High water

How to help prevent shoreline damage and erosion caused by high water levels in lakes.


Several lakes in the province are facing issues of high water levels as a result of snow melt and higher precipitation throughout the spring.

Many residents around these lakes may be wondering what effect the higher water levels may have on the shoreline. They may also wonder what, if anything, they can do to help prevent shoreline damage or erosion or to stem water flow from their properties.

Below is some basic information on what you can do and what you need to do it.

Legal bank

The Crown claims ownership of the bed and shore of all permanent and naturally occurring water bodies under Section 3(1) of the Public Lands Act. The line separating the Crown-owned bed and shore of a water body from adjacent private land is called the legal bank or the ordinary high water mark.

Water levels naturally rise and fall in lakes across Alberta. For lakefront property owners, this can result in a decrease of property above the legal bank and ordinary high water mark.

Information for residents

Preventing erosion

Riparian landowners who share a boundary with a water body have a common law right to protect their land from erosion. This right only extends to the legal bank and does not include landowners who share a boundary with an environmental or municipal reserve. Owners therefore have a right to construct permanent erosion protection works on private land.

Erosion protection works should be designed considering the erosion potential of the shore and bank as well as expected wave environment for the site. Not all sites require a structural/hard engineering solution, such as rip rap. In many cases, allowing native vegetation to regrow or planting new vegetation will add the required structural stability to limit erosion of land.

A Water Act authorization may be required if the proposed work has an adverse effect on the lake. Also, an additional authorization may be required from the local municipality if an environmental reserve or municipal reserve is in place.

Temporary flood protection measures can also be installed for a flood event. Temporary measures can include installing sand bags and other non-erodible materials to protect infrastructure on private land. These measures should be removed when the flood event is completed.

Permanent erosion protection

Homeowners, with the proper authorizations, can apply to the Alberta government to install permanent erosion protection or carry out bank stabilization measures. This requires authorization under the Public Lands Act and Water Act if work is occurring on:

  • the bed and shore of the lake, or
  • an area below the ordinary high water mark.

Modifications to shorelines can result in the direct or indirect loss of valuable fish and wildlife habitat. Modifications also have the potential to prevent public access along a shoreline. Poorly designed or constructed modifications can contribute to future shoreline erosion problems.

For more information on how both the Public Lands Act and the Water Act need to be taken into account for shoreline work, see Shoreline/Water Body Modifications.

For more information on Water Act applications, see the online application system: Digital Regulatory Assurance System.

Flood protection

If the private landowner must discharge water or install flood protection measures in order to protect their property, it is critical they do so in a manner that does not negatively impact any:

  • adjacent landowners, or
  • downstream/down gradient water users

The activity conducted to protect private land should only be limited to the amount necessary to provide this protection and no more. Sandbags are generally the first 'go to' in terms of flood protection.

Authorization times

Application review times for Water Act and Public Lands Act applications usually vary from a couple of weeks to a couple of months depending on the proposed project. During an emergency, efforts will be made to significantly shorten turn around times if necessary and justified.

Emergency work

If the private landowner feels it is necessary to conduct any emergency works in order to protect critical infrastructure in immediate danger such as:

  • household
  • utilities
  • roads

The emergency work should be limited only to the amount necessary to provide protection and no more.

If emergency work is necessary, the private landowner is required to report the activity to the Alberta government by contacting 1-800-222-6514. It is the responsibility of the private landowner to demonstrate that any emergency work completed was conducted in a diligent manner.

Working without an approval

Modifying a shoreline without appropriate authorization(s) is subject to enforcement action and provincial fines up to $50,000 for an individual or $500,000 for a company or organization.

Flood damage

Damages caused by flooding on private land are the responsibility of the land owner. The Alberta government does not provide funding to clean up private property.

Application questions

Each application is assigned to a regional Water Act coordinator and/or a regional public lands officer for the applicable application. The contact for the application reviewer(s) will be provided to the proponent once the application(s) is assigned.


Caring for shoreline properties

Guidelines for lakeshore use

PLAR Approvals and Authorization Administrative Procedures

Temporary Field Authorization
Temporary Field Authorization (TFA) / Dispositional Operational Approval (DOA) Application

Water Act Forms