Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/9/2017 (284 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba’s ministers of sustainable development and agriculture recently launched public consultation on a series of watershed initiatives, including a new financial incentive program for farmers called Growing Outcomes in Watersheds (GROW).
Provincial investment in the GROW program has the potential to benefit our beloved yet beleaguered Lake Winnipeg, and comes hot on the heels of a federal funding commitment to Lake Winnipeg in July. In its 2017 budget, the federal government pledged $25.7 million over five years to the lake — an incremental increase over the former Conservative government’s previous pledges.
While all environmental problems are chronically underfunded — and Lake Winnipeg is no exception — we do have an opportunity at hand, through co-ordinated provincial and federal action, to reverse the lake’s decline. But first we need to make some crucial — and potentially unpopular — decisions.
It’s easy to spend money; politicians do it all the time. What’s considerably harder is spending allotted funds on the right things and in the right places to have an actual impact on the ground. Targeting programming in such a way ensures results but goes against an inherent political need to keep as many people happy as possible.
In fact, despite 10 years of federal funding, actual progress in improving Lake Winnipeg’s health has been admittedly dismal.
How dismal? Well, Environment and Climate Change Canada just released an evaluation of its previous Lake Winnipeg initiative, which ran from 2012 to 2017. The evaluation reveals that the program was unsuccessful in reducing phosphorus loading by any more than one per cent of what goes into the lake on an annual basis.
Provincially, Manitoba’s proposed GROW program could learn from this evaluation as well. That we have not seen significant improvements in the water quality of Lake Winnipeg, despite the dollars spent, clearly indicates that our investments have not been paying off.
Special care should be taken by Manitoba’s ministers of sustainable development and agriculture to ensure that new provincial funding has the promised impact — especially in a province still struggling to balance its budget.
We know that 68 per cent of the phosphorus that enters Lake Winnipeg originates from the Red River. As the Red River Valley comprises some of the most fertile and expensive agricultural land in the province, targeting GROW’s voluntary programming in that region will not be easy.
It will, however, be necessary if we’re truly serious about having an impact on this critical problem that has far-reaching implications for our fisheries, recreation and property values.
The proposed GROW program also emphasizes the principle of enhancement, or additionality. Many landowners are already doing the right thing to protect the environment for the greater common good and they deserve our appreciation. However, new funding through GROW needs to target those who are not yet on board, to ensure that we achieve additional gains in ecological goods and services.
When Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced the recent $25.7 million in federal funding, she made a point of saying this round was not going to be "business as usual." The federal government has learned from past mistakes and expects this "outcomes-focused" money to deliver meaningful impact.
Premier Brian Pallister has also expressed a willingness to make tough choices and the consultation documents his government has released highlight the same focus on outcomes. Manitobans can participate in the provincial watershed initiatives consultation until Oct. 6.
Our politicians must seize this opportunity and invest it wisely in the best interests of Lake Winnipeg.
Let’s not find ourselves reading the same disappointing evaluation in another five years, with plenty of money spent, but no real improvements.
Alexis Kanu is executive director of the Lake Winnipeg Foundation. Dimple Roy is director of the International Institute for Sustainable Development.