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Devonshire Beach Dynamics

Devonshire Beach

Information, June 20, 2017

Thanks for your interest in the Devonshire Beach issue. We came to Slave Lake in 1968 and the beach issue has made the rounds of discussion many times since then. Originally the farmers along the lake wanted the lake level low. On the other hand, the industry along the river and the watersport people wanted it high. To control the major fluctuations, the government put in the weir, did dredging, and connected some of the bends in the river. Since the control is not perfect, the natural fluctuations in the lake still cause problems. When the lake is low, there is a wide strip of sandy beach. When the water is high the narrow beach is close to the trees. On some extreme years, it washes out any structures along the beach such as the wheelchair ramp. In the early years there were rows of willows along the beach with beautiful sand between. Some people used this area for sunbathing, and even as a change room. Then the high water came and ripped out some of the rows. And so it goes.

Some people want to rip out all of the willows and till the beach. Others want it left as is. It seems that the current situation is a reasonable compromise. Some area is cleared for sports events and the rest left natural. Cleaning the beach of the garbage left by people and their dogs would be a commendable activity, but be careful of major disruption of the natural processes at work on the beach.

Before you make any decision, you need to research the physical and ecological principles governing what happens on the beach. This information is available, but I will give a summary. Slave Lake is a rather shallow lake and susceptible to some major disturbances and storms. The currents and the storms bring new sand and drift wood debris onto the beach. The strong winds then dry out the sand and the energy of the wind starts moving the sand inland. Wind energy is substantial and will carry large amounts of sand with it. If there is no obstruction to this energy, the fine, light sand will be carried the farthest and end up in the trees and on the road. Sometime there are sand drifts on the road, just like snow drifts. The coarser, heavier sand and gravel will be left closest to the water. The natural ecosystem, with its driftwood, grass, herbs and shrubs disrupt the energy of the wind and the sand will drop. Just look behind a clump of grass or a small shrub and you’ll see a pile of fine sand. Clear everything off, and you’ll end up with fine sand in the trees and on the road and the gravel on the beach. An example of this is by the first set of stairs to the beach. Some clearing had taken place here at one time. There were fire rings and walkways. They are now all covered in fine sand and the coarser sand is close to the water. At one point they put snow fence on the beach to prevent all of the sand from traveling into the trees. I don’t know about you, but I prefer a few willows to snow fence.

I did a sand dune research at Marten beach from 1999-2009. I have the data and accompanying pictures. I realize it is a different beach, but similar enough to give a good idea of what happened on Devonshire Beach over that time period. I can make this available if you are interested.

Aaron A. Lehman

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