Posted by: Vicki Burns | January 18, 2012

Peat Mining in Manitoba- Is It Connected to Lake Winnipeg?

Its only in the last few months that I have paid any attention to the issue of peat mining and how it might impact Lake Winnipeg. My attention was drawn to it by our own Manitoba government who included a section referring to peat mining in their Save Lake Winnipeg Act. In Part 3 of that Act they include a 2 year or longer moratorium on any new permits or leases for peat mining. So wouldn’t that lead you to believe that peat mining is damaging to the lake and that the government intends to stop any new peat mining from occurring?

satellite picture of peat mine near lake shore

Google picture of existing strip peat mine on shores of Lake Winnipeg

I was very confused and frustrated to learn that there were several new applications for peat mine operations to begin very close to the shores of Lake Winnipeg in the Grindstone/Hecla area. It turns out that the Save Lake Winnipeg Act only stops new lease applications, not current lease holders from activating their leases. A number of individuals and organizations have recently begun to draw attention to this problem and try to stop new operations from being allowed.

There are two significant problems with peat mining from an environmental perspective. The first, in relation to blue-green algae blooms in Lake Winnipeg, is that the peat land is a type of wetland and performs a similar function to other types of wetlands in filtering water before it hits the lake. The peat land will slow the water down and soak up some of the phosphorus and nitrogen that contribute to the blue-green algae blooms. The mining of the peat involves basically cutting down everything in the mine site and then stripping off the peat layer. This will increase sediment run-off from this area as well as removing any filtering capacity of the land.Check out the picture above to see that it looks just like clearcutting when viewed from above.

The second very big problem is that stripping the peat will release large amounts of carbon to the atmosphere which is the opposite of what we’d like to see occurring at a time when global warming and its negative consequences,  are  becoming so evident. I hope that the government will end up doing the right thing and fulfilling the spirit of the Save Lake Winnipeg Act. If anyone is interested in submitting your comments to the public process about the current peat application # 5548.00 Hay Point Peat Mine you can do so at the Environment Assessment Licensing Branch of Conservation.


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