Posted by: Vicki Burns | October 30, 2010

Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba Hydro and Crumbling Shores – Are they Connected?

Following the weather “bomb” that hit some of the Prairies this week, there has been tremendous damage along the south shoreline of Lake Winnipeg. The gale force winds up to 90 km per hour, whipped up the lake and raised the level of the lake from 3 to 5 feet in the south basin. This caused major erosion problems. The lake was not the only thing that got whipped up – once again some people are angry about the regulation of water levels on Lake Winnipeg by Manitoba Hydro.

image of small store surrounded by water in flood

Flooding in Manitoba October 27, 2010 photo by Talia Rostecki

Hydro started regulating the level of the lake in 1976. Since I began working on the Lake Winnipeg Watershed Initiative 2 years ago, I’ve heard a number of people question the impact of the Hydro regulation on both water quality and water quantity. The growing erosion problems are worrisome and the deteriorating water quality has given the lake the dubious distinction of being the “sickest” large lake in the world.
However, its not at all clear to me what the impacts of the Hydro regulation have had. There has been much greater rainfall to the south of us resulting in many more years of flooding in the spring; the number of humans and livestock whose waste ends up in Lake Winnipeg has more than tripled; huge tracts of wetlands have been drained; and industrial developments have occurred. It’s a complex issue with many factors contributing.
One thing that is clear though, is that we should have a much greater understanding of the impacts of lake level regulation so that we can take that information into account in future decisions about hydro development. Every alteration we make to the “natural” landscape has impacts.
Next year Manitoba Hydro will need to renew its license and there will be public consultations during this process. I hope we can count on getting a much better understanding of the impacts on Lake Winnipeg and other river systems so that wise decisions can be made.

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