Wetlands, Water Quality & Lake Winnipeg
Last year at this time, some popular beaches on Lake Winnipeg were suffering with algae blooms as a result of elevated nutrient levels in the lake.
Wetlands slow the flow of water as it passes through them and the nutrients the water was carrying are then available for wetland plant and animal species to use. When wetlands are drained, the ditches used to drain the wetland enables the water in them to speed up so that it can carry more and more nutrients off the land and into our rivers and streams and eventually into our lakes. When this water enters a lake the nutrients then become available to contribute to algae blooms.
Ducks Unlimited Canada estimates that in southwest Manitoba we have lost over 100,000 hectares (ha) (almost a quarter million acres) of wetland ecosystems over the last 40 to60 years. The result is that since 1968, we have been releasing 32 per cent more phosphorus and 57 per cent more nitrogen every year into our lakes and rivers because of these lost wetlands.
Lake Winnipeg is a symbol of the declining health of many of Manitoba’s water bodies. We need to find solutions to protect wetlands not only to help clean up Lake Winnipeg, but to help improve the quality of the countless other lakes and rivers across Manitoba. In fact, investment in wetland protection will also help to reduce future flooding and flood damages, contribute to greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation objectives, provide valuable habitat to over 600 species of plants and animals, help make watersheds and agriculture more resilient to weather extremes, provide ecotourism opportunities and the list goes on. The bottom line is that wetland protection is one of the best investments that governments can make.