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711 or 715; What's the difference?

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The answer, according to some, is which way the wind blows.

The two numbers refer to the levels Manitoba Hydro regulates Lake Winnipeg (LWR).

Simply, Manitoba Hydro is licensed by the province to regulate the level of Lake Winnipeg to power its northern dams on the Nelson River. When the lake goes above 715 feet, Hydro is required to operate its Jenpeg dam to pass through the maximum amount of water. When the lake reaches 711 feet, operating decisions are to be turned over to the minister of Water Stewardship, with the idea to hold more water back in the lake so that there's enough to power the dams during the high-demand winter months.

Hydro says the effect of its regulation of Lake Winnipeg, which began in 1976, has been to reduce the incidence of very high and the very low levels on the lake that used to be experienced.

Prior to 1976, the average level of the lake was 713.4 feet above sea level.

Average level since regulation began is 713.5 feet.

But many question that, especially since last October's storm on the lake that caused a lot of shoreline damage. They say if Hydro was ordered to keep the level lower, damage would've been less severe.

This will all be debated later this year when public hearings are held as Hydro asks the province for a permanent environmental licence to regulate the lake. Since 1976 Hydro has managed the lake on an interim licence. Manitoba's Clean Environment Commission recommended Hydro seek a permanent licences for lake Winnipeg and the Churchill River Diversion in 2004 when it approved the Wuskwatim generating station.

In the lead up to that, the Manitoba Eco-Network Water Caucus is hosting a day-long seminar on the LWR.

It's March 19 at the University of Winnipeg. Speakers include Dale Hutchison of Manitoba Hydro, Will Braun of the Interfaith Task Force on Northern Hydro Development, Dr. Dale Wrubleski of Ducks Unlimited, Dr. Gordon Goldsborough of the University of Manitoba and Merrell-Ann Phare of Indigenous Environmental Resources.

The event is free and you can register at

For background, Manitoba Hydro explains its role on the lake on its webpage.

The Interfaith Task Force on Northern Hydro Development also has a new webage.

The LWR has also been brought up at the ongoing Public Utilities Board hearing into Hydro's general rate application. Click here for a chart outlining to see which years hydraulic generation exceeded domestic load. Why the PUB needs the information is somewhat unclear.

Still on Hydro, it's asking for a 2.9 per cent average increase in general consumers' rates effective April 1. PUB approved an interim hike of 2.9 per cent a year ago pending the outcome of this hearing.

Hydro's last rate hearing, in the spring of 2008, saw PUB approve a five per cent increase effective July 1, 2008 and a conditional four per cent rate increase effective April 1, 2009. The PUB later varied the conditional four per cent rate increase and approved a 2.9 per cent increase for all classes except for roadway lighting.

Why mention this?

Click here for this recent Vancouver Sun story and it'll all make sense. What B.C. Hydro wants from its customers makes Manitoba Hydro's ask look like peanuts. Plus, the B.C. government's Clean Energy Act  passed last year exempts some elements of B.C. Hydro's capital plan from B.C. Utilities Commission oversight.

Somehow, I don't see that happening here. Ever. Unless Manitoba Hydro is privatized.

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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