Newsflash: Lake Winnipeg is in serious trouble

On Thursday, December 6th, 2012 in Blogs

Yesterday in Question Period, I was shocked to hear Parliamentary secretary Michelle Rempel proclaim that that the Conservatives have “cleaned up Lake Winnipeg.”

It is true that the Prime Minister has mentioned Lake Winnipeg. He has even announced $20 million for the clean-up of Lake Winnipeg. This was done in July on a trip to Manitoba when protesters had gathered to protest the closing of the Experimental Lakes Area — which was in the midst of researching what to do to save Lake Winnipeg. Those close to the issue tell me the money was largely re-profiled from other announcements, but at least, it is true that this is one environmental issue about which Stephen Harper seems acquainted.

I know that the Prime Minister is more powerful than any previous Prime Minister, but, no matter how revered by his caucus, speaking the words does not speak them into reality.

Lake Winnipeg is a long way from cleaned up – and almost as shocking as Ms. Rempel’s talking points was the fact that jaws didn’t drop on all sides of the House. I realized that Parliament, and maybe even most Canadians, do not know that Lake Winnipeg is in serious trouble.

It is the tenth largest freshwater lake in the world. Since the mid-1990s, Lake Winnipeg has experienced more frequent and more intense blooms of blue-green algae called cyanobacteria. Many species of cyanobacteria produce potent human and brain toxins that are harmful to people, pets, and wildlife. The growth of algae threatens the survival of fish in Lake Winnipeg and the lake itself. This algae is created by run-off of fertilizers, phosphorus and nitrogen, running off farmers’ fields and from the large mega-hog barns. The problem is being amplified due to climate change. As the hydrological cycle speeds up, heavier deluge rain events are more frequent, sweeping more nutrients into the lake. Observations by satellite confirm the summer blooms are covering a larger area and increasing in frequency.

The problem is that it is not clear how we can save Lake Winnipeg. It is enormous – 24,500 square kilometres. Cleaning up smaller lakes elsewhere in the world has run to billions. Meanwhile, the nutrients keep draining into the lake, the rains continue to become more intense.

Lake Winnipeg is not alone. According to some scientists, Lake Erie is now in worse shape than in 1970 when Life magazine’s cover story proclaimed “Lake Erie is dead.”

Freshwater issues we thought were solved in the 1970s are coming back – with a vengeance. And worryingly, it seems to have escaped the notice of many of us.

Meanwhile, critical research to find out what can be done to save Lake Winnipeg has been cancelled. As Ray Hesslein of the Lake Winnipeg Foundation science advisory board said quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press when the PM made his announcement:

“Much of the fundamental understanding of nutrient management in lakes so critical to the recovery of Lake Winnipeg has and is being developed at the ELA.”

Closing the Experimental Lakes Area is like shutting down a fire station while the fire is spreading. And, memo to the PMO talking point factory: Lake Winnipeg is not saved.

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  • NorthofPrincess

    Elizabeth, I assume that the worst damage is in the lake’s south basin, which is smaller and edged by far more agricultural land than the northern basin. But is the algae spreading north, and if so, to what extent and by what mechanism?

  • LindenLeigh

    Elizabeth May, you rock. Way to fight the good fight. So tired of Harper and his sheep. He’s the angry daddy I don’t regret not having.

    • Tomasz P Kapler

      Hello, #EasyTarget of relationship with sheep.

  • Jordan

    Thanks for noticing. I spoke to Dr. Eva pip at the University of Winnipeg about the Phosphorous and Nitrogen removal issue for the city of Winnipeg water treatment facilities. The city and province opted to remove only Phosphorous. Pip says, that’s a mistake. I’m a young person, so i don’t know what lake Winnipeg used to look like, but the lake she remembered is something we’ll likely never see again.

    Lake Winnipeg is still in trouble, and 20 million dollars won’t do much. Talking about money pledged is not the same as addressing and doing something about a problem

  • Liz

    Thank you thank you for taking the time to bring to everyone’s attention those issues that Harper keeps sweeping under the rug! You are one of the reasons I still have some hope that Canada has an environmental/ecological future!

