Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium


Lake Winnipeg, the world's tenth largest body of fresh water, is currently deteriorating.

The lake is suffering from excessive amounts of algae, caused by a buildup of phosphorus and nitrogen.

Industry, agriculture and sewage from urban and recreational sources of the four provinces and four states that surround the Lake, are significantly contributing to this problem.

The Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium is leading investigations and raising awareness about these issues.

Their goal is to motivate industry and individuals to help restore the health of the lake.

Project 40 | Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium

Lake Winnipeg
Gimli | Manitoba

Oh hello. My name is Al Kristofferson. It's Monday, July 26th, about 3 minutes after 3. We got word that there's an algae bloom forming on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.

We first used our research vessel, the Namao, in the summer of 1999. And the ship went up to the north basin of the lake in August and encountered a solid algae bloom for over a hundred miles.

When you see one that covers maybe half of the north basin of the lake, back then, it was a shock, absolutely.

That really hit home, where we said yeah it's a bloom, but it's not a natural bloom.

It's something that we, as human beings, have contributed to as a result of our activities.

Commercial Fisherman

I'm Robert T. Kristjanson, commercial fisherman on Lake Winnipeg.

We are now fishing three generations.

That summer we went out to George's Island. Fishermen were coming in off the lake, and their boats were half full of algae. We had to just about shovel it out.

This is a tub with holes in it, that if you put it in the water it won't even go down.

And this of course is in the winter (he's showing a photo), how our nets came up in the winter. So you can imagine water was moving underneath the ice.

This is the snow around it, and we're pulling out our nets out of there, with no fish in it of course.

We got a hold of television channels to come to Grindstone to have a look at this because we could not get government to listen.

Nobody believed me because they said they haven't got the science on it.

Then along came Al Kristofferson, and we got into the rest of it from then on.

Managing Director
Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium

I wasn't involved in this. I was working for the federal government at the time, and I was miles away in the Canadian Arctic. But Gimli's my hometown and I came back and I happen to turn the TV on and there he was, with a camera crew out there, saying ?Look, I've spent my life on the lake, and I've seen algae blooms certainly in the past, but nothing to this extent. Something serious is happening.? And as a biologist myself I said, well, you know, I think he's right.

The community of fishers that he's a member of, they are leery that if there are some problems that are arising for whatever reason it may impact the fishery.

So these guys were saying to him, ?Well you'd better be careful, you know. What are you doing? You're going to cause us trouble.?

And he had the guts, the courage, to say ?No, no, no. If we do nothing about this, it's going to get worse, and our fishery is going to suffer ultimately.?

So I give him great credit for raising the issue.

They think that what I'm doing to Lake Winnipeg, I'm trying to destroy Lake Winnipeg. Making all this noise so they can't sell fish and telling the fish is no good. It is not that. There's nothing wrong with the fish. All I'm worried about is that they do have fish.

Lake Winnipeg is the tenth largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area.

It's home to and employment to many, many people who live around the shores.

There are other resort communities, Lake Winnipeg Beach and Grand Beach on the east side of the lake.

Commercial fishers number I think close to a thousand.

Economically it's very important.

But culturally it's important as well, and spiritually it's very important to the First Nations people who live around the lake.

If we didn't have algae in the lake we wouldn't have any life in the lake.

Algae forms the base of the food chain.

Just like the green plants on dry ground use the sun's energy, water and nutrients to produce more green plants, algae does the same thing in the water.

Nutrients flow naturally into the lake, runoff from the watershed. But the human activity that's taken place over the last number of years has accelerated that input of nutrients into the lake. So the lake is nutrient-rich in a sense.

And over the last 50 years it's been getting more and more concentrated. As a result of our activities, we are accelerating the input of nutrients into the lake.

They can clog fisherman's nets, and they have been doing that the last little while.

They can foul swimming beaches, and some of these can produce toxins that can be harmful to people.

But the most serious impact that these algae blooms have on the health of the lake, if you will, is when they die, and they sink to the bottom and they decompose or rot on the bottom.

The bacteria that are part of the decomposition use up oxygen in the bottom water.

So the little creatures that live down there, many of them are very important food for fishes, they get deprived of oxygen and they die.

And that's how the lake can be choked in a sense, or smothered, from the bottom up.

If you look at the individual's contribution, it doesn't appear to be significant.

We have to go back to the watershed then, and the 6.6 million people who live in it, some very far away. Some near the Rockies, or close to Lake Superior, or well down to the United States.

They may be contributing by using detergents that still contain phosphates.

Cottages that have sewer systems that aren't particularly effective.

Outhouses is not a good deal. There are some nutrients in human waste.

There are best management practises that farmers have to recognize and employ to reduce the nutrient input.

Cities have to treat their sewage for nutrient removal.

It starts with awareness and understanding and a willingness to participate.

Then and only then will we start to see some significant improvement in the water quality in Lake Winnipeg.

So it's a joint effort: government, the people, everyone. We're all involved.

The lake has been very kind to me and my family. I owe the lake something now.

So now I have an opportunity to come back and give back to what the lake has given me.

None of us can solve the problem by ourselves. But collectively all of a sudden you develop some power to do something to save this national treasure and protect it for the future.

We're here for this blink of an eye. I stand here for the time that I've got left. I have a little guy growing up, and I hope he does grow up to be on the water and have the freedom, the freedom to go in the morning and walk down along the shore and bend over and drink water.

We are people of habit.

And if we can change our habit, of how we deal with stuff, then we can do it.