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Lake improvements required

“They want us to keep the pressure on.”

– Bill Barlow

The province will soon see a report card on the health of Lake Winnipeg from the same group that gave it its marching orders for cleaning it up.

The Manitoba Conservation Districts Association convention featured an update from three of the leading advocates of the eutrophic lake.

Bill Barlow, chairman of the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board, said not only has it published the 135 recommendations made by the board to the government, the government has changed its mandate to include a report on progress.

“They want us to keep the pressure on,” he said.

Responding to the challenge, the LWSB came up with a list of questions to be distributed among government departments responsible for implementing various recommendations.

Non-governmental organizations received some of the questions as well, but the board has no mandate to oversee them.

Answers to the questions have been returned and will be compiled. The LWSB hopes to have a report card ready for public release by the end of January 2009. It is hoped that timelines will be included.

For lifelong fisherman Robert Kristjanson, the process is a slow one. “What we are doing to the lake is criminal!” said the outspoken LWS board member.

But he was adamant that neither farmer nor fisherman had to disappear from the landscape for the improvements needed to address the grievous amounts of blue-green algae found in the lake right now.

While Kristjanson is a freshwater fisherman, his salty approach is a result of 50 years of seeing what it took much longer for the science community and the government to acknowledge. Lake Winnipeg is in need of help.

He saw his first bad algae bloom in 1992. The algae is now so thick he spent 50 out of 60 fishing days removing it from his clogged nets.

Kristjanson was thrilled with the number of students attending the presentation.

Al Kristofferson, managing director of Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium and its floating research lab, the Namao, echoed the sentiment. “It’s important to get future generations involved.”

Kristofferson wasn’t willing to predict Lake Winnipeg’s imminent doom or death or even proclaim that it’s sick or dying, but he acknowledged there is a problem. “The lake is complex and we have to learn how nutrients are being processed in the lake,” he said.

But he said it is well documented that problems are man-made and are affecting the viability of plankton species. While the fishing industry is still doing very well, he has no doubt it will decline.

He said lakes can recover, as Lake Erie did over time after it was discovered that phosphates were the major cause of the damage to the lake. Policies removing or lowering phosphate levels in detergents addressed a large part of the problem. Kristofferson said Lake Erie had identifiable point source pollution, whereas Lake Winnipeg’s problems will not be easy to address.

There’s no doubt that while the Red River brings the least amount of water into the lake, it is the largest source of phosphates coming into the lake. With the City of Winnipeg downstream, rural and urban dwellers will need to be equally involved in the cleanup of the lake.

All solutions are welcome, but some are more difficult. One suggestion to Kristofferson was that the algae could be harvested. Many technologies have looked at the use of algae for everything from feed to fuel, but Kristofferson said the lake is too large, too dangerous and the algae too widely dispersed to make harvesting it commercially viable. Often his crew on the Namao has to run for cover as the lake becomes unmanageable very quickly.

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