Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/9/2016 (1855 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As autumn sets in, many of us are reflecting on happy memories of time spent at the lake, an unofficial Manitoba pastime. But as happy as our summer memories are, they may also call to mind the very real concern that our province’s 100,000 lakes have been changing noticeably over the past decade.
Take Lake Winnipeg, for example, which is suffering from excess nutrients — a phenomenon known as eutrophication. Essential to life in the correct amounts, too much can lead to potentially harmful algae blooms that foul beaches, impact drinking water and result in low-oxygen conditions unsuitable for fish and other aquatic life. These challenges are not confined to Lake Winnipeg. Unfortunately, many lakes across the Prairies and in Ontario are facing similar threats.
We need to act now to ensure water-quality challenges do not become even more widespread. After all, across our vast watershed — spanning one million square kilometres from the Rocky Mountains to Thunder Bay — water flows to connect us all.
The size of this watershed only increases the complexity involved in figuring out where, when and how excess nutrients are reaching our lakes and rivers and determining what might work to slow them down. Imagine managing your bank account without knowing enough about your transactions — what’s going in, what’s coming out, when and why. This is the challenge we currently face in managing the nutrient balance in our lakes.
What we need is a systematic monitoring process providing us with robust data, enabling us to develop the best and most cost-effective solutions to improve lake health. Without it, we may be spending tax dollars inefficiently and misallocating precious resources.
What would such a watershed-monitoring system look like? It would include a variety of data sources — agencies, academics, institutions, even citizens — using scientifically sound methods to collect water samples and contribute to an open database of rich, credible information that allows us to understand long-term trends, identify changes and plan effectively for the future.
In addition to providing us with invaluable information, such an approach allows everyone to get involved; with appropriate support, entities from cottager associations, schools, farm groups and industry to you and I can contribute by collecting monitoring data from our respective locations.
While some of this information-gathering is already taking place, our new provincial government has the opportunity to demonstrate great leadership here by actively enabling this collaborative approach and by formalizing processes for sharing the data and other information gathered. No replication; no missing gaps; no wasted funds or resources; better-informed decisions. By thinking long-term, we can increase efficiency and fulfil the government’s promise to ensure value for money for everyone in the province.
And given that we, as Manitobans, are the ones who depend on and enjoy the lakes, it is crucial we are privy to the strategies, aims and results of water-monitoring. When the data are accessible (and we have the potential to contribute meaningful data), we can be sure our lakes are in safe hands. We know we are leading by example, by clearly communicating our successes and challenges, responding to priority concerns and inspiring action in others.
As we work together toward the goal of "making Manitoba the most improved province in Canada," let’s commit to a collaborative approach to ensure our precious, threatened lakes are also the most improved in Canada.
Alexis Kanu is executive director of the Lake Winnipeg Foundation, and Dimple Roy is director of the water program of the, International Institute for Sustainable Development.