Travers Reservoir

Basic Info
Map Sheets82I
Lat / Long50.2166667, -112.8500000
50°13'N, 112°50'W
Area22.5 km2
Max depth39.6 m
Mean depth18.3 m
Dr. Basin Area4,230 km2
Dam, WeirDam
Drainage BasinOldman River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishNorthern Pike, Walleye, Yellow Perch, Lake Whitefish, Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout
Trophic StatusOligotrophic
TP x14 µg/L
CHLORO x2.2 µg/L
TDS x215 mg/L
Photo credit: unknown


Travers Reservoir was built on the Little Bow River in 1954 to store water for the Bow River Irrigation District and to facilitate the flow of water from McGregor Lake to Little Bow Lake Reservoir. It was named after the hamlet of Travers, which lies 15 km to the east. The reservoir is located between Secondary Highways 522 and 529, east of Carmangay and Champion and about 35 km southeast of the town of Vulcan. It is part of the Oldman River drainage basin but receives most of its water from the Bow River via McGregor Lake and from the Highwood River via a canal to the Little Bow River (FIGURE 1).

Tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy hunted buffalo in this region long before white settlers arrived. During the 1880s, the North West Mounted Police and cattle ranchers arrived in the area, and by 1907 many homesteads were established (Champion Hist. Commit. 1970). Grain farming became important and extended eastward as water was supplied to irrigable land. The success of irrigation after McGregor Lake and Little Bow Lake Reservoir were built, and the drought years of the 1930s prompted nearby communities to request more irrigation projects. At the same time, delivery of water from McGregor Lake to Little Bow Lake Reservoir was difficult due to 20 km of canals connecting the two. In 1951, the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration began construction of Travers Reservoir to replace the canals and to provide additional storage to meet demands for irrigation water. In 1954, the reservoir was filled for the first time.

Access to the reservoir is provided at two locations (FIGURE 2). Little Bow Provincial Park, 19 km east and 2 km south of Champion, is a 110-ha area on the north shore of the west arm of the reservoir. Established in 1954, the park's irrigated shrubs and trees create a verdant oasis in the surrounding golden prairie in summer. The park offers a year-round campground with 193 sites, tap water, a public telephone, a boat launch and dock, a sandy beach, picnic tables and shelters, a playground and a concession. Travers Dam Campground, which is operated by the Town of Lomond, is on the north shore of the east arm of the reservoir. It can be reached by driving 30 km east of Champion on Secondary Road 529, then 10 km south on Secondary Road 843. The recreation area is open year-round and offers 100 random campsites, pump water, picnic tables and shelters and a boat launch.

Travers Reservoir is now owned and operated by Alberta Environment as part of the Carseland-Bow River Headworks System. The main purpose of the reservoir is to store water for irrigation and multi-purpose uses. It also serves to minimize flooding of the Little Bow River and to maintain flow in the Little Bow River during low flow periods. Recreation is an important use. The water in Travers Reservoir is very clear and the concentration of algae is very low. Fishing, power boating, wind surfing, sailing and swimming are popular, especially at Little Bow Provincial Park. All boats are prohibited from some posted areas in the reservoir and power boats are restricted to a maximum speed of 12 km/hour in other posted areas (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988). Provincial sport fishing regulations apply to Travers Reservoir, but there are no additional, specific regulations (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989). The reservoir supports a commercial fishery for lake whitefish and northern pike.

Drainage Basin Characteristics

The natural watershed of Travers Reservoir covers an area of 4,230 km2 (TABLE 1) and extends northwest to a minor height of land separating it from the Highwood River-Bow River drainage system. Mosquito Creek flows eastward from the lower reaches of the foothills and joins the Little Bow River, which flows into Travers Reservoir (FIGURE 1). The drainage basin is in a fairly arid region of Alberta so, despite the large size of the drainage area, it provides only about 3% of the water in the reservoir. The balance of water in the reservoir is diverted from the Bow River drainage system (TABLE 2).

The landscape of the drainage basin varies from rolling hills and hummocky terrain in the west to flat plains in the east (Richard Strong Assoc. Ltd. 1983). The basin includes parts of three ecoregions (Strong and Leggat 1981). The eastern half of the basin, including the area around the reservoir, is in the Mixed Grass Ecoregion. The original vegetation consisted of spear, grama and wheat grasses on the uplands and rose, buckbrush and wolf willow in coulees, where moisture is slightly more available. Eastern cottonwood and willows grow near water courses. Most of the uplands have been cultivated now. Soils are predominantly Orthic Dark Brown Chernozemics, with a few pockets of well-drained Orthic Regosols on steep, eroded slopes and Orthic Gleysols in damp, depressional areas around the reservoir (Greenlee 1973; Strong and Leggat 1981). Much of the land surrounding the reservoir is dissected by coulees; Wolf Coulee on the south shore (FIGURE 2) is a spectacular example of a heavily eroded canyon with hoodoos.

Most of the drainage basin west of Clear Lake and Secondary Road 804 is in the Fescue Grass Ecoregion. The natural vegetation is fescue and Parry oatgrass, but most of the area has been cultivated. Soils are Black Chernozemics. On the far western border of the basin, there is a small area of the Groveland Subregion of the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion. Soils are Black Chernozemics, but because the area is damp enough, pockets of trembling aspen are interspersed with the fescue grasslands.

Most of the Crown land around Travers Reservoir (FIGURE 2) is leased for crop cultivation and cattle grazing (Richard Strong Assoc. Ltd. 1983). At present, the dominant agricultural activity in the drainage basin is dryland farming of cereals such as wheat and barley, hay, and specialty crops such as canola and rye (IEC Beak Consult. Ltd. et al. 1983). Irrigation farming is carried out along the Little Bow River as far as Travers Reservoir and along Mosquito Creek. Some cattle ranches are located along the southern arm of Travers Reservoir (Richard Strong Assoc. Ltd. 1983). In addition, there are numerous swine and cattle feedlots in the region.

There are no population centres near Travers Reservoir; 1 cottage subdivision, with 13 cottages, is located just east of Little Bow Provincial Park (Alta. Rec. Parks n.d.; Richard Strong Assoc. Ltd. 1983). The villages closest to the reservoir are Champion and Carmangay.

Lake Basin Characteristics

Travers Dam was built from 1951 to 1953 by the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration of the federal government, and was officially opened on 13 July 1954. It is now owned and operated by Alberta Environment.

Travers Reservoir lies in an old, eroded glacial meltwater channel; approximately 70% of the lake bottom is very steep, dropping from the valley breaks to depths of 9 m or more (FIGURE 2). Thus, large withdrawals of water do not alter the basin morphometry drastically; a water level drop of 2 m below the full supply level results in only an 18% reduction in area (Alta. Envir. n.d.[d]). The deepest part of the reservoir (39.6 m) is located at the eastern end near the dam. Steep sides, the annual water level fluctuations and strong winds result in shoreline erosion and a narrow littoral zone. Around most of the reservoir, the shoreline is barren gravel (Richard Strong Assoc. Ltd. 1983).

The annual water level fluctuation of Travers Reservoir averaged 2.0 m from 1976 to 1987; the maximum annual fluctuation was 2.5 m (FIGURE 3). Typical annual operation of the reservoir includes rapid filling in spring, then fairly steady drawdown through summer (FIGURE 4).

Approximately 90% of the water flowing into Travers Reservoir (TABLE 2) is diverted from the Bow River near Carseland, then through McGregor Lake. The remaining 10% comes from the Little Bow River, which derives most of its flow from two diversions from the Highwood River (FIGURE 1), a tributary of the Bow River. Three percent of the water released from Travers Reservoir flows into the Little Bow River and 97% flows via canal to Little Bow Lake Reservoir and subsequently into canals for distribution to the Bow River Irrigation District. The volume of Travers Reservoir is exchanged approximately once a year (TABLE 2); almost all inflow and outflow occurs between April and October.

Water Quality

Travers Reservoir has been sampled jointly by Alberta Environment and Alberta Recreation and Parks since 1983 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[b]).

The water quality of Travers Reservoir is more like that of the Bow River and intervening McGregor Lake than local natural lakes such as Frank and Clear lakes. The water is well-buffered, and the proportions of the major ions-bicarbonate, sulphate and calcium (TABLE 3) - are similar to those in the Bow River.

In 1983, the reservoir was weakly stratified from late June to mid-September (FIGURE 5). From early July to mid-September, dissolved oxygen slowly decreased in the water near the sediments; the lowest concentration was 4 mg/L (FIGURE 6). In February 1975 and 1976, dissolved oxygen concentrations near the main dam were less than 2 mg/L at depths greater than 30 m (English 1977).

The mean open-water chlorophyll a and total phosphorus concentrations are low in Travers Reservoir (TABLE 4) as compared with other prairie lakes. The concentrations of both variables are approximately half those in upstream McGregor Lake. Consequently, the water is clear (Secchi depth averages 4 m) and attractive for recreation. During 1984, the total phosphorus concentration reached a maximum in early July (FIGURE 7), possibly because of increased runoff from rain. The maximum chlorophyll a concentration was 5 µg/L in September. Travers Reservoir is classified as oligotrophic. It has the lowest phosphorus and chlorophyll a levels of 36 other lakes and reservoirs similarly sampled by Alberta Environment (Alta. Envir. n.d.[b]).

