirons. Chestermere Hist. Soc., Chestermere.

Colborne, B. 1988. City of Calgary, Eng. Sewer Div., Calgary. Pers. comm.

Energy, Mines and Resources Canada. 1980. National topographic series 1:50 000 82P/4 (1980). Surv. Map. Br., Ottawa.

Environment Canada. 1982. Canadian climate normals, Vol. 7: Bright sunshine (1951-1980). Prep. by Atm. Envir. Serv. Supply Serv. Can., Ottawa.

Exner, K. 1978. 1978 investigation into the water quality of the Western Irrigation District distribution system to Chestermere Lake. Alta. Envir., Poll. Contr. Div., Edmonton.

Holmgren, E.J. and P.M. Holmgren. 1976. Over 2000 place names of Alberta. 3rd ed. West. Producer Prairie Books, Saskatoon.

Lajeunesse, B. 1988. Alta. For. Ld. Wild., Fish Wild. Div., Red Deer. Pers comm.

Lowe, D. 1988. Alta. For. Ld. Wild., Fish Wild. Div., Red Deer. Pers. comm.

MacMillan, R.A. 1987. Soil survey of the Calgary urban perimeter. Alta. Res. Counc., Dept. Terrain Sci., Edmonton.

Masuda, A. 1972. Chestermere Lake survey 1971-1972. Alta. Envir., Poll. Contr. Div., Edmonton.

Peake, E. 1982. Growing through time: Stories of Chestermere Lake. SV Chestermere L., Chestermere Lake.

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

Thompson, G.E. 1971. The limnology and fishery management of Chestermere Lake, Alberta. Alta. Ld. For., Fish Wild. Div., Calgary.

Western Irrigation District. n.d. Unpubl. data, Strathmore.