  • Rudi Stade

    Obviously Mr.Harper is a victim of those potent brain toxins

  • Katherine Massam

    Thank you, I did not know this and will share with friends.

  • Morgan Coates

    It’s true- and very very sad. Here is a shot I got of Lake Winnipeg in Gimli, Manitoba last summer.

  • James Jaworski

    And I fear Elizabeth after what I heard yesterday about killing private member bills that your voice is going to join lake Winnepeg , sad week for Canada

  • Tyler Skura

    I am curious as to where you got your information, due to the severe absence of accredited academic sources. I am not stating my opinion on the matter, just saying that your argument would be stronger if there were cited sources. For example, you stated “According to some scientists, Lake Erie is now in worse shape than in 1970″. Who were the scientists? What background do they have in the scientific community? Do they have degrees and experience in their field? Are there statistics showing the current condition of Lake Ere compared to the condition of the lake in 1970?

    Another note, algae is not created by the run-off from farmer’s fields, that does not make much sense. The algae was already there, it was simply fed and provided an overabundance of “food” to grow uncontrolled.

    Also, Who is Ray Hesslein? Sure, he’s on the LWSAB, but does he have authority to be making claims on the matter? In other words, is he educated in the field he is discussing?

    Most of the claims stated in the article seem to be fancy, wordy opinions, due to the evidence supporting the claims is non-existent.

    To conclude, even though I believe the eutrophication of Lake Winnipeg is a big issue, and needs to be discussed, you will need to provide a little bit of academic and scientific evidence, to convince me.

    • Icelandic Cabin Owner
      • Tyler Skura

        I disagree. Sure, there is a quote from a biologist, but what is his or her scientific background? does he or she have experience in his or her field? Is the scientific paper peer-reviewed? (very important)

        Although the information may be valid, it is not all of the needed proof. It is lacking a VERY important key component to be legitimate; It is not as important as WHAT is being said, but WHO is saying it, and WHERE the claim came from. For example, case studies, water samples, and the laboratory reports to accompany the studies.

        Typically, sources of public media, such as newspapers, or news networks or broadcasts, are used to entertain an audience, rather than to educate. Even though the claims are stated, they are unsubstantiated.

        The key component when looking for accredited sources is a bibliography; a reference page. It is basically a list of authors, their level of authority (degrees, work experience), and their published, peer-reviewed sources. Without one, the article holds no merit and should be taken as a grain of salt.

        But not to be misinterpreted, I am not suggesting that there is no call for alarm; Lake Winnipeg is resulting in the effects of eutrophication, and is very close to becoming a “dead lake”.

        These comments are not arguing the purpose of the article, but the idea of skepticism; Unless there are countless sources, stated in a reference page, or bibliography, of accredited professionals of their fields, do not take the word of someone that can string words together in an attractive way, regardless how appealing it may seem.

        • Dan

          Tyler, all of what you’ve said above applies equally to the government. Take it from a very long term observer of these two bodies of water, the science is correct and it’s much more than anectdotal evidence or willy nilly un-peer reviewed drivel. These lakes are in serious trouble

    • Michif Speaker

      I think you need to do some research on the problems facing Lake Winnipeg yourself…. Citing sources is important in academic writing and creating briefing papers for uninformed parties. At the same time, information on the research being done on Lake Winnipeg’s and other lakes problems can be accessed by anyone who has a computer. With only a little research, you will find that the work is being done not only by credible BUT in many cases researchers who are world-class in their fields. I think you should try doing a little research a shot BEFORE you critique someone’s writing. If you really care, provide information that will make the argument stronger, otherwise you remain simply an armchair detractor….

