Manitoba’s environmental regulator is in the early stages of planning its upcoming hearing into the regulation of Lake Winnipeg’s water levels.
It’s known as the Lake Winnipeg Regulation (LWR) and it involves Manitoba Hydro’s use of the lake as a reservoir to power its northern generating stations during the winter months when electricity demand climbs.
Manitoba Hydro is seeking a permanent licence from the province to continue to regulate the lake’s levels, something it’s been doing since the mid-1970s after it was granted an interim licence.
Hydro filed its request for a permanent licence more than three years ago, but an environmental hearing was delayed to allow the Clean Environment Commission conduct hearings into the Bipole III transmission line and the Keeyask generating station.
The commission plans to hold public meetings starting this fall in communities around the lake as it reviews Hydro’s request under the Water Power Act.
Hydro wants a permanent licence to ensure it has a steady supply of water to generate electricity not only during the winter, but to export more power to other provinces and the United States.
In advance the commission has asked Manitoba Hydro to submit a "plain language" report outlining the history and issues regarding regulation of water levels on Lake Winnipeg. The report is to be available before the end of July.
The CEC hopes to make its recommendation to the province in about one year, commission chairman Terry Sargeant said at a recent meeting.
"We have been asked specifically to review the broader public policy rationale in effect at the time leading up to the issuance of the interim licence in 1970, the effects and impact of Lake Winnipeg Regulation since first operation in 1976, the successes and failures of implementation of the policy goals," Sargeant said.
"While we recognize that Lake Winnipeg Regulation is part of the hydro system, it is not up to the commission to decide whether other parts of the system are also examined as part of this review."
The ultimate decision to grant the final licence will be made by Minister of Conservation and Water Stewardship Gord Mackintosh.
To date, the Manitoba Association of Cottage Owners, the Save Lake Winnipeg Project and the Lake Winnipeg Foundation have submitted briefs.
The commission also wants to know the environmental impact of regulating the lake, including on marshes, shoreline erosion and algae growth.
Many say because the lake no longer sees more frequent low-water years, marshes like Netley Marsh in the south basin are being drowned out and unable to absorb the phosphorus and nitrogen that fuel algae growth. And many cottage owners say consistently high water levels are eroding the shoreline around the lake, ruining popular beaches and threatening to destroy properties.