Biological Characteristics


The only information on algae in Travers Reservoir was collected during a brief fisheries survey in 1955, one year after the reservoir was first filled (Miller 1955). At that time, there was a bloom of Aphanizomenon sp. and Anabaena sp., starting at the west end of the lake. Algal productivity may have been greater then than it is now, likely as a result of an upsurge in nutrients from newly flooded soils.

There are no data on the macrophytes in the reservoir. Dense aquatic plant growth near the shore of Little Bow Provincial Park has occasionally been a problem for recreational users (Alta. Rec. Parks n.d.).


When the plankton was sampled in 1955, the year after the reservoir was first filled, only a few invertebrates were found in the eastern end of the reservoir, mostly Cyclops sp. and Diaptomus sp. The zooplankton was somewhat more abundant in the west end, particularly Daphnia pulex, D. longispina and rotifers (Miller 1955). In 1975, the zooplankton was sampled monthly from 16 June to 3 October. The greatest volume of plankton was collected in July (1.32 mL/L); copepods were the dominant group on all dates (English 1977).

The benthic fauna has not been sampled.


Travers Reservoir supports 14 species of fish. Lake whitefish, northern pike, white suckers, longnose suckers, burbot, walleye and lake chub are abundant (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). Other species include rainbow trout, brown trout, trout-perch, shorthead redhorse, spottail shiner, fathead minnow and yellow perch. Lake whitefish are not indigenous to Travers Reservoir or the Little Bow River, but likely migrated from McGregor Lake, where they were stocked in 1943 (MacNeill 1978). They were first noticed in Travers Reservoir in 1955, one year after it was filled (Miller 1955). Walleye, which were introduced as eyed-eggs in 1958, have become established but lake trout, which were stocked in 1959, and kokanee, which were stocked in 1970, did not survive (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.; MacNeill 1978). Brown trout probably originate from the Bow and Little Bow rivers (MacNeill 1978). The shorthead redhorse is rare in the reservoir (Haugen 1970).

Most fish in the reservoir spawn and overwinter there (IEC Beak Consult. Ltd. et al. 1983). Northern pike, however, spawn upstream in the Little Bow River. Walleye probably spawn in the west end of Travers Reservoir, near the mouth of the Little Bow River (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.).

Recreational fishing for lake whitefish and northern pike is very popular, both in summer and through the ice in winter. During a creel census conducted on 10 days between February and October in 1982, 276 people were interviewed. They caught 292 pike, with a success rate of 0.46 pike/angler-hour. In the same census, 143 lake whitefish and only 2 trout, 1 burbot and 1 walleye were captured (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.).

The first commercial harvest from Travers Reservoir was taken in 1956; the catch was mostly northern pike (MacNeill 1978). Since then, lake whitefish have become the most economically important species, followed by northern pike. Between 1980/81 and 1986/87 the mean annual commercial catch was 7,296 kg of lake whitefish, 805 kg of northern pike, 832 kg of suckers, 189 kg of burbot, 18 kg of trout, 8 kg of walleye and 3 kg of yellow perch, a total average catch of 9,151 kg of fish (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). Travers Reservoir is estimated to produce a sustainable annual harvest of 13,608 kg of lake whitefish (MacNeill 1978). From 1984/85 to 1986/87 the harvest approached capacity and quotas were set for the 2 main commercial species: 11,350 kg for whitefish and 1,350 kg for pike. In 1987/88, the number of licences issued jumped to 68 from a previous high of 16. That year, a total of 17,823 kg of lake whitefish, 1,723 kg of pike and 204 kg of walleye were harvested (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.).

The average size of lake whitefish caught in Travers Reservoir in 1958, four years after the reservoir opened, was greater than that of whitefish taken in later samples (Haugen 1970; MacNeill 1978). A study of the age, growth and yield of lake whitefish from Travers and seven other reservoirs in southern Alberta was conducted in 1969 (Haugen 1970). Lake whitefish were found to mature slowly in Travers Reservoir-only 80% of the males and 13% of the females were mature at age 4 compared to 100% maturity at age 4 in most of the other reservoirs studied.


Travers Reservoir has few shallow shoreline areas, and therefore does not support a large population of nesting waterfowl (Richard Strong Assoc. Ltd. 1983). Raptors and geese nest around the reservoir and waterfowl use it for staging during fall migration. Mammals in the area include white-tailed deer, antelope, Richardson's ground squirrels, badgers and coyotes (Finlay and Finlay 1987).

J.M. Crosby


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