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 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.
Hydro is seeking a permanent licence from the province to continue to regulate the lake's levels, something it has 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 to 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.
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.
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 Hydro to submit a "plain language" report before the end of July outlining the history and issues of regulating of water levels on the lake.
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.