Steve Strang is the former mayor of St. Clements (a rural municipality around the south basin of Lake Winnipeg) and is now the Manitoba director of the Red River Basin Commission. In this extensive interview he talks about some of the issues troubling the lake and offers a few solutions. He also explains the — at times — complicated geography of the Netley-Libau Marsh, the largest coastal wetlands in North America and the damaged ‘kidneys’ of Lake Winnipeg.

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It’s Strang’s contention that the marsh at the south end is key to restoring the health of the lake.

This is the seventh full interview I am posting as this co-creation continues. Why am I publishing this? I figure that if others listen to what Lobb has to say it will help identify key insights needed to build this story about Lake Winnipeg. Let me know what stands out for you. …


Dr. David Lobb has a just-the-facts-jack way of speaking. Forthright, convincing and understandable despite the complexity of the topic. So what does a soil scientist from the University of Manitoba have to say about the state of a lake? Quite a lot, it seems.

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Many researchers focus on phosphorus in the waters of Lake Winnipeg as a growth accelerant for the algae, including the toxic blue-green variety. The quest for them — and others — is to discover where that P is coming from and then design strategies for how to reduce it.

Lobb sources it to agricultural watersheds, but not necessarily just from fertilized and manured cropland. He points a finger at the vegetation and challenges a conventional understanding that the phosphorus in waterways is in a particulate form and associated with sediment from eroded soil. He says that’s not the case on the prairies. …


Dr. Gordon Goldsborough studies coastal wetlands, which includes the swampy areas along the southern shores of lakes Manitoba and Winnipeg. In this comprehensive interview he brings us closest to the actual lake, especially in to the troubled waters of Netley-Libau Marsh, the damaged ‘kidneys’ where the Red River finishes its journey.

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Goldsborough, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Manitoba, helps us understand what’s happening in those shallow waters and what it means farther north in the lake itself. …


In a wide-ranging interview Hank Venema starts with how we got in to this mess in the first place. If we hadn’t moved heaven and earth (literally) to get water off the prairie as fast as possible, we might not have the same levels of eutrophication in Lake Winnipeg. But there’s no point in blaming our ancestors. Nothing can be done about what was done. Instead, says Venema, who is a water resources engineer with a doctorate in systems design engineering, we have to look forward and innovate.

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Hank Venema

Hugely expensive engineering projects might not be the answer. Instead, what if we put a price on phosphate and reduced the amount that ends up in the lake. Couple that with ongoing efforts to — essentