Natural shorelines are richly diverse habitats and are an essential part of a healthy functioning aquatic ecosystem. Shorelines include the areas above and below the water’s edge. Aquatic vegetation, rocks and woody debris provide important habitat for fish and other aquatic species, while protecting our shorelines from ice and wave erosion. Terrestrial vegetation such as trees, shrubs and grasses serve as habitat for wildlife, protects shorelines and stream banks from ice, waves and other erosional forces, and even filters surface runoff. When shorelines are disturbed (by development or natural causes) valuable fish and wildlife habitat can be lost, and shorelines may cease to provide erosion protection. To assist in protecting our shorelines from erosion and against habitat loss, many subdivisions have dedicated buffer zones between cottage lots and the bed of the water body. These buffer zones are typically designated as environmental reserve or municipal reserve. These dedicated lands protect the lake or river from potential impacts of recreational development, and also provide public access to the water.
Leaving the shoreline undisturbed is often the best and least expensive protection against erosion for most properties that slope toward water. Restoring an eroded shoreline is more costly than maintaining the shoreline in its natural, undisturbed state.
When we change our waterfront properties with shoreline modifications, docks, boat lifts, decks, stairs, fire pits, additional sand or other alterations, negative impacts to the shoreline and vegetated buffer zones can occur. The combined effect of many small alterations can cause large areas of habitat to be altered or even destroyed, resulting in a gradual decline in the health of our lakes and rivers. We can maintain healthy shorelines on our lakes and rivers by carefully considering and planning the type of work we do near water. We need to consider the work’s location relative to sensitive shoreline areas and choose appropriate building materials that don’t harm the natural environment.
Shorelines are protected in Saskatchewan by The Environmental Management and Protection Act, 2010 (EMPA). Under EMPA, any person planning work near water may need an Aquatic Habitat Protection Permit and must contact the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency to:
alter the bed, bank or boundary of a water body or watercourse,
remove or add material to the bed, bank or boundary of a water body or watercourse, or
remove vegetation from the bed, bank or boundary or a water body or watercourse.
Be aware: municipal development permits or approvals may be required where there is a zoning bylaw in place and consent from the municipality must be obtained prior to any work or improvements on dedicated land. Approvals may also be required from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) if the work will result in a harmful alteration, disruption or destruction to fish habitat or the death of fish. For more information or permit applications, contact the Water Security Agency (WSA) or the local municipal office.
Common questions about lakeshore/shoreline development in Saskatchewan
No. Most lake/river front property owners in Saskatchewan do NOT own the land right to the water’s edge. The area between the bank and the water’s edge (often called the beach or foreshore) belongs to the Crown, not to landowners. Even if dedicated lands don’t separate your lot from the lake, the land closest to the lake or river is usually the bank of the water body. What is meant by “bank”? The bank is the ground bordering the water that acts to contain the water in the water body. The bank can generally be identified by changes in vegetation from aquatic to riparian species. In Saskatchewan, properties are legally defined by their land title. Only the land title states what you own, and the survey plan illustrates the dimensions and extent of your property. Note: this may differ from what you assume you own, or what you have been told by your real-estate agent or neighbours.
No. Dedicated lands, such as municipal, public and environmental reserves are “publicly” owned, and not for the exclusive use of the adjacent landowner. These dedicated lands are separately titled parcels of land owned by the municipality, in the case of environmental and municipal reserve, or the Crown, in the case of public reserve. These titles are created when the land is subdivided. Dedicated lands provide recreation space and public access for all residents, as well as supporting the environmental goals for the area. Unauthorized developments or uses of these dedicated lands are essentially trespassing on land owned by the municipality. For example, if there are trees on the dedicated lands that separate your lot from the lake, you do NOT have the right to cut down the trees without municipal approval.
Not necessarily. Landowners seeking to subdivide their property require approval from the Ministry of Government Relations, unless the municipality has been declared a subdivision approving authority. Landowners may need to obtain a development permit from the local municipality before beginning construction if the local municipality has a zoning bylaw. Landowner may need to obtain a building permit from the local municipality before beginning construction if the local municipality has a building bylaw. Alteration to the shoreline of a water body requires approvals from the Water Security Agency. Work causing serious harm to fish or their habitat requires approval from DFO.
No. In most cases, adding sand right to the water’s edge will not be allowed. If a sand beach is not natural in your location, an artificial sand beach is not likely to remain where you put it and will not typically be approved. From a shoreline health perspective, artificial beaches are less productive and are less stable than a natural shoreline. Consider using the public beach. It is often safer for swimming and is usually protected from boating. Alteration to a beach, foreshore or lakeshore of a fish bearing water body requires approval from the Water Security Agency and the local municipality before work is started.
No. Beds and shores of lakes and rivers are Crown owned public land for all to use. You cannot prevent the public from using the shore or dedicated lands in front of your cottage. Any structure placed on public land, without authority, could be assumed by the public as an invitation for use. Although your dock/structure is a private structure, it would be difficult for you as the owner of the dock, to initiate a civil action against someone else for using it (or any other unapproved improvements). NOTE: The owner(s) of unapproved structures are liable for them and their use by others. (If someone gets injured, you could be liable).
No. Adding even diluted sewage and wastewater into our lakes and streams will affect water quality and contribute to excessive algae growth. Wastes from residences can add significantly to the nutrient load in a lake and will harm the ecosystem and the health of aquatic wildlife. These wastes may even risk our own health. Under The Environmental Management and Protection Act, 2010, a permit is required from the Water Security Agency or the Ministry of Environment for Industrial companies to discharge sewage or water into a water body or watercourse. Under Canada’s Fisheries Act, you may not discharge substances that may affect fish habitat.
No. Don’t think of aquatic plants, such as cattails and reeds as “weeds” or as a nuisance: these plants actually play an important role in maintaining the health of our lakes and rivers. Plants stabilize the bed and shore, reduce soil movement and erosion and provide important habitat for fish, waterfowl and other wildlife. Aquatic plants absorb nutrients that may otherwise contribute to unwanted algae growth. Abundant plant growth can affect safe boat access to open water. There may be cases where a boat lane may be permitted to cut through areas with heavy aquatic plants. An approval must be obtained from the Water Security Agency and the local municipality if you are affecting dedicated lands.
Yes it will. What goes on your lawn also goes into the lake. Fertilizer washes or leaches into the lake causing increased algae growth. Avoid applying fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. To protect lake health, maintain your yard with as much natural vegetation as possible (it doesn’t need to look wild). Landscape your lot based on your recreational needs. Maintaining a smaller sitting and play area with a good path to the dedicated lands should provide enough recreational space and will cause less impact to the shoreline environment and the water body. Any alteration to dedicated lands requires permission from the local municipality. Any alteration within the bed, bank and boundary of a watercourse or water body requires a permit from the Water Security Agency.
No. Septic fields leach material (including nutrients) into our lakes and streams. Water quality can be severely affected by the improper use or installation of septic fields or tanks, not just for fish and wildlife, but for humans as well. In Saskatchewan, The Shoreland Pollution Control Regulations, 1976 govern the installation of sewage systems within 457 m (1,500 feet) of the high-water mark of any lake, river, stream or any other water body. Unless your residence is connected to a communal sewage disposal system, individual holding tanks must be installed and maintained correctly, and a licensed contractor must haul the contents of the tank to an approved disposal facility. Contact the Saskatchewan Health Authority for more information or permits.
Various agencies and stewardship groups have developed guidance documents to assist landowners with project planning and permitting when working in and near water. Some are listed here: