“The Lake Winnipeg basin reaches into nine jurisdictions and more than 50 per cent of nutrients polluting it come from outside the province.”
<*R><BI>— Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister
Gord Mackintosh in a June 6, 2013 press release.
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger owes hog producers of this province an apology.
In June 2011, the premier made the hog industry the centrepiece of a three-pronged effort to reduce phosphorus levels in the lake by 50 per cent. As the Winnipeg Free Press reported then, Selinger said research showed hog manure spreading was the “biggest single risk to Lake Winnipeg.”
That announcement came two days after the release of a report, led by University of Regina biologist Peter Leavitt, that blamed Manitoba crop and livestock production for at least half of Lake Winnipeg’s phosphorus problem. The report said phosphorus loading must quickly be addressed on the lake to avoid uncontrolled algae growth and the production of deadly toxins.
The provincial government chose to base environmental policy changes on Leavitt’s study, even though University of Manitoba soil scientist Don Flaten, who was also a member of the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board, openly questioned the statistical techniques used by Leavitt and his fellow U of R academics.
Flaten told the Free Press that everyone — small-town residents and big-city folks, grain growers, cattle producers and the hog sector — contribute to the problem.
“It’s our cumulative contributions that are creating the problem,” Flaten said. “If we just pick on a few hundred pig producers, we’re not going to make much progress with the lake.”
Flaten’s comments reflected findings from the LWSB in 2003 that suggested within the Canadian portion of the Red River watershed, about 12 per cent of the phosphorus load and two per cent of the nitrogen load to Lake Winnipeg could be attributed to agriculture. Six per cent of nitrogen and seven per cent phosphorous were attributed to wastewater treatment facilities, and about eight per cent and seven per cent of phosphorous and nitrogen respectively were due to background load that would have existed prior to the settlement of the Red River region.
In fact, the board suggested years ago that about 64 per cent of the nutrients that wind up in the lake come from outside the province.
For years producers and members of the Progressive Conservatives demanded that the province use actual science to address concerns over nutrient loading in Lake Winnipeg. And it now appears rather obvious the NDP were simply playing politics with this endangered lake and used a questionable study to their advantage only four months before a provincial election.
At least, that is the only conclusion we can make when considering comments made by Selinger two years ago, and those of his Conservation minister only a few days ago.
On Thursday last week, the province issued a press release announcing a Lake Friendly Accord and Stewards Alliance, as well as partnerships and initiatives between the Manitoba government and other jurisdictions that will leverage more than $1 billion to “better co-ordinate efforts to improve all waterways in the Lake Winnipeg basin, with the majority of funding dedicated to reducing nutrient pollution from waste water.”
It was in this announcement that Mackintosh completely undercut what the premier said in 2011 — that more than 50 per cent of nutrients polluting Lake Winnipeg were from outside the province.
It was only this year, after Lake Winnipeg was declared the “threatened lake of the year” for 2013 by the Global Nature Fund last February, that the province has finally reached some kind of agreements with other neighbouring governments. In fact, according to the Free Press article that reported the lake’s new dubious distinction, the largest contributor to Lake Winnipeg phosphorous is from treated Winnipeg sewage that is dumped into the Red River. This will only be rectified in about six years once the city completes a $1.8 billion sewage treatment overhaul.
This is not to say that Manitoba producers shouldn’t do their part to reduce the lake’s nutrient load — as Flaten said, we’re all responsible in some way. But if the provincial NDP were so hell-bent on lowering nutrient loads into the Lake Winnipeg watershed, why on earth did they not reach out to our neighbours in North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Ontario far earlier? Why did the crop and livestock industries — and not the city of Winnipeg’s poor water record — become the province’s favourite whipping boy?
Political expediency we imagine — there’s no votes for the NDP in rural Manitoba.
Unfortunately, it seems the truth is just as endangered in this province as the water quality of Lake Winnipeg.