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Progress Report on the Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative 2012–13 and 2013–14

Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative Overview

The Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative (LWBI) is the Government of Canada’s response to address the water quality issues in Lake Winnipeg. The LWBI aims to engage citizens, scientists, and domestic and international partners in actions to restore the ecological health of Lake Winnipeg, reduce pollution and improve water quality. As part of the Action Plan for Clean Water, Budget 2007 committed $18 million in funding to address excess nutrient problems in Lake Winnipeg. While the LWBI was successful in achieving its initial objectives, ongoing poor water quality from multiple transboundary sources continues to stress the health of the lake and puts substantial lake-based commercial and recreational industries at risk.

Image showing marsh grasses near Hecla Island in Lake Winnipeg

Marsh grasses extract nutrients from the water, reducing the load going into Lake Winnipeg Hecla Island in Lake Winnipeg).

Phase II of the LWBI ($18 million, 2012–2017) was announced under the Economic Action Plan in Budget 2012. Building on the work from Phase I, Phase II increases focus on stakeholder stewardship actions that measurably reduce nutrient loading and improve Lake Winnipeg’s water quality. Science efforts during Phase II will focus on watershed and in-lake research and monitoring to help identify and measure which actions on the land will best improve water quality in the lake. An enhanced transboundary focus in Phase II will encourage other jurisdictions to consider water quality in Lake Winnipeg as they make water management decisions in their local watersheds.

Phase II also shifts emphasis from building a scientific understanding of the lake and its algal bloom challenges, to taking more direct action to manage the excess nutrients that create these blooms. The following program elements comprise Phase II of the LWBI.

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Science

  • To help ensure that decision makers have access to relevant scientific information and tools to guide and evaluate water management, the federal government is focusing on high priority research and monitoring needs within the Lake Winnipeg basin and tracking the effectiveness of land and water management decisions. These science activities are intended to complement actions under way by the Province of Manitoba as well as other federal, provincial and state jurisdictions within the watershed.
  • Science objectives in Phase II have shifted from lake-based research to more land- and watershed-based research, monitoring and reporting. Some in-lake research activities will continue to further develop understanding of the ecology of the lake and to help set relevant nutrient objectives. Water-quality monitoring programs will focus on understanding how the lake and watershed are responding to nutrient management efforts within the basin.

Image of wastewater lagoon in Niverville, Manitoba

On-site planned biological removal of nutrients in a former wastewater treatment lagoon in Niverville, Manitoba.

 

Image of a combine harvesting cattails

Harvesting cattails from nutrient-rich areas to reduce phosphorus loading in the Lake Winnipeg basin.

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Stewardship Action

  • The Government of Canada continues to provide support for stakeholder-based projects that improve the health of the watershed through the Lake Winnipeg Basin Stewardship Fund. In Phase II of the LWBI, this funding program supports on-the-ground action to improve the health of the lake and places more emphasis on activities aiming to reduce nutrient inputs to the lake. Stewardship funding is targeted in geographic areas with the largest sources of nutrients, and on actions with the greatest impact on nutrient reduction.
  • The LWBIalso provides funding to support science activities and research related to Lake Winnipeg. Annual support is provided to the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium to assist in the operation of the MV Namao, the only research and monitoring vessel operating in Lake Winnipeg. A multi-year funding arrangement is also in place to support the University of Manitoba’s operation of the Lake Winnipeg Web-based data portal. This information-sharing portal for lake-related science was developed in Phase I of the LWBI, and its management was subsequently transferred to the university.

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Transboundary Partnerships

  • As Lake Winnipeg’s watershed spans four provinces and four U.S. states, Phase II of the LWBI will place increased emphasis on building partnerships across provincial and state borders to address water quality issues within Lake Winnipeg and its basin. These efforts will build provincial and international collaboration to reduce nutrients and ultimately support development of a Canada–U.S. basin-wide nutrient management strategy.
  • Phase II of the LWBI will also continue to support implementation of the Canada–Manitoba Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Respecting Lake Winnipeg and the Lake Winnipeg Basin (2010). This MOU is an important step forward in ensuring a collaborative and coordinated approach between the two governments on issues related to Lake Winnipeg water quality. The MOU Steering Committee, which includes representatives from key federal and provincial departments, was established to provide oversight for shared management efforts to reduce nutrient loading to the lake and ensure its long-term sustainability. A collaborative science arrangement was also finalized under the MOU to assist in coordinating federal-provincial monitoring and research.

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Some of the early outcomes expected in Phase II of the LWBI include:

  • Increased nutrient management action;
  • Continued engagement of domestic and international governments in improved nutrient management efforts; and
  • Priority research tracking of ecosystem health.

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Longer-term outcomes remain focused on:

  • Restoring the ecological integrity of Lake Winnipeg;
  • Reducing the magnitude and extent of harmful algal blooms and beach water quality advisories; and
  • Improving water quality for both recreation and a sustainable fishing industry.

Map of the Lake Winnipeg Basin and the areas covered by the Rainy-Lake of the Woods, Red River and Souris River International Joint Commission Boards

The International Joint Commission and the Prairie Provinces Water Board have a mandate to address international and domestic transboundary water quality and quantity issues.

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