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Lake Winnipeg in serious ecological trouble, says new report

A five-year study on the health of Lake Winnipeg shows phosphorus levels are so high they may soon be dangerous to human health.

Dr. Peter Leavitt’s study of Lake Winnipeg, commissioned by the province, shows that phosphorous continues to enter the lake from livestock farming, pollution from cities and through wetland loss. Elevated phosphorous levels lead to blooms of toxic algae, which brings risks to human health, including liver disease and the potential for some cancers. Algae blooms also deplete oxygen in the water, which can be devastating to fish and other wildlife.

“Phosphorous levels in the lake are now worse than they were in Lake Erie when people were describing that lake as dead,” said Leavitt, Canada Research chair in environmental change and society, in the University of Regina’s department of biology. “We’re at a tipping point and if something isn’t done now, the consequences will be dire,” he predicted.

Leavitt’s study recommends a 50 per cent reduction in phosphorous levels to reverse regular algae blooms and return the lake to a pre-1990 state. As a result, Manitoba premier Greg Selinger says the province will take the steps necessary to save the lake.

“Our lakes and rivers are a big part of what makes Manitoba a great place to live, work and play, and Manitoba families want to see leadership that will protect them,” the premier said.  “Dr. Leavitt’s research spells it out clearly:  Lake Winnipeg is at risk and that’s why we’ll do what it takes to save it.”

“Large reductions in phosphorus loading are necessary to save Lake Winnipeg and for Manitoba’s sustainable development,” said Dr. Hank Venema, director of the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Water Innovation Centre.  “Like potash, phosphorus is an increasingly scarce and strategic resource essential to world food security, which should be intercepted, recycled and transformed into high-value products rather than allowed to foul Lake Winnipeg.”

“We all have a part to play if we’re going to stop the death of Lake Winnipeg;  the stakes are just too high,” said Selinger.  In the coming days, he said, the province will unveil a strategy “to protect our lakes and ensure they’re here for generations of Manitobans to enjoy.”

Scott Gardner

Scott Gardner

Outdoor Canada associate editor and fly-fishing columnist Scott Gardner is happiest when he's on the water fishing (especially from his kayak) or just surrounded by trees, preferably out of cell phone range. Since joining Outdoor Canada in 2010, Scott has won nine National Communication Awards from the Outdoor Writers of Canada for his adventure travel and fly fishing articles, and been nominated for five National Magazine Awards.

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