Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board interim report offers measures for reducing nutrient levels
An interim report from the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board makes recommendations on 32 separate issues relating to reduction of nutrient levels in Lake Winnipeg. Among the issues addressed are transboundary and inter-jurisdictional matters, agriculture-related nutrient management, integrated watershed management planning, sewage and wastewater management, land application of municipal effluents, leachate handling and water use efficiency. Water Stewardship Minister Steve Ashton accepted the majority of the recommendations in principle and pledged prompt action on implementing 23 of the recommendations, adding that the report reinforces the province's existing efforts as the government has already begun work on ten of the recommendations.
"This interim report proves we are on the right track in our endeavour to bring Lake Winnipeg's nutrient status to its pre-1970s conditions," Ashton noted.
The Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board was created as part of the Lake Winnipeg Action Plan, announced two years ago. "One of the board's main objectives," Ashton said, "was to provide a detailed report that will provide useful guidance as we continue the critical work of reaching a 10% reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus levels."
One of the interim report recommendations encourages the need for continued work with neighbouring jurisdictions to reduce nutrient loadings entering Manitoba. Specifically, the provincial government (with Ottawa's support, where appropriate) should maintain communication with North Dakota and Minnesota concerning transboundary issues related to the Red River, and should work with neighbouring jurisdictions in Saskatchewan and Alberta, seeking commitments to reduce nutrient loadings entering Manitoba. Additionally, the Manitoba and federal governments are urged to begin discussions with Ontario aimed at setting targets for nutrient loadings to the Winnipeg River at the Manitoba/Ontario boundary.
Another recommendation calls for the review of agricultural land drainage networks on a watershed basis. This review, says the Board, should explore the feasibility of reducing the flow velocity in agricultural drains to allow particulate nutrients to settle out. It should also look at the use of nutrient traps or settling basins to determine their effectiveness in reducing nutrient loading along drains. Finally, the review should examine the feasibility of acquiring marginal land and wetland areas which could serve as natural filters for drain water.
"We will move immediately on this recommendation by ensuring that a water quality impact assessment will be included in all licensing decisions," Ashton stated, adding, "We will also begin to plan and develop ways of undertaking environmentally-friendly drainage." A related, though separate, recommendation calls for the provincial government to conduct a focused review of the effectiveness of constructed wetlands as a nutrient abatement measure. This study, says the report, should consider local climatic conditions as well as management requirements such as vegetation harvesting.
Still concerned with agricultural drainage, the report says drainage from confined livestock areas should be directed to retention basins, grassed buffer strips, constructed wetlands or to some other means of effective nutrient reduction. Additionally, legislation should be reviewed and revised, where appropriate, to include both small and large livestock operations and to ensure that new or expanded confined livestock operations are built to meet contemporary environmental standards. Another recommendation regarding livestock operations calls for incentives, education and regulations to ensure that livestock producers implement measures to protect riparian areas and waterways by controlling livestock access and providing off-site watering structures.
In order to promote integrated watershed management and management planning, the Board says Manitoba Water Stewardship should establish watershed management districts throughout the province, based on natural watershed boundaries rather than artificial municipal boundaries. These districts, says the report, would be responsible for preparing, implementing and regulating watershed management plans as outlined in proposed amendments to Manitoba's Water Protection Act. They should also be responsible for managing all drainage issues, including in-field drainage activities and the drainage of natural wetlands.
Ashton said speedy passage of the Water Protection Act will help fulfill many of the recommendations in the report. "For example, water management zones will limit nutrient application in sensitive areas. Water management zones will also be used to guide municipal and environmental licensing decisions on lagoon locations, the spreading of sludge and the siting and management of subdivisions," he explained.
Among the changes proposed to the act is a provision allowing a person with an existing business (including an agricultural operation) to apply for a transitional plan, giving a specified period to comply with a regulation. The transitional or "grace" period would be available only if there is serious economic hardship, no risk of significant harm to water or an aquatic ecosystem, and no risk to drinking water or public health.
The province would have the option to participate in consultations with a water planning authority or authorities in an area before a water quality management zone regulation is made.
Another new provision would allow any person who feels that a water quality management zone or specific area of land is inappropriately designated, based on scientific or technical grounds, to ask for a review.
The amendments also recognize the use of incentives to achieve ecological objectives under the act. An electronic public registry disclosing information on draft regulations, orders and approved watershed plans under the act will also be established.
Other recommendations in the Board's report deal with phosphoric acid use in water supplies, use of alum as a nutrient control strategy and phosphorus content in cleaning supplies.
Nine of the report's recommendations which were not adopted in principle will either be referred back to the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board for further public discussion or to other government departments for analysis, consideration and/or implementation.
"The board recommends that its report now be used for public discussion and I have asked the board to lead this discussion and to report back by the end of June," said Ashton. The Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board is made up of 18 representatives from various interests and sectors, including municipalities, First Nations, agriculture, commercial fishing and science. The full interim report may be viewed on-line at http://lakewinnipeg.org or www.gov.mb.ca/waterstewardship/.