Saving Lake Winnipeg: No value for money spent

The following post was submitted by Don Sullivan. He shows how the Pallister government’s policies to date show little regard for Manitoba’s beloved endangered lake.

Summers are short in Manitoba. Lake Winnipeg has long been the go-to place for many Manitoban’s.  A short drive from the city, campers and cottagers take full recreational advantage of all it has to offer during the long hot summer days.

Sadly, by mid July Lake Winnipeg beaches and waters have at times become a toxic blue/green algae cesspool. Increases in water temperature due to climate change, and government failure to act responsibly, are making this bad situation worse.

While Lake Winnipeg is located entirely within Manitoba, its vast Basin is the second largest in Canada and encompasses parts of four provinces and four American states.

The science has been clear as to the cause for these algae blooms in Lake Winnipeg — it is because of the nutrients, in particular phosphates, that are carried through the many rivers from the foothills of the Mountains in Alberta to the Red River that flows from the United State that feed into the lake.

The problem has gotten to the point that it has now garnered the attention of the Federal government. Starting in 2008 the Canadian federal government provided 38 million dollars towards the creation of the Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative (LWBI) and an additional 25 million dollars in federal funding for this initiative was announced in July of this year.

The aim of the LWBI “…is to contribute to restoring the ecological health of Lake Winnipeg, reduce pollution from sources such as agriculture, industry and wastewater, and improve water quality for fisheries and recreation.”

So what has been learned about the nutrient loads – primarily phosphates – flowing into Lake Winnipeg from the LWBI after almost 10 years?  The LWBI evaluation report LWBI conducted by Environment Canada in June of 2017 states:

  • Approximately half of the phosphorus in Lake Winnipeg comes from the Red River, making it the largest source of phosphorus to the lake. Much of it originates mainly from agricultural runoff and municipal waste water. On average, the Red River contributes approximately 7150 tonnes of phosphorus per year to Lake Winnipeg. A full half comes from the United States.
  • In order to reduce or eliminate the toxic algae blooms in Lake Winnipeg the nutrient loads would have to be reduced, based on scientific modelling, 37% to 50% from current the level based on the most recent estimates of average annual phosphorus loads.
  • After 10 yrs and 36 million dollars the LWBI has only been able to reduce the nutrient loads in the Red River by less than 1%.

The LWBI has clearly identified what is causing the toxic algae blooms in Lake Winnipeg. The Manitoba government now needs to take the action necessary to reduce these causes.

Actions to date suggest that the Pallister government is not taking the problem seriously. In fact, its plans to lift  the moratorium on the expansion of large industrial hog barn operations and the spreading of manure on fields in Manitoba will no doubt have an impact on Lake Winnipeg. It will serve to compound the algae bloom problem.

In North Dakota two water diversion water projects will see Missouri river water diverted into the Red River and the poorly understood pollutants from these two diversion projects will eventually make its way into Lake Winnipeg, exacerbating an already growing nutrient problem.

A lot of taxpayer money is being spent on understanding the problems facing Lake Winnipeg. We now need our government to give us value for the money spent and take the necessary actions to reduce the causes of these toxic algae blooms.