Posted by: Vicki Burns | December 2, 2010

Lake Winnipeg Basin Summit Ends with Urgent Call to Action

I just returned from attending the 2 day Lake Winnipeg Basin Summit which was organized by the Water Innovation Centre of  IISD, the International Institute for Sustainable Development. The summit was attended by 150 people representing a broad range of professions, organizations, businesses and governments, most of whom are deeply concerned about the deteriorating state of Lake Winnipeg. The 2 days were organized around various presentations with table discussions regularly interspersed. It was very much a “participatory” meeting with a clear goal of ending with a sense of direction for next steps.

image of rocks in lake coated with algae

Blue-green algae Lake Winnipeg 2010

There were several very informative presentations throughout the 2 days but the most striking was delivered by  Bob Sandford, EPCOR Chair of the UN Water for Life Decade, who has a broad knowledge of water issues across Canada. He didn’t pull any punches when he called the situation in Lake Winnipeg an international environmental catastrophe which is getting worse. The sheer size of the problem ( blue-green algal blooms that can be up to 160 kms long) in Lake Winnipeg, the 10th largest freshwater lake in the world, make it one of the largest environmental crises in the world. This is not a distinction that I or many Manitobans are proud of.
There was a very distinct sense of urgency expressed by many of the participants at the summit and this was only heightened by Bob Sandford’s presentation. Many of us are frustrated at the lack of action in areas where we already know what needs to be done. But there was also a strong sense of hope by the end of the meeting because so many agreed on a few critical next steps. The very first was to “recruit” a champion/leader for this Lake Winnipeg Basin work. There is no question that we need an organization with a credible leader at the helm to push forward and to bring together the various stakeholders who can initiate the changes we need on many fronts. I’ll keep you posted on progress in this area over the next few months.


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