Posted by: Vicki Burns | June 11, 2014

Wetland Protection and Saving Lake Winnipeg, A New Approach to Surface Water Management

The province of Manitoba today( June 11, 2014) announced a comprehensive new approach to surface water management  which will benefit water quality in our lakes, decrease flood severity and build in some preparation for droughts. In a nutshell, the most important piece of news is much stronger regulation and protection of various types of wetlands. They have created a document, Towards Sustainable Drainage, and are asking for public comments on it till December 2014.
This is a very important step in helping Lake Winnipeg and other Manitoba lakes because it means that wetlands that still exist will not be drained unless there is an urgent need to do so and if that does occur, there will have to be substantial compensation in order to recreate the ecological benefits provided by that wetland. I think the easiest way to explain why wetlands are so important, is to describe them as nature’s kidneys. They filter out much of what we don’t want getting into our lakes, including the phosphorus and nitrogen that are fuelling the increased blue-green algae blooms. They also act like sponges, soaking up water and releasing it slowly which is why they are helpful in decreasing the overall severity of floods and droughts.

Wetland, photo courtesy of Ducks Unlimited Canada

Wetland, photo courtesy of Ducks Unlimited Canada

However, before we jump to thinking our lakes’ problems have been solved, we need to remember that this new approach will prevent further damage by protecting existing wetlands. It does not yet move into the area of restoring the 70% of wetlands that have been drained over the past century. So the amount of phosphorus that is currently getting into our lakes through non-point sources from the landscape will not decrease until we can recreate some of the filtering capacity that those drained wetlands used to provide. And of course, I’ll be a broken record now and repeat once again, that we need to get going on addressing the point sources of phosphorus, primarily our sewage treatment.
To sum up though, I think the Manitoba government should be congratulated on bringing forward this new, progressive approach. It has multiple benefits and future generations will be glad that this government started to really turn around how we had been managing water.



  1. what are the constituents of the (anerobic) decomposition of the dead algae material that settles on the lake bottom?

    • I’m sorry but I don’t have the answer to that. I know that as the algae is decomposing it uses a lot of oxygen which can create an oxygen depleted zone at the bottom of the lake, thereby creating a “dead zone” for aquatic organisms.

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