August 20-27, 2007

Manitoba directs nearly $1M toward Lake Winnipeg research

The Manitoba government has committed $965,000 this year to support new and continuing research in and around Lake Winnipeg. Water Stewardship Minister Christine Melnick said part of this funding will be allocated to the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium and the research ship Namao,

The Minister also announced the creation of a federal-provincial Lake Winnipeg team to co-ordinate efforts between governments to reduce nutrient loads to the lake. This move is part of the Manitoba government's response to recommendations contained in a recent report from the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board. "As recommended by the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board, we must work together across the large Lake Winnipeg watershed and it is critical the federal government and other provincial governments be involved in this effort," she said.

Both the new co-ordination team and the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board will be served by a Lake Winnipeg science team whose memberse will include federal, provincial and university scientists. Both new teams will be co-chaired jointly by Manitoba Water Stewardship and Environment Canada senior officials and are scheduled to hold inaugural meetings within the next few weeks. The teams will include representatives from Ontario, the Prairie Provinces Water Board, and other federal and provincial departments with responsibility for managing water, among them Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Since 1999, the provincial government has provided more than $500,000 for the operation of the Namao, a former Coast Guard vessel refitted for scientific research activities, and has spent $1.5 million on Lake Winnipeg research in partnership with Consortium participants who include researchers from academic, federal, provincial and private agencies.

The Consortium facilitates research on the ecology of Lake Winnipeg, focusing on issues that affect the health of the lake including nutrient loading and the formation of algae blooms. Manitoba Water Stewardship also funds lake-wide research on the Namao in collaboration with scientists from the federal government and universities.

Provincial staff monitor water and sediment quality throughout the north and south basins of Lake Winnipeg. Results are compared to samples collected in previous years and become part of the long-term water quality monitoring record on Lake Winnipeg. Research will also continue to understand how, when and why algae blooms form on Lake Winnipeg.

The lake is currently facing a critical eutrophication problem, as the amount of nutrients, wastes, and pollutants received by the lake is comparable to that in more densely populated regions such as the Great Lakes basin. For example, the amount of phosphorous (a plant nutrient) flowing into Lake Winnipeg, mainly via the Red River, is similar to that entering Lake Erie prior to phosphorous controls.

The government has taken both regulatory and program action to address the problem. Among other things, its has placed a moratorium on new and expanding hog operations (one of the leading sources of nutrient inputs) while the province's Clean Environment Commission assesses the long-term environmental sustainability of this sector.

As the tenth largest freshwater lake in the world, covering some 24,500 square kilometres (km2), Lake Winnipeg more closely resembles an inland sea. It is Manitoba's largest aquatic life support system, sustaining a complex food web and the largest commercial fishery west of the Laurentian Great Lakes.

The lake's watershed covers nearly one million square kilometres, stretching from the Rocky Mountain foothills to within 80 km of Lake Superior. This land area is 40 times greater than the surface of the lake itself, a ratio that surpasses that of any other large world lake.

Manitoba's Climate Change Connection says the lake has increasing value in the mitigation of climate change because it is the world's third-largest storage reservoir for the production of low-carbon dioxide (CO2) emission hydroelectric energy. It also has the potential to store CO2 in the form of algal cells (organic carbon) that die and are incorporated into bottom sediments. Research is under way to determine the lake's effectiveness as a carbon sink.

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