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FIRST NATIONS JOIN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE ORGANIZATIONS TO RESTORE NETLEY MARSH
By Suzanne Forcese
Netley Marsh, an important wildlife and bird area at the mouth of the Red River and south end of Lake Winnipeg, traditionally used for agriculture and recreation is one of the largest Canadian freshwater wetlands. More importantly the Marsh is a key filter for the large quantity of nutrients flowing through the Red River into Lake Winnipeg. This natural system has suffered since the 1970's and is currently not functioning as a healthy coastal wetland resulting in Lake Winnipeg's water quality issues. In a healthy state the Marsh could help filter out phosphorus and other contaminants which would help control algae blooms and zebra mussels in Lake Winnipeg.
The Red River Basin Commission, a cross border group that focuses on co-operatively working to find ways to improve water quality, drainage and water retention in the Red River Basin from the US into Canada is currently working towards the start of a 2-3 year pilot project in the Netley Marsh. The project involves precise dredging of sediment in focused areas, analyzing sediment for seeds, replenishing seed deficits, building small islands and allowing the growth of marsh vegetation. The restoration will help filter the water that comes up the Red River and goes into Lake Winnipeg.
WaterToday spoke with Richard Grosshans, PhD, of the International Institute For Sustainable Development. Grosshans is on the Science Committee of the Project. He admits that since the '70's high water levels have literally wiped out all vegetation and wildlife. While "everyone has wanted to blame Manitoba Hydro for the widespread devastation in reality until 2018 (a drought year) there were high precipitation levels for 15 years. In 2018, Nature showed us new islands that once they were exposed completely rejuvenated with plant and wildlife." The project is taking that lesson from nature.
Steve Strang, Director of the Red River Basin Commission was in Ontario at the Association of First Nations Water Symposium, where WT spoke with him. "Manitoba Hydro has donated $90,000 to the project and is working right beside us," Strang said. The former Mayor of St. Clements who understands and has lived through years of flooding in the Red River Basin is committed to leaving a legacy to his grandchildren and future generations. Strang received an overwhelming response for his presentation of the Netley Project. "People are asking us to make a difference and we are doing it." Strang further spoke of the generous donations from First Nations communities, all levels of government, public and private organizations and individuals. "There are strong voices outside of government and they see The Red River Basin as the right investment for making a difference. I am so respectful of Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chief Organization who really goes outside the box to look for solutions. And other First Nation voices are getting stronger and stronger. Governance has to come from all."
Restoring the Marsh will serve 2 purposes. The Red River, which had been regularly dredged until the '90's was stopped and the river has become too shallow, eliminating the flushing effect. "If we bring back precise dredging we can bring back the river. Then we can use those materials to build islands on the Marsh," Grosshans added. "It is possible. They did it in The Great Lakes and Louisiana."
The province of Manitoba has 4 amphibexes that it has used as ice breakers. Strang believes "we can save the government up to a million dollars a years because the dredged areas will eliminate ice build up."
Both Strang and Grosshans expressed their passion in being involved in the project that is backed by scientific evidence. "As a society", Strang concluded, "often we relegate science to a shelf. But now we have the opportunity for science and physical effort to come together as one functional action. And that is exciting."
The Netley Marsh may not be known to most Manitobans. There is evidence of human habitation in the area spanning at least 3000 years by the Cree and Ottawa. The greatest documented use of the Marsh occurred after 1790 when Saulteaux Chief Peguis led his people. Today it is a recreational area for boaters, snowmobilers and hunters.
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