5-year fight removes less than 1% of phosphorus from Lake Winnipeg basin – Manitoba

After five years and millions of dollars spent, a federal program aimed at improving the health of Manitoba’s biggest lake has barely made a dent in the levels of phosphorus fuelling toxic blue-green algae blooms.

Now, water scientists and activists want the federal and provincial governments to take a more targeted approach to healing the beleaguered Lake Winnipeg.

Alexis Kanu, executive director of the Lake Winnipeg Foundation, said many members reported seeing algae blooms on the lake this year.

“It’s been a really difficult summer and sad for many, but I think it’s galvanized folks, that they want to see action and they want to see some meaningful change on the lake,” said Kanu.

After spending $18 million, the amount of phosphorus entering the lake fell by less than 1%.
– Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative report 

In June, Environment and Climate Change Canada published a final report of the second phase of the Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative. The report concluded that after spending $18 million between 2012 and 2017, the amount of phosphorus entering the lake fell by less than one per cent.

“It’s surprising. I had to read that line a couple of times, because we’re talking about five years of effort and achieving a reduction of less than one per cent of what goes into the lake every year,” Kanu said.

Phosphorous feeds the growth of blue-green algae, which can choke out animal life by reducing oxygen. It also releases toxins that can cause illness and even death in animals and humans.

While reducing phosphorus loads into the lake by less than one per cent might not seem significant, one aquatic ecologist said it’s cause for cautious optimism. 

“It is a sort of symbolic improvement in that it could have been an increase,” said Gordon Goldsborough, a professor at the University of Manitoba.

Many of the human practices driving the phosphorus levels in the watershed are deeply entrenched and will take generations to change, Goldsborough said.

“So to see even a small decrease is, I think, impressive. I would have predicted that we would see no decrease and in fact might have seen an increase.”

Targeted approach needed

The report also found that more evidence is needed to find out what actions will have the greatest impact.

This picture taken in July 2010 shows blue-green algae appearing on beaches in the south basin of Lake Winnipeg. (CBC)

The report attributes more than half of the reduction in phosphorous flowing into…

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