Helmer Dam viability study

Over the last several years there have been concerns about the viability of Helmer Dam as a recreational fishing area because of less than satisfactory water quality.

In January of 2020, the Town of Hanna applied for funding through the Alberta Conservation Association to undertake a revitalization of Helmer Dam to improve the water and habitat quality of the reservoir to support a recreational fishing area.

The town was successful with its application and received funding in the amount of $10,000 to conduct Phase 1 of the project which includes a summer and winter fish and fish habitat assessment to determine if the reservoir can support various species such as Rainbow Trout or Yellow Perch throughout the year.

The information collected during Phase 1 is intended to allow the Town of Hanna to make recommendations for the improvement and revitalization of Helmer Reservoir for multi-season fishing use.

Field technicians were on site in the summer of 2020, where they spent two full days conducting both trap and gill netting. 

The results were documented within the report and note the presence of Lake Chub, Fathead Minnow and Rainbow Trout. Both Lake Chub and Fathead Minnows are smaller, with the trout a larger size (trout netted were 13 – 14 inched in length).

At the Oct. 13, 2020 regular meeting, council reviewed and accepted for information the interim Fish Habitat Suitability Phase 1 Study for Helmer Dam prepared by Triton Environmental Consultants.

Since the Interim Report was received additional work was completed over the winter, including additional water testing to determine the quality of the water body and the fish habitat during winter months to complete Phase 1 of the study.

Recommendations from the report included investigating the sources of eutrophication (water enrichment) of the reservoir and possible mitigations for reducing nutrient loads, EC, and pH to levels that will enable healthier and more resilient aquatic communities in the future.

It also included a complete profile of seasonal changes that will be beneficial for the establishment of the revitalization methods and the practical application of systems, such as the location of aerators.

Fulsome seasonal information related to the water quality and habitat characteristics of Helmer Reservoir may inform a review of other complementary methods that may be beneficial to improve fish habitat and ensure the long-term viability of the project.

They suggested a possible solution for the issue of winter kill would be the installation of an aeration system capable of maintaining ice-free area(s) during the winter months.

This would promote re-oxygenation of the reservoir.

This solution would require additional investigation to determine whether such a system would be feasible on a waterbody the size of Helmer Reservoir.

Maintaining reservoir at capacity (i.e., fullness) as much as possible through the hottest portions of the summer may maintain a level of thermal stratification for sufficient time to reduce heat stress in stocked trout.

Administration has applied for additional funding in the amount of $30,000 to complete Phase 2 of this study.

Phase 2 work will augment the data obtained in the summer and winter of 2020/2021 by completing additional study in the spring, summer, fall and winter of 2021/2022 and would examine other parameters such as the composition and depth of the sediments and an overview of the banks.


Terri Huxley

ECA Review

About the author

Terri Huxley

Terri grew up on a grain farm near Drumheller, Alberta with an eye for the beautiful and uncharted. Living in such a unique and diverse area has helped her become the photographer and reporter she is today.

Coming from the East Central region getting this newspaper on her dinner table growing up, it helped her understand the community she now serves.

In May 2019, Terri was awarded Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association (AWNA) Canada's Energy Citizens Photographic Awards Sports Action – First Place as well as first for the same sports action image nationally with the Canadian Community Newspaper Association (CCNA). Fast forward to 2020, she has won second in the same category for the AWNA.