Posted by: Vicki Burns | August 16, 2013

Saving Lake Winnipeg – Are We Serious?

Pelicans on Lake Winnipeg, photo credit The Wilderness ClassroomOver the last few months I have been feeling some frustration at the slow progress we seem to be making on helping to restore the health of Lake Winnipeg. I know I’m not alone as many others have expressed similar frustration. As I have been working on the Lake Winnipeg Health Plan, which is a collaborative effort of many stakeholders, scientists and academics, one issue has caught my attention repeatedly and that is the contribution that human sewage is making to the problem.
One of the 8 points in the Lake Winnipeg Health Plan is the need to improve our sewage treatment, from the largest municipal sewage treatment facilities all the way down to the individual septic systems that many of us have at cottages and on rural properties. According to data from Manitoba Water Stewardship that was published back in 2006 in the Lake Winnipeg Basin Stewardship Report “Reducing Nutrient Loading to Lake Winnipeg and its Watershed” , 47% of the problem phosphorus that is feeding blue-green algae blooms in Lake Winnipeg, originates from within Manitoba’s own borders. So that is almost half of the problem within our own province and of that portion 19% is coming from municipal sewage treatment facilities, including the city of Winnipeg and other municipal sewage facilities. These are what we call point sources of phosphorus because they are emanating from a single point, making it much easier to intervene and intercept the phosphorus. Its easier to do, several technologies exist to retrieve the phosphorus, but it comes with a big price tag. As well, there is another source of phosphorus emanating from what is called Manitoba Watershed Processes, including septic fields, wildlife and forests. That segment amounts to 35% of Manitoba’s portion of phosphorus load to the lake. So overall the contribution of human sewage to our lake’s problem is significant.
Knowing this, makes me wonder why we are not taking much more urgent action to improve our existing sewage treatment systems, including the hundreds of lagoons across the province but even more importantly, why are we still allowing new developments that are not using the most progressive methods of sewage treatment.
I think many people would support contributing more tax dollars if they believed it was going directly to help improve our sewage treatment. People are shocked to learn that the effluent pumped from their holding tanks ultimately ends up in Lake Winnipeg, often without adequate means of filtering the problem phosphorus out.
So I’m left wondering – are we really serious about saving Lake Winnipeg?



  1. Your efforts are appreciated. I think we need some bold leadership (particularly civic/provincial but also federal) that sees the big picture and understands that the costs in the future to revive a dead lake is much larger than what it would cost now to save a dying lake.

    • Thank you for your comment. I agree completely .

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