Lake Winnipeg Named 2013 World’s Most Threatened Lake

Lake Winnipeg Named 2013 World’s Most Threatened Lake

A provincial distinction, a national black-eye

Lake Winnipeg, satellite imageOn World Wetland Day, Global Nature Fund recognized Lake Winnipeg with the dubious distinction of “Threatened Lake of the Year” for 2013. The nomination put forward by Living Lakes Canada, focused on the compounding issues facing the world’s 10th largest freshwater lake.

With a watershed that spans nearly 1 million square kilometers, and drains 90% of the prairie agricultural land in Canada, Lake Winnipeg is considered to be the eutrophic large lake in the world. Eutrophication refers to the over-abundance of nutrients in a water body, causing algal blooms that can be toxic. For Lake Winnipeg that nutrient is phosphorus, and summer measurements of chlorophyll a, an indicator of the amount of algae, have been the highest of the world’s large lakes.

However, considering these seemingly localized issues, “Lake Winnipeg is a symbol of a much larger problem”, says Bob Sandford, chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of the U.N. Water for Life Decade. “It is not just Manitoba that deserves a black-eye for this distinction”, he added. “Recent research demonstrates that the toxic bacteria contributing to the declining health of Lake Winnipeg, has now been detected in 246 water bodies across Canada, at levels exceeding guidelines in every province. That these problems exist right across the country is an issue of national health and environmental concern.”

CBC Host Jian Ghomeshi reflected on the Threatened Lake of the Year distinction, and the bigger picture of the loss of environmental policy in Canada. Listen to it here:
Lake Winnipeg lies in Canada’s vast prairie region often referred to as the World’s Breadbasket. Like Lake Erie, where algal blooms are reappearing due to agricultural fertilizers, Lake Winnipeg’s algal problems mirror the threat of increasing amounts of phosphorus being delivered by the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. In our quest to feed the world, we are fuelling Lake Winnipeg eutrophication by removing the nutrient buffering capacity of wetlands, altering natural stream courses, reducing habitat biodiversity, and concentrating manure production facilities.

These are familiar issues for Dr. David Schindler, Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta, who is at the global forefront of the study of the eutrophication of freshwater lakes, and has been studying lakes in Canada for over 40 years. “The largest impacts on the lake have been the explosive increase in hog farming in the Red River Basin, combined with an increased frequency of flooding of the Red River.”

“Phosphorus inputs have almost doubled since the mid 1990s,” according to studies conducted by the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium. “There have been five so-called 1 in 100 year floods in the Red River in the past 15 years”, concluded Dr. Schindler.

This international distinction has not fallen on deaf ears. “With the world watching, we as a Canadian collective have the opportunity to take action”, noted Mr. Sandford. “We have known for some time that the condition of Lake Winnipeg has been deteriorating. The world has just put us on notice that it is time to do something about it.”

For More Information Contact:

Alex Salki
Chair, Science Advisory Council, Lake Winnipeg Foundation
asalki@shaw.ca

Bob Sandford
Chair, Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of the UN Water for Life Decade
sandford@telusplanet.net

Former Threatened Lakes of the Year:

  • 2012: Lake Titicaca, Bolivia and Peru
  • 2011: Launa de Fuquene, Colombia
  • 2010: Pulicat Lake, India
  • 2009: Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
  • 2008: Mahakam Wetlands, Indonesia
  • 2007: Pantanal, Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia
  • 2006: Dead Sea, Israel, Jordan and Palestine
  • 2005: Lake Victoria, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda
  • 2004: Lake Chapala, Mexico
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