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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 10.2 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 2017

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.



Lots snow and plenty of runoff expected. The lake was run down to 1350.7 through March.

April 4, the lake continues to rise quickly although the gates are open. If it stays dry a peak in the 1353.6 plus range is likely. Then it will take several weeks to draw down.

April 5, the inflow has declined a little and the outlet is running a high flow but the lake still rose almost 5 inches in the last day.

April 7, the rate of rise is slowing to about 0.15 feet per day but there is still quite a lot of water to come, the outlet is running at maximum capacity.

April 8, the lake is up about 0.22 feet, it appears likely that the lake will go over 1354 a level affecting many low cottages

April 9, the inflow is slowing, the rise in the last 24 hours was 0.15 feet at 1353.78. The outlet is running at full capacity but still only removing about one third of the inflow.

April 11, looks like the peak at 1353.93, about 2 inches below the peaks in 1976 and 2011. It will take a month with no rain to get below 1352. The normal ice free date is April 22. This year things are a little early so probably ice free in about a week.

April 13, looks like the peak today at 1354 but there is some precipitation and high winds in the forecast.

April 21, the lake is still more than 3/4's covered by ice. The level is dropping about a third of an inch per day. If it stays dry the total inflow is expected to be about equivalent to 6 feet on the lake. That is the third largest volume of inflow since 1962. The two larger years were 2011 at 13.8 feet and 2005 at 8.4 feet on the lake.

April 26, the lake is ice free, four days later than the long term normal. The lake was ice covered for 141 days, the fifth shortest since 1976. The shortest winter was 2011/12 at 130 days of ice cover, the median is 163 days.

May 4, one gate was closed yesterday reducing the outflow to 8 cms. The total precipitation for the last 6 months was a little less than normal click here yet the runoff was the third largest on record. This was likely due to the unusual spring, first the early melt in February followed by the early March storm.

May 24, one gate was closed yesterday.

May 29, one gate is now half open

May 31, last gate closed

June 14, two rains in the last 4 days totaling about 2 inches has raised the lake to 1351.7.

November 4, The lake is frozen. It was ice free for 192 days, the seventh shortest summer, The shortest was 171 days in 1996 and the longest 242 days in 2016. The median ice free period is 205 days.

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.

Rainfall has changed in the last 55 years from about 120 mm in May and June to about 160 mm. Over May and June 2017 Ninette received 95 mm of rain, about 70% of normal.

average rainfall chart

At the normal summer target level Pelican Lake holds about 108 billion liters of water, enough to supply Winnipeg for two years.