Posted by: Vicki Burns | November 22, 2012

Volume of Water Flowing down Red River Doubles in Last 15 Years

I recently became aware of a very significant trend in water movement on the Red River. Research Scientist, Dr. Greg McCullough, of the Centre of Earth Observation Science at the University of Manitoba, published a study recently that documented the average flows on the Red River during the 1970s and 80s. He then computed the average flows from 1996 to 2005.
According to Dr. McCullough, “Although there were very dry years and very wet years in the 1970s and 1980s, over the long haul, the average flow was about the same—180 cu m/s.  Since 1996, there have been a few dry years as well, but the average flow over the decade from 1996 to 2005 was 2 times the average flow in the 1970s and 1980s. And there was a little more phosphorus in the river, on average.  So that when we multiply the flow X the concentration, we find that the average annual amount of phosphorus carried by the river has increased even more than the flow.”
Dr. McCullough went on to explain, “the amount of phosphorus delivered by the Red River to Lake Winnipeg increased partly because there were more cubic metres of water, on average, each year, and partly because there was more phosphorus in each cubic metre of that water.
There was more phosphorus per cubic metre in the recent decade, partly because we put more on the land than we used to, and partly because floodwaters carry it off the land very efficiently—but that’s another part of the story.”

aerial image of Red River flowing through city of Winnipeg

Red River flowing through Winnipeg, photo credit Ron Hay

The timing of this average increase in water flows from the Red River coincides quite consistently with the noticeable increase in blue-green algae blooms on Lake Winnipeg as it was in the late 1990s that the problem started to generate much public attention.
Last week I received information about blue-green algae being seen on the banks of the Red River, from the LWRC blog, early in November. I was surprised because I’d never heard of this before. As well I heard a report of blue-green algae on the rocks around Victoria Beach, another odd occurrence at this time of year. In all, it leaves me with a sense of urgency that we need to build momentum at a much faster rate to decrease the flow of phosphorus into our lake.



  1. Also see archived newspaper February 1, 2012 at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: