Winnipeg’s civic election on Oct. 22 is a pivotal day for Lake Winnipeg although most Manitobans are likely unaware of that. Whoever becomes mayor that day will inherit a significant role in the future health of Lake Winnipeg.
That’s because the City of Winnipeg’s sewage-treatment plants are the single largest point source of phosphorus to Lake Winnipeg. And that same phosphorus is the accelerant in the growth of blue-green algae blooms that plague our great lake.
As many are aware, in 2013 Lake Winnipeg received the unfortunate distinction of being selected the Threatened Lake of the World due to the extensive blue-green algae blooms affecting the health of the lake. It is long past time to make the connection between the city’s inaction and the deteriorating state of Lake Winnipeg.
In short, the City of Winnipeg has been delaying the upgrades of our north end and south end plants for some years now, even though they were issued a licence by the provincial government that requires the upgrades to be completed by 2012 (south end) and 2014 (north end).
The north end plant is the fourth-largest phosphorus polluter of any industrial facility in Canada. On top of that, it sits a mere 50 kilometres downstream from Lake Winnipeg.
This lethargic approach to the upgrades add more frustrations for many who want to save the lake. The lack of leadership from the highest office in our largest city with the greatest number of citizens who enjoy the proximity and great values of Lake Winnipeg is very telling and symbolic. How can we possibly expect others farther away from Lake Winnipeg to commit to doing the right thing, when we can’t even get our own house in order?
It is true there are many sources of phosphorus across Lake Winnipeg’s great watershed. But it is also true half of that phosphorus is coming from within Manitoba’s own borders. More telling, a significant portion of Manitoba’s contribution comes from Winnipeg’s sewage.
Recently, the Save Lake Winnipeg Project surveyed the mayoral candidates to seek their interest and commitment to getting the upgrades completed on the south end and north end sewage plants. The results of that survey are most telling — two candidates ignored the survey by giving no response whatsoever: Gord Steeves and Paula Havixbeck. Both of those candidates have had prior experience on Winnipeg city council, the same council that has repeatedly allowed delays.
That should signal a lot in terms of what we can expect from them on Lake Winnipeg’s failing health should they be successful in their mayoral bid.
Thankfully, every other candidate responded with thoughtful comments and commitments to ensuring the sewage upgrades were on their agenda.
The damage to the health of the lake and all life that depends on it, the loss of economic benefit to the province through threats to the commercial fishery, tourism and recreational use, the decrease in property values on lake residences and the effects on First Nations communities around the lake, are all good reasons to expect the City of Winnipeg to finally get going on upgrading our sewage-treatment systems.
Other cities across the Prairies, including Calgary, Edmonton, Regina and, here in Manitoba, Portage la Prairie, are moving much faster than Winnipeg to improve their sewage-treatment processes. It’s not rocket science. Good technologies exist and we need to ensure Winnipeg gets moving on upgrades.
If the health of Lake Winnipeg is one of the things that matters to you, you may want to ask your mayoral candidate what they will do to ensure that Winnipeg becomes part of the Lake Winnipeg solution rather than continuing as a huge part of the problem.
Printed in the Winnipeg Free Press, Sept. 10, 2014