Record breaking heat in Alberta and B.C. has resulted in rising water temperatures, declining water levels and soaring concern for aquatic life.
Normally, Alberta’s glacier lakes hold the kind of water that can trigger an instant breath in when you dip your toes. But this summer, mountain lakes like Two Jack and Johnson Lake in Banff National Park aren’t as frigid as normal.
“It’s pretty warm in comparison to other years, of course, with the hotter temperatures,” said Janelle Toews, who was paddle boarding and swimming in Johnson Lake Friday.
“I just came back from B.C. and I was swimming in lakes there where we usually don’t swim in until mid-August — it’s like bathtub water. Absolutely, a lot of changes in the water temperature.”
According to Dr. Robert Sanford, chair in water and climate security at the United Nations University Institute of Water, Environment and Health, the heat and heat domes that have settled over Western Canada this year are “unprecedented,” and are leading to the warmer water.
“Our most extreme models did not project this extent of warming even into the next century,” Sanford said.
Sandford pointed out leaves are already turning yellow on some trees and algae blooms are becoming more wide spread and frequent.
He said aquatic life is also likely suffering.
“Right now, lakes in Canada are warming at twice the global average and this has tremendous impacts on ecosystems, particularly fish,” he said,
“What we’ve seen in places like Talbot Lake in Jasper National Park — it’s a shallow lake so fish can’t go to a cooler thermal climate and they die.
“We are seeing a wide rage of catastrophic changes in our ecosystems as those high temperatures persist.”
It’s a deep concern shared by Trout Unlimited Canada. CEO Silvia D’Ameilo said entire aquatic ecosystems in Canada are being impacted by the heat waves.
“The growing concern is that, with climate change, not only is it lasting longer, it’s happening earlier — we haven’t hit August yet and we’ve already had a couple heat waves,” D’Amelio said.
“And the trends we are seeing in climate change, we are expecting to be of even greater concern in years to come.”
Some streams and rivers in Montana and British Columbia have already been closed to anglers because of rising water temperatures and drought conditions.
Trout Unlimited Canada said it’s something Alberta should also consider, to help give the fish and other aquatic life a fighting chance.