  • Icelandic Cabin owner

    I grew up on lake Winnipeg between Gimli and Sandy Hook in the summers, we are still there, but it has changed so much, just this year alone we have a pile of 100-150 fish on the shore dead, no apparent reason. Our land is gone due to the maintenance of high water levels to pump out electricity (we have moved our cottage back 3 times and have no more land to do so) and the pathetic dike they put at the door of my cottage without consultation from any land owners -, did nothing but make the waters edge bare (they tore down all the trees and vegetation) without any roots for the soil to take hold, and the fact that they did not take into account the waves and weather produced by the lake which yearly sucks the soil and sand mixture into the lake. We have now been told they will not come back and fix it at all. they are done maintaining government property. So we are left with unstable ground, tarps and sand bags strewn in the water and over the beach. Lake Winnipeg is no where near cleaned up and fixed I haven’t even begun to speak about the eco-system, the disappearing birds and wild life, algae blooms….60 years and 4 generations we’ve been there and for the last couple years, we don’t know what we will find when the snow melts and if this will be our last year. my 4 and 7 year old girls will unlikely get the little bit of heaven I enjoyed all my life. get your heads outta the sand Harper Government….

  • Ken in North York

    Good for you for taking the government to task on this issue. It is easy for Canadians to assume that once funding is announced for an initiative, the problem is solved – and that’s obviously how the Conservatives would like us to think. Unfortunately, reality is rarely that simple. It’s important to remind us of that reality – and to keep the government honest – especially the herd of sheep who have no influence in decision-making and seem to exist only to parrot the PMO’s talking points.

  • Robn1397

    Rest I peace, Lake Winnipeg and, Lake Erie…Prime Minister Harper is the Grim Reaper…bring back the ELA, Mr. Harper!!!

  • Peter Kendrick French

    If this statement by Mr. Harper is in fact true, where is the proof. How can Harper make such a statement without providing evidence of any kind to support this claim. If the claim is in fact false, then the statement itself would be a lie, if it is a lie would that not place Mr. Harper in contempt of Parliament.?? Perhaps an independent study to assess the voracity of this claim could be conducted by any one of the local groups directly involved with this issue..

  • Janice

    They cleaned up Lake Winnipeg? In what alternate universe?

  • Icelandic Cottage Owner

    If you have any questions or want to know more, please watch the nature of things documentary on Lake Winnipeg…

  • Jeff Charlton

    Amazing that we can give 300 million dollars to help out the Palestinians , yet we let our natural resources and water go foul ,,Harper is only interested in big business , Oil Oil Oil !! Hopefully this man will suffer a big defeat in the next election and we can get these drastic decisions reversed by the New Government , so our waters all over the country can be saved !!

  • Diana Bell

    Hi there Elizabeth, once again thanks for taking up these serious issues which everyone else seems to be ignoring!

    I just was wondering if you knew about the state of St. Mary’s lake on Salt Spring Island which is in your own riding……this lake provides drinking water for about one third of the islands population and it is in serious trouble. I was amazed that no one has thought to make the use of toxic laundry soap or dishwashing machine products etc. illegal for those living around the lake and SSI still has not banned toxic farm or gardening aids.

    Keep up the good fight! We are on side with you!!!!

    Diana Bell

    • Elizabeth May

      Yes. I am very concerned about the situation of St.Mary’s Lake. I have
      raised it with CRD which manages water resources on SSI. I am not

      - Elizabeth

  • bob

    Problems solved in the 1970′s? We have double the population today! We’re adding the equivalent of 7 New York cities to the earths population annually! Eventually we’ll all be crammed together like sardines smelling each others farts (many who live in cities already do) wondering how we’re going to find the resources for all these people. The amount oil required just for the artificial fertilizers alone used in the production of food for the population we have today (many aren’t getting three meals a day mind you), is staggering. Not to mention the fuel needed for transporting it all. All this just so we can elect idiots who believe the earth is 6000 years old and sell us out for $35 billion in war aircraft. I’m sorry, but if I was watching this from Mars, I wouldn’t feel the least bit sorry for us morons who are sidestepping all the real causes to the problems just for a bit of political gain. Birth control and peaceful population reduction is a hell of a lot more attractive than turning this beautiful country into another smog ridden filthy China or India. I don’t want billions of neighbors all competing for a shrinking pie. Neither does anyone else. This is a shift in global consciousness that’s going to have to change eventually, one person at a time.

    • Tomasz P Kapler

      Do You think about large-scale transition to permaculture? [ ]

  • Robert

    I moved to Manitoba’s Interlake region when I was a child, but after a couple of years my Mother would not let me go swimming, and last year we even would not take our dogs to swim at the beach. Why? Pollution. Repeated E-Coli scares. Algae blooms. You name it. There are worse off lakes out there, but that is no reason to slack off.

  • jonathan wheatley

    We need a new consciousness in the seats of power & business. Resources of the country & planet need to be managed not raped. If not us WHO? if not NOW when? We have bought into the illusion of greed. It is time to regard the health of a nation by its ability to care for & manage its resources like it would its children, which is to say with care & love. A nation is truly free when its people have time to enjoy the fruits of nature, & nature is all there is.

    • Tomasz P Kapler

      Are You retired?

  • Fred Schueler

    not that this is news to anybody – all of Manitoba’s aquatic Molluscs are in serious trouble both in and out of Lake Winnipeg

  • Judy Morningstar

    The algae in Lake Winnipeg cannot be attributed solely to hog barns and farm fertilizers. Actually, I believe a study said it was only less than 25%. Did you notice that, downriver from the two big lakes, is a huge city, Winnipeg, who regularly lets raw sewage out into the Red River, which then runs up north to the lake. Last spring, raw sewage was dumped into the river for 5 weeks before anybody reported it. Let’s focus the blame where it belongs- mostly on people, not farms and animals.

  • Robert Palo

    It sounds like our government is completely dishonest. They need a team of fact checkers but wait, didn’t they dismiss most of our scientists who monitor our environment?

  • Launa

    There’s no point cleaning up ANY lake until we eliminate the contributing factors. If we return to local, sustainable (even regenerative) agriculture, we’d reduce our usage of fossil fuels for tranporting food 1000′s of km’s, as well as eliminate the need for petroleum-based fertilizers, which cause the algal blooms to grow. No need to listen to me, though…Someone else has already written the book (actually, several) on how to go about doing this. His name is Joel Salatin, and the book is “Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World”. (It may sound like a hokey title, but it’s a great, common-sense resource not just for farmers, but for anyone who likes to eat.) The industrial food system is based on cheap energy: when cheap energy ends, we’ll have to change anyway, so let’s figure out it now while we have a bit of wiggle room. Cheers!

  • Dan

    The problem with lakes Erie and Winnepeg are so blatantly obvious is disgusts me – we don’t need scientists to tell us what’s happening we need action NOW. Miles upon miles of the shorelines of these lakes have been deforested right to the very banks and the shores of feeder rivers deforested and replaced by corn, wheat and soy fields. Rain water laced with fertilizer, silt and pesticides runs unfettered into these bodies of water. Not so many years ago, the large rivers feeding these two lakes (namely the Grand and Red rivers) could sustain multiple days of heavy rains without muddying. They were protected by wetlands and forest as a buffer to the direct infusion of silt and chemicals. Now, every inch of shoreline is effectively converted to farm land and residential/industrial land thereby allowing contaminants to flow un-restricted. Take a drive along either of these lake shores or their major rivers and tell me I’m wrong! I’ll eat my hat.

    • Tomasz P Kapler

      [ ] on a large scale to transition all economy. private mortgages coordinated with an iterating P2P mechanism to help with the “Fiscal Cliff”.

  • Ludz

    It hurts to watch a good friend die. We are all watching the planet we love, move into the last phases of it’s life. Look around, society is doomed, the planet is dying, we are just the weeping relatives gathered around the ‘earths bedside’, waiting for that apocalyptic day.

  • Judi Charlton

    Thank you for this important information. While it may continue to fall on deaf ears, please continue to call this government on its appalling environmental record.

  • Virginia Howard

    The government of magical thinking: this 24,500 kl. lake is healed! We have not sold off our resources to the most unscrupulous bidder!

    • Katelyn

      Help lake winnipeg!!!!

    • Laura Bakker

      Has anyone looked into using activated carbon to clean up the lake? I know that this huge lake would need a heck of a lot of it to remove all the toxins but ashes from forest fires could be utilized as a free source of carbon. I think we all need to work together as the citizens of Manitoba and try to find a solution ourselves as obviously we can’t count on Mr. Harper to help us. Read this article for some uplifting inspiration that we can do something about this:

  • Allan

    Thank you, Elizabeth, for your diligence in calling the Harper government to account. I despair of expecting much that is good coming out of Ottawa before 2015. Let’s fervently hope that the diehard conservatives of this nation won’t manage to extend Harper’s tyranny for another term.

  • Gail Crichton

    Im ashamed to say I didn’t realize Lake Winnipeg was in trouble, but the response from the federal gov’t under Harper is typical.

  • Andre

    I don’t mean to sound rude, but seeing how much damage Mr Harper has done and is willing to do to our country, I’m beginning to think that there would be some sense in filing a collective lawsuit against him and his government. I can’t think of any single Canadian having ever done more than Mr Harper to harm this country.

  • cleanphil

    Elizabeth must not have heard David Shindler’s talk on nitrogen. He told of ELA research that showed nitrogen compounds had no effect on algae growth. The provincial government is making the City spend millions mre than is necessary to remove nitrates. The nitrogen that algae (blue-gren or other) need to flourish ; can come from the atmosphere , which is almost 80% Nitrogen.

  • cleanphil

    She didn’t deal with the real main source of Lake Winnipeg pollution. The watershed in the USA. American’s used to cut down trees at Baggley Minn. and other tributaries. then drive the logs to the Red River and Winnipeg where saw mills would make lumber for construction. Now fields leach nitrates and other chemicals.

  • Mitzi

    Thank you, Elizabeth for calling our attention to this. You are my hero!

  • Doug Wade

    The politicians are missing the point on this subject. The lake is a symptom of a bigger problem. The real issue or cause is commercial farming and food animal production. Funding should go to educating farmers and consumers to make sustainable choices, which include small sustainable farming and a movement away from meat as a staple in our diets. The lake will then heal itself by once again being in balance.

    • Jim

      Yes. I agree Doug, however, I don’t believe it has anything to do with educating farmers on making better choices. Although it is definitely necessary, it does not get to the root of the problem. Farmers for centuries were making sustainable choices. It wasn’t until agriculture became became big business that major problems started arising. By now, most people can hopefully see, that it all really boils down to money and power. Politicians are puppets in the game and have no power. Unless we demand change to the system, it doesn’t matter who is running things in our government, lakes will continue to get decimated until its too late. cheers!

  • k condon

    We really need to get rid of factory farming, it’s bad for the animals and the enviroment. God knows what it’s doing to us. We also really need to get rid of Harper, who is obviously bought and paid for by big business.

  • Jim

    The reason none of this ever gets cleaned up is because the balance of power has shifted throughout the world. Corporations over nation states now control over 50% of the wealth in the world, making them the driving force in all facets of our society. If you really want to know what will happen to Lake Winnipeg, ask the corporations.
    …but I think deep down you know the answer.
    Thanks you for the article!

  • Tomasz P Kapler

    Hello Good People,
    I believe to have engineered and econocomically designed a solution to this problem, others like it, to address the “root causes”. But I would like to ask first if other specific action plans have been recommended?

  • Tomasz P Kapler

    &lettuce support Harper government.

  • Tomasz P Kapler

    Was my message moderated away? I asked about proposals, specific action plans?

  • David Lainchbury

    wastewater effluent from municipal lagoons is also a large source of phosphorous and nitrogen. The 2012 new federal/provincial wastewater regs do not even phosphorous. Whats the matter with these ministers?

  • chrisrgrow

    never mind Lake Winnipeg how about Great Slave Lake being contaminated by the Athabasca tar sands buble water that flows north i guess once we have all contributed in destroying our biggest sources of fresh water Canadians can start drinking Perrier what a pity

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