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Water Today Title October 21, 2020

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Update 2018/8/20
Blue-green algae


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By Michelle Moore

On August 2 the federal government announced $3.8 million in funding for 23 new projects under the Lake Winnipeg Basin Program.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna made the announcement in Gimli, Manitoba joined by several of the funding recipients.

The Lake Winnipeg Basin Program is a federal program dedicated to improving the health of Lake Winnipeg by reducing the levels of phosphorous and nitrogen that contribute to blue green algae.

Blue green algae or cyanobacteria can cause harmful algae blooms (HABs) to grow on the surface of water leaving it unfit to drink and swim in. HABs manifest themselves as a layer of green slime on the water’s surface and are potentially toxic.

Much of this is caused by human changes in land use, the widespread use of agricultural fertilizers and inadequately treated sewage. The phenomenon is exacerbated by an overall increase in air and water temperatures, as can be seen in summertime algal blooms.

Minister McKenna said "the Government of Canada is pleased to work with environmental groups, Indigenous Peoples, and government partners to collaborate with communities within the Lake Winnipeg Basin and achieve tangible results to improve the overall health of the lake."

Lake Winnipeg is Canada's sixth-largest lake and the tenth-largest freshwater lake in the world. Water from from four provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario) and four states (Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota) drain into Lake Winnipeg.

Of the 23 projects to receive funding, $260 000 over four years will go to The Lake Winnipeg Foundation for the Lake Winnipeg Community-Based Monitoring Network (LWCBMN), a group of citizens, scientists and conservation professionals striving to keep healthy waters.

Also present at the press conference, executive director Alexis Kanu said "The Lake Winnipeg Community-Based Monitoring Network is tackling the root causes of algae blooms by identifying phosphorus hotspots across the landscape, creating opportunities to target funding and action to achieve the greatest impact for our beloved lake."

For two years LWCBMN staff and volunteers have conducted water sampling at various locations across southern Manitoba including the Lake Winnipeg Basin. Samples are then analyzed by a lab to measure the level of phosphorous.

LWCBMN will use the funding to develop and maintain monitoring protocols, provide tools and training to new members, and to pay for testing which has been challenging for them in the past. Another $400 000 will go towards a partnership between Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation. These funds will allow both organizations to pursue their conservation work.

The project will see the restoration of over 100 acres of wetlands in the Red, Souris and Assiniboine river watersheds as well as the Lake Winnipeg shoreline.

The organizations estimate that the project will prevent 88 metric tonnes of of phosphorus and 334 metric tonnes of nitrogen from entering Manitoba waterways.

DUC and the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation will work with farmers and use some of the funding to pay them incentives to enter into long term wetland restoration agreements.

They are offering up to $1 500 per acre to restore wetlands over a ten year conservation agreement. The organization will do all the restoration work themselves and say the farmers will benefit from more than the money; including better soil, nutrient filtration and reduced risk of flood.

Head of Conservation Programs for Ducks Unlimited Canada in Manitoba Mark Francis said "I do have several folks in the field right now talking to land owners about our programs ... right now they are in the final negotiations with landowners."

Land owners can sign 10 year or perpetual agreements. DUC does a lot of land easements as well which can be referred to as conservation agreements. These contracts aim to secure wetlands and associated habitats.

Francis added "we are also using the Lake Winnipeg funding to restore wetlands that are drained where we have willing land owners. We’ve surveyed those to ensure that when we plug those man-made ditches we know where the water is going to go and we can provide the land owners cash incentives to restore those."

Once the ditches are filled, Francis said the link to the watershed is closed and the wetlands can retain a lot of things like phosphorous. This helps the vegetation grow instead of finding it’s way into the lake and contributing to the formation of blue green algae.

Francis said that is "one of the algae species that flourishes when there is excess phosphorous in the water column and besides being unsightly on the beaches ... blue green algae is a neurotoxin and can be toxic to humans and animals in certain quantities."

Restoring wetlands also provides flood mitigation, erosion control, carbon sequestration, recreation while recharging groundwater.

Francis said it can be challenging to find farmers who are willing to participate in the program. He said "there are economic drivers that are the reason land owners drain the wetlands so it’s pretty hard to convince somebody to put water back on their land once they’ve drained it."

He added, "but this is what this Lake Winnipeg Basin money can do for us, we can use it as an incentive to convince interested land owners to restore wetlands ...we’re fairly successful at it but at the same time I’d like to do more."

Francis said this work can be quite costly and stressed that it is always much easier to retain wetlands than it is to restore them. Unfortunately there aren’t as many revenue streams that encourage wetland retention as there are restoration.


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