As we enter the new year of 2016, I am drawn to think of time lines and what is happening to our beloved lakes, of which Lake Winnipeg has become an icon. It is almost 4 decades since scientists were warning the Manitoba government that we needed to drastically reduce nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) if we wanted to protect water quality in the lake. It is almost 2 decades since some retired scientists volunteered to create the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium to encourage study of Lake Winnipeg and the emerging blue-green algae blooms that were threatening the lake. It is over 1 decade since a group of concerned citizens got together to form the Lake Winnipeg Foundation. It is almost 3 years since the Manitoba government set up the Lake Friendly Stewards Alliance.
By comparison, another time line is very illuminating, the measurement of the concentration of phosphorus in the lake’s waters. Between 1800 to 1900 the concentration on average was .02 mg/l; from 1900 to 1990 the concentration more than doubled to .05 mg/l and from 1990 to present it has doubled again to .10mg/l. Considering that phosphorus is the primary nutrient facilitating the growth of blue-green algae (some of which is toxic) our intent to decrease phosphorus getting into the lake has not resulted in any positive change.
Recently a research article caught my attention. Are harmful algal blooms becoming the greatest inland water quality threat to public health and aquatic ecosystems?Brooks et al. This article along with another one from a few months ago that documented the expansion of harmful cyanobacterial (blue-green algae blooms) in lakes around the world, ought to be raising red flags for us. The deteriorating health of our lakes, Lake Winnipeg among the most notable, is a tremendous concern for so many reasons. As I have stated many times before it doesn’t have to be this way.
There has been plenty of awareness building over the past decade, little concrete action to actually cut phosphorus getting into the lake and very little accountability to report annually on phosphorus inputs to the lake. It’s long past time to get serious about requiring more than awareness building. Concrete actions with annual accountability reports should be the norm from now on if we want to pay more than lip service to the health of our lakes. As the old saying goes “Actions Speak Louder Than Words”.