Premier to tackle rehab of wetlands

Phosphorous levels threaten lakes

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PREMIER Greg Selinger will announce a new strategy this morning to save Lake Winnipeg that will include a plan to rehabilitate provincial wetlands.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/06/2011 (4138 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

PREMIER Greg Selinger will announce a new strategy this morning to save Lake Winnipeg that will include a plan to rehabilitate provincial wetlands.

The announcement will come two days after the release of a five-year study that recommended an ambitious 50 per cent reduction in the lake’s phosphorus levels. Doing nothing, the study said, could doom the world’s 11th-largest lake to becoming a toxic pool.

Selinger is expected to make the protection of wetlands — which filter harmful nutrients, preventing them from reaching the lake — one of the strategy’s three key pillars, a provincial spokeswoman said Wednesday.

She would not reveal the other two areas.

However, it would not be surprising to see new initiatives targeting agriculture. The Lake Winnipeg report released this week by University of Regina biologist Peter Leavitt, placed at least half the blame for Lake Winnipeg’s high-phosphorus problem on crop and livestock farming in Manitoba.

“If you’re looking for things that you need to regulate to improve water quality, there’s your smoking gun,” Leavitt told a news conference on Tuesday.

Selinger is expected to announce funding for ongoing research at Netley-Libau Marsh south of Lake Winnipeg.

Scientists believe that rehabilitating the marsh and regularly harvesting the cattails that grow in it could help reduce the lake’s nutrient load.

Research by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and other groups shows that cattails effectively soak up nutrients such as phosphorus.

Richard Grosshans, a research scientist with IISD, said a rehabilitated marsh could absorb six per cent of the phosphorus from the Red River. That is a significant figure, he said Wednesday, since the Red contributes an estimated 60 per cent of the lake’s phosphorus.

Researchers are measuring the amount of phosphorus that can be kept out of the lake through the annual harvest of cattails. They are also demonstrating that burning cattails as biomass fuel has good potential. What’s more, most of the phosphorus from the cattails remains in the ash, which can be converted to fertilizer.

A cattail harvest pilot project spanning 200 hectares is being contemplated at Netley. It’s possible that part of this morning’s announcement will be to fund such work.

The project also involves constructing an effective cattail harvesting machine.

The marsh’s total cattail area is roughly 5,000 hectares.

Farmers are worried that the government’s response to Leavitt’s report may mean intolerable new regulations for their industry. The province has struggled to make even small cuts to Lake Winnipeg phosphorus levels. And now it’s promising to follow Leavitt’s recommendation and try to cut them in half.

But Hank Venema, the IISD”s Water Innovation Centre, said there will be opportunities for farmers as well.

He said they can benefit from low-cost phosphorus fertilizers that could soon be available from biomass ash or from extracting phosphorus from sewage.

“I think there’s a really good news story in here for agriculture if you view phosphorus as a strategic resource,” Venema said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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