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Pulling cattails latest fix for Lake Winnipeg

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/6/2012 (2567 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

SCIENTISTS hope a relatively new crop in Manitoba will be key to reducing the high amount of phosphorous -- the main cause of large algae blooms -- in Lake Winnipeg.

Researchers hope by harvesting cattails and bulrushes in select areas of the 25,000-hectare Netley-Libau Marsh at the south end of Lake Winnipeg, they can make a dent in how much phosphorus gets into the lake, not only from the marsh, but the Red River, too.

"These plants are luxury phosphorus users," Hank Venema, of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said Wednesday.

"They suck it up like nobody's business," he said.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/6/2012 (2567 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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SCIENTISTS hope a relatively new crop in Manitoba will be key to reducing the high amount of phosphorous — the main cause of large algae blooms — in Lake Winnipeg.

Researchers hope by harvesting cattails and bulrushes in select areas of the 25,000-hectare Netley-Libau Marsh at the south end of Lake Winnipeg, they can make a dent in how much phosphorus gets into the lake, not only from the marsh, but the Red River, too.

"These plants are luxury phosphorus users," Hank Venema, of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said Wednesday.

"They suck it up like nobody's business," he said.

Taking away older plants permanently removes the phosphorus they contain and eliminates the phosphorus they'll produce when they decay.

It also stimulates new growth, which in turn sucks up phosphorous entering the marsh via the Red River and other sources. Harvesting also opens up the marsh so more waterfowl and birds can use it.

"We're doing the environment many benefits in so doing, because right now it's choked full of cattails. It's so choked full that the ducks don't want to use it as nesting habitat."

This summer, cattails will be harvested on the Libau side of the marsh and in two other locations in the province where cattails grow near agricultural land.

"We've done harvests at a research scale in Netley-Libau Marsh in previous years," Venema said. "This year we're going to have commercial-scale equipment out there doing it."

Phosphorus is the main culprit in the creation of large algae blooms on the lake. A recent study showed if no action were taken to reduce phosphorus, more toxic green-blue algae blooms could form and create dead zones on the lake.

Thick algae sucks oxygen out of the water and threatens the fishery, and sometimes clogs fishing nets in winter.

Venema was speaking at a meeting of the South Basin Mayors and Reeves. They released a brochure outlining tips to cut the amount of phosphorus and other contaminants getting into the watershed and Lake Winnipeg.

Tips include reducing the amount of vegetable waste disposed through a kitchen garburator, installing a holding tank at the cottage and cleaning up after pets.

Rick Gamble, mayor of Dunnottar and chairman of the South Basin Mayors and Reeves, said his community is looking at cultivating algae from small ponds.

Gamble said local farmers may be able to use that nutrient-rich algae as a fertilizer on their fields.

"It's just an idea we're looking at," he said. "It gives farmers a way to be more open about it."

The Manitoba government has looked into harvesting algae to help reduce phosphorus levels in Lake Winnipeg, but concluded it is just not feasible now because of the size if the lake.

Commercial algae harvesting, already done in the U.S., Europe and Australia, can also go toward production of food ingredients, fertilizer, bioplastics, dyes and colourants, pharmaceuticals and oil.

 

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

What it's about:

CATTAILS grow where there's a marsh.

They're tall plants with long slender leaves and produce extraordinary amounts of plant material (biomass) each summer. They need phosphorus in order to grow. In the Netley-Libau Marsh, they absorb phosphorus from the layers of sediment, fed by the nutrient-rich waters of the Red River and Lake Winnipeg. The phosphorus returns to the sediment or waterways when the plants decompose.

Harvesting cattails prevents this release, permanently removing the phosphorus from the aquatic environment and preventing it from entering Lake Winnipeg.

Harvested cattails are burned in biomass burners and pellet stoves for heat. The ash, which still contains high levels of phosphorus, can be recycled for use as fertilizer.

 

— source: International Institute for Sustainable Development

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History

Updated on Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 11:26 AM CDT: adds link

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