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Pelican Lake, Manitoba

Pelican Lake is in southwest Manitoba, southeast of Brandon, the town of Ninette is on its north shore and it is in the municipalities of Prairie Lakes and Turtle Mountain. Pelican Lake is part of the Pembina River drainage basin. Although the river doesn't flow through the lake, the lake has always drained into the river when it gets high. It is about 11 miles long and a mile wide with a surface area of about 10.5 square miles. It has an average depth of 3.9 meters (13 feet) when the lake level is 412.0 meters (1351.7 feet). The deepest point is at elevation 406.8 meters or about 5.2meters deep at the normal summer target level of 412.0 meters. It has a drainage area of about 265 square miles.

The lake is fed by several small waterways, the main one being the Orthez Drain with headwaters about 8 kilometers north of Boissevain at about elevation of 500 meters (1640 feet). To some extent the level is regulated by works at the south end of the lake. When the lake is too high water can be released through the outlet works and if too low water can be, when available, diverted from the Pembina River. Levels and other information will be added to this site for general interest.

A Little History

The valley was formed when melt waters from glacial Lake Souris cut into shale bedrock as they spilled eastward into Lake Agassiz. Over time tributary streams flowing into the valley have deposited sediments over the valley floor forming natural dams. These dams caused the creation of the series of shallow lakes we see today; Pelican, Lorne, Louise, Rock and Swan Lakes.

People who settled the area soon appreciated it's recreational potential, by 1906 a 60 foot double decker steamer and two 40 foot boats were ferrying people to the various beaches around the lake. The steep sided valley walls made other access difficult. Tourists came by rail on day trips from Brandon and Winnipeg. Soon a hotel was built in Ninette as well as cottages nearby. The YMCA operated a summer camp from 1905 to 1950 at Y Point which is now Strathcona Park. The Pentecostal Church bought Manhattan Beach in in 1939 and has operated a camp there ever since. The Pelican Lake Yacht Club was started in 1965 and has a well protected marina in Ninette. Today there are homes and cottages on just about every piece of suitable ground around the lake.

The level of Pelican Lake has varied considerably over the past century. During the first decade of the 20th century levels were high but dropped after 1912 resulting in the first attempt to regulate the lake in 1919. The Dominion Department of Public Works constructed a timber dam on the Pembina River and a diversion channel to carry water to the lake. The dam soon failed so in 1926 another was built but it too soon failed. In the 1950's levels were low again. In the 1960's the levels were high causing erosion and flooding. Interest in lake regulation continued to grow and in 1972 the Pelican Lake Advisory Committee was established. It recommended that the lake be regulated between 1351.2 and 1351.7 feet. Extremely low levels in the 1980's generated new interest in regulation of the lake. The lake eventually dropped to 1346.0 feet (410.26 meters) in October, 1991. In 1991 with cost sharing from the Federal Government the Province started construction of the Pelican Enhancement Project.

The scheme includes works to divert water from the Pembina River and an improved outlet channel to release water from the lake. In the first few years the project was successful in raising the lake a few feet but it's real value came in the very wet years from 1995 to 2017 when the volume of water equivalent to over 50 feet on the lake was released through the outlet channel. Although the lake got very high during those years it would have been disastrous without the outlet works. The highest recorded level was 1354.2 feet (412.76 m) on July 11, 2005 just an inch higher than the 1976 and 2017 peaks.



Pelican Lake Water Levels 2019

Pelican Lake Chart

Real time water levels are available here. Note the gauge is at the south end and can be affected by the wind.



February 10, snow is adding up, so far equivalent to about 1.9 inches of water.

March 1, Brandon had the sixth coldest February since 1890, the coldest since 1979 with a mean temperature of -22.6 C.

March 30, creeks have been running for about a week, local inflow to the lake started about 3 days ago and has raised the lake a little. The inlet gates were opened yesterday diverting some water from the Pembina into Pelican. The weather has been cool and dry. The forecast looks the same so runoff should be slow.

April 3, temperatures are cool for a few more days, most of the snow has melted, whatever runoff we get into the north end should start soon but may not amount to much.

April 8, the snow is pretty much all gone except on Turtle Mountain. There is some flow coming in the north end. With the 3 mm of rain on Saturday the lake is up to 1350.32 feet.

April 10, it appears the gauge at the south end reads a bit low, all the levels on the chart were raised 0.05 feet. unless it rains the inflow will be very small, any further rise will be less than an inch in total.

May 25, it has been very dry with only about 1.7 inches of precipitation since March 1. Also see maps of the prairies accumulated precipitation and percent of average precipitation for the last 90 days.

June 24, a couple of 40 mm plus rains this month have kept the lake level from falling. Since May 1 the area has received 148 mm of rain 110% of normal (65.4 mm in the last 7 days).

July 9 Two inches of rain has helped to keep the lake at a reasonable level. This area has been the wettest in Manitoba with 220 mm of rain over the last three months, 120% of normal.

July 30 The lake is at the same level as it was last year at this time.

Citizen Science: If you have any observations to share here is a good site www.cred.wq.io it is run by the International Water Institute.

click here for some flow history

click here for air shots

click here for more

click here for some great drone shots

click here for Bathymetric Report for Pelican and Rock Lakes done in 2014

Pelican Lake Mass Balance Study

The volume of inflow has changed dramatically in the last 22 years. From 1962 to 1995 the median inflow was about 6.4 inches per year on the lake from 1995 to 2017 it was equivalent to 32.7 inches on the lake.

In the 37 years before 1999 rainfall events did not cause noteworthy problems on Pelican Lake and in the 17 years since there have been four major rain events causing flooding over large areas, not just Pelican Lake. For information on how rain has changed see this paper.


At the normal summer target level Pelican Lake holds about 108 billion liters of water, enough to supply Winnipeg for two years, or about 60% of world annual beer consumption. It is estimated that 92 times this volume melted on the Greenland glacier in one day in July this year. This is 28% of world bottled water production. This volume is equal to the Red River Floodway running at capacity for 7.5 hours. This is about 4 tim├Ęs the total concrete used to build the Three Gorges Dam,the world's largest dam. This is equal to the total amount of refined petroleum products consumed by Canada in 2017. This is equal to about 1 week of Canadian sewage or about 72% of Manitoba anual sewage. Since the new outlet was completed 3.5 times this volume has been released from the lake.<
The water in Pelican Lake weighs 238 billion pounds or 119 million tons (108 million metric tons).