Posted by: Vicki Burns | January 10, 2014

Decreasing both Flood and Blue-Green Algae Threats-How Wetlands Can Help Lake Winnipeg

Over the past 3 years I have written several blog posts about wetland drainage and how it is contributing to a number of water related challenges in Manitoba. However, I’ve come to believe that its still a subject that many people don’t know much about so when I receive a great article like this one, “I Didn’t Know Wetlands Did That!” by Jim Ringelman, a retired scientist from Ducks Unlimited in North Dakota, I want to share it as widely as possible and encourage people to read it.

image of green vegetation arund a marshy area

Wetland Holding Water

Jim has written that 45% of the wetlands in North Dakota have been drained over the past century since this land was settled. North of the border here in Canada, our Ducks Unlimited scientists estimate that its up to 70 % that have been drained. Jim does a great job of explaining the “kidney like” function of wetlands and how we’ve lost that large percentage of the filtering capacity so that more of the phosphorus, nitrogen and other elements that we don’t want getting into our rivers and lakes, are indeed ending up there. Included in this article is a picture of a blue-green algae bloom fouling Victoria Beach on Lake Winnipeg a couple of years ago.
One of the other major services that wetlands provide to us, is their ability to act like sponges – soaking up water and releasing it slowly. There are some really impressive numbers that Jim quotes about the amount of water that could have been slowed down and held back during some of the recent spring floods. This should resonate with us because we’re experiencing so many more floods both in spring and during big storms. Flash floods have been creating havoc in many areas across the Prairies.

Blue-green algae Lake Winnipeg

Blue-green algae Lake Winnipeg

In my home province of Manitoba, we are awaiting some new regulations about the drainage of wetlands. With information like what is included in this article, it shouldn’t be too difficult for the public to understand why we can’t afford to continue with the status quo. We simply can’t bear the costs both to our wallets and to our natural landscapes when we alter nature’s ways of handling water.



  1. Hi Vicki – I’m doing some work these days in trying to develop a coordinated initiative in the Assiniboine River Basin to manage that watershed in a more holistic manner. The emphasis is on managing water quantity and flow – if that element could be addressed, then improved water quality follows. Drainage will continue to be an issue with economics of agricultural production driving the agenda. What is required is an over arching ecological goods and services program that counters, with real dollars, the economics that favour drainage. How do we move governments, the public to the position of providing economic support to landowners to become more engaged in distributes water storage on the landscape?

    Allan…….and we’re both a long way away from visiting an equine feedlot or a hog processing plant in a different life!!

    • Hi Allan, Thanks for your comment. I would be interested in talking with you further about this because I think the economics of this issue need to be addressed. We keep talking about it but don’t seem willing to face head-on how to make it happen. Are you involved with a Conservation District? Perhaps we could set up a phone call to discuss more fully.

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