As a concerned cottage owner at Lester Beach -- nestled between Grand Beach and Victoria Beach on the east side of Lake Winnipeg -- when I first saw the blue-green scum coating more than a mile of sandy beach three weeks ago, my first thought was: this is in no way natural.
This was quickly affirmed by the bloated, 30-inch catfish staring blankly at me as it was tossed about by incoming waves of blue-green algae -- though I should point out the nose-wrinkling odour of the nitrates responsible for the algae blooms preceded my vision.
My second thought was this cannot be safe. Others seem to agree because all I had to do was take a look down the beach to see it was absolutely deserted in spite of a hot sun and blue skies.
So I set out to contact Manitoba Water Stewardship, the department led by Minister Christine Melnick.
My queries were forwarded to the Water Science and Management Branch, where I was directed to the government website to demonstrate what was being done to deal with this nasty blue-green algae.
I found the 2009 Interim Progress Report by the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board with its 135 recommendations. It assigned varying degrees of ''satisfaction" to each of the recommendations, ranging from poor to excellent. Of course, the written progress reports showed up "excellent." In the preface, the board's chair wrote: "The message Lake Winnipeg is sending continues to be an urgent one."
Ecological disaster also comes to mind. It's not a toxic spill of the magnitude of the Gulf of Mexico but I guess, as long as nobody dies, it's not really news. To date only one person in North America has died because of blue-green algae. But dozens of dogs have. And it's taken decades of neglect by our own hands to get to this point.
As someone with three small children and a two-year old chocolate Lab needing relief from the dog days of summer beyond Freezies and ice cream cones, our degree of "satisfaction" is understandably poor.
We cannot splash or swim in North America's fifth largest body of freshwater. What's the point of having a cottage at the lake if one cannot be in it?
Our family made the choice to return to the city rather than be teased by the lake 100 feet from our deck, which only weeks before provide much-needed respite from the heat.
Ironically, we found it at the chlorinated wading pools and splash pads in Winnipeg.
Living in Manitoba has its definite perks when it comes to quality of life. The generally fantastic summers with their expansive skies and red sunsets are soul-soothing rewards for enduring the -40 windchills in January. So when we get the opportunity to get outside without having to wear parkas and snowpants, we do it in numbers because we know it's only a matter of time before we can't.
Those in all levels of government would be wise to get motivated before it's too late.
On a Sunday in the summer of 1961, my parents took us to Hnausa Beach, east of Arborg. Imagine our disappointment to encounter a six-inch-thick blanket of algae going out over 100 feet into Lake Winnipeg.
That was nearly 50 years ago, before mega-hog barns and heavy fertilizer use. Did the Free Press report on this algae bloom? If so, who was the scapegoat?
The locals told us then that algae showed up during hot summers, when the water temperature climbed higher than usual, and 1961 was a very hot summer. Your article says there was a bad bloom in 2003, another very hot summer.
There is no denying that intensive agriculture has contributed to increased nutrient loads. But the Lake Winnipeg study revealed that agriculture attracts blame far out of proportion to its level of contribution. On the other hand, human wastes from cities and towns are responsible for a far greater proportion of nutrient load, yet get mentioned in the same breath as agriculture.
Nutrients are the stuff of life for lakes. Without nutrients, there is no plant life. Without plant life, there are no fish. Lake Winnipeg fishermen have enjoyed a string of years with bountiful catches. Coincidence?
Clear mountain streams are beautiful, but are incapable of supporting much life. I'm not suggesting that Lake Winnipeg can take endless amounts of nutrients. I am saying that we need to recognize all the factors that contribute to algae bloom. And we need to stop looking for scapegoats.
I am writing as a property owner at Albert Beach, which is a semi-private beach located in the Rural Municipality of Alexander between Grand and Victoria beaches. It is semi-private in the sense that, if you are not a property owner, you are not easily able to access our beach. We do not have a designated public parking area. Our streets all have signage indicating that no parking is allowed on any street or private property.
Our property owners take great pride in this area, and I have witnessed first hand that residents don't leave rubbish on the beach. We take the time to involve the community in an annual beach clean-up. Our beach has no garbage bins or washroom facilities, as it was developed to be used solely by the residents who are all within walking distance.
Our municipality, however, allows parking along Highway 59, which borders the west side of our beach, and also on Pitt Road, which allows access at the east side. On average, there are 30 to 50 vehicles parked on these access points.
These individuals use the beach; and why not? It's beautiful!
They do not leave it that way, however.
Garbage and human waste is left behind by non-residents. Residents here do not have garbage pick-up and we are required to take our garbage to the nuisance grounds. If a Good Samaritan picks up the garbage left on the beach, they are required to transport it to the nuisance grounds.
I have been an Albert Beach property owner since 1997, and spend the majority of the summer here. I walk my dog on the beach early each morning and see first-hand the rubbish and human waste that is left behind. This past August long-weekend was very populated, and non-residents left the beach littered along the entire area on the west side. There were dirty diapers, empty chip bags, empty and open dip containers, bottles, cans, package wrapping, underwear hanging from tree branches, broken glass and human waste.
I can't imagine how families can spend an entire day at the beach and not have to use a washroom! Where do you suppose these people are going when they have to go?
This has angered me to the point of writing this letter. I chose to purchase property in a semi-private area that did not entertain public parking. I, as well as other property owners here, pay property taxes for this very reason.
Why has this municipality and our province allowed this to occur? I am not against public usage of the beach if it is done correctly and safely. A few garbage bins have been installed on Pitt Road. They are not being used, however, are not animal-proof and do not address the issue of human waste. For the sake of hygiene, proper washroom, garbage and recycling facilities should be available in a public area. What about mandatory lifeguards at a public beach? If an individual drowns here -- who is responsible?
If our municipality does not wish to fund and maintain the facilities necessary for public use, I would like to see all public parking removed from the areas adjacent to this beach.
A great deal of advertisement and signage has been erected asking the public to save Lake Winnipeg. How about the provincial government and rural municipalities saving Lake Winnipeg from rubbish and pollution? This has been allowed here for years, and is rapidly becoming worse. It's time for the province to take a look at this situation and make the necessary changes to correct it.
While it is unfortunate that one small group of people may lose access to their favourite spot to sunbathe, there are many more families who also enjoy Beaconia Beach. But, what is more relevant is the destruction to the wetland at this beach.
It is not that long ago that the Minister of Water Stewardship Christine Melnick made an announcement that a very large sum of money had been received from the federal government to spend on encouraging the re-establishment and improving of wetlands.
Manitoba has the greatest percentage of wetlands that have been removed from the land over the past years. The facts and figures are well documented by Ducks Unlimited.
Wetlands provide a natural filter system for the environment. When removed, the situation arises where more water and destructive nutrients pour into our rivers and lakes. In addition, these wetlands provide an opportunity to observe an array of wildlife, birds, flora and fauna and provide staging grounds for migratory birds. This particular wetland is also home to the piping plover, an endangered species. It has been proven that wetlands are an essential element in the scheme of a well-rounded environment. This has already been acknowledged by the provincial government.
It is, therefore, totally shameful that an RM and our provincial government have allowed this situation to happen. The total destruction of what should be a protected area to benefit the general public in order to allow the development of a channel for someone's boat to access the lake, is a major misjudgment. What happened to environmental assessments as a means of protecting natural habitats like Beaconia Marsh? Is not Fisheries and Oceans Canada responsible for lakeshore development and assessment? What is the Manitoba government's stand on wetlands? Is it in or out? Do RMs have the right to make environmental decisions such as these? Who does have the final say?
Last Sunday, on the advice of a friend, my wife and I decided to go out to Patricia Beach for an afternoon in the sun and sand. Overall, it turned out to be a delightful experience. It is indeed a lovely beach. I was impressed with its remarkable naturalness, the fine white sand, and especially the peace and quiet. Quite a contrast from the hustle, bustle, and noise of Grand Beach!
Although we had an overall pleasant afternoon, our enjoyment was diminished by numerous dogs on the beach, despite the signs posted at the entrances from the parking lots indicating no dogs allowed. Some dogs were leashed, but many were not. Some of the leashed dogs spent much of the afternoon barking and yelping, while their owners frolicked in the water. Other dogs were allowed to roam freely, running over people's blankets, shaking water off their coats near people snoozing on the beach, and generally being a nuisance.
I was given the phone number of the park patrol by one of the caretakers of the park, and was told that they are stationed at Grand Beach. Upon calling this number I was told by a rather indifferent-sounding park officer on the line that they were simply too busy at Grand Beach and didn't have the manpower to spare to send an officer or two to Patricia Beach.
I find this to be totally unacceptable. Patricia Beach is a provincial park, the same as Grand Beach! The beach-goers at Patricia Beach are entitled to the same protection as those at Grand Beach. The no-dogs rule is the same at both parks, is it not? I can understand that Grand Beach was very busy that day, but so was Patricia Beach, and it deserves the same enforcement of rules. Regardless of the shortage of manpower, a couple of park officers should have been spared to at least make a round or two at Patricia Beach on such a busy afternoon. If there is such a severe shortage of manpower, then the Conservation department should be taking a serious look at remedying this situation. I would advise anyone else who has experienced this annoying and potentially dangerous situation to write to your MLA and to the minister of the environment.