Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba's water issues are all connected

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The end of this year's long winter is awaited with both hopeful anticipation and dread. As we wait for the snow to melt, our thoughts at the Lake Winnipeg Foundation are with Manitobans who may be affected by flood events again this year. We are also acutely aware the floodwaters that swell Manitoba's streams, tributaries and major rivers will carry pollutants and contaminants to Lake Winnipeg and other Prairie lakes.

It's time to take a hard look at what is causing the severity and frequency of flooding in Manitoba to determine what we can do to decrease the risks in future years. Although it is too late for this year, it is not too late to make a difference going forward. The people of Manitoba cannot afford a flood every year, from the tremendous emotional stress it causes to the financial burden taxpayers bear.

At the same time, more and more Manitobans understand the urgent need for collective action and investment to protect Lake Winnipeg.

Our Great Lake was designated Threatened Lake of the Year early in 2013 by the Global Nature Fund, a dubious distinction resulting from excess phosphorus from across a vast and diverse watershed.

It's easy to point fingers -- both rural landscapes and urban sewage treatment are contributing phosphorus to the province's waterways. But large complex problems seldom have easy answers. This is not a simple rural-versus-urban argument. Every Manitoban has contributed to the problem and every Manitoban must become part of the solution.

Water issues in Manitoba are all connected.

Recent research suggests the increasing frequency of flooding is a major cause of the excess phosphorus entering our lakes. More water rushing off the land carries more phosphorus. We are also learning that extensive wetland drainage (almost 70 per cent of wetlands across the Prairies have been drained) is a significant part of the reason we are seeing more frequent and severe floods.

At the same time, rapid drainage of the landscape in the spring can leave us at risk of drought during dry summers. Flood. Drought. Water quality. Wetlands. It's all connected, and it's our collective responsibility.

That's why the Lake Winnipeg Foundation is developing a multi-stakeholder Lake Winnipeg health plan to unite the diverse suite of water stewardship initiatives underway across the province.

To date, the success of these initiatives has been hindered by lack of co-ordination. The Lake Winnipeg health plan, which will be unveiled in full later this spring, will provide coordination and leadership in eight key action areas to enable our partners to identify common goals and strategies, share information and resources, bring together diverse constituencies and amplify the impacts of their actions.

As the first key action of the Lake Winnipeg health plan, the LWF has collaborated with two widely respected conservation organizations: Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Manitoba Conservation Districts Association.

Together, we are building awareness of the multiple benefits of keeping water on the land. Protection and restoration of wetlands can address many of Manitoba's water issues by decreasing the severity of floods, mitigating drought and improving water quality in our lakes.

The Province of Manitoba is currently developing a surface water management strategy as part of TomorrowNow, Manitoba's Green Plan. We hope the concept of keeping water on the land will be a significant part of these plans, and that we will see dedicated investment and bold and progressive action to protect our water resources.

We know Manitobans are ready to act. According to a survey of 1,000 Manitobans conducted by the Lake Winnipeg Foundation and McAllister Opinion Research earlier this year, more than 90 per cent of Manitobans think that protecting the health of our land, water and ecosystems is a priority. Manitobans feel Lake Winnipeg is a precious natural resource that needs our protection. The lake is a legacy to pass on to our children.

Recognizing the connectivity of our water issues and making a collective investment for the health of our waterways is a wise decision. Finding one solution that addresses many problems is just smart thinking.

Alexis Knispel Kanu is the executive director of the Lake Winnipeg Foundation.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2013 J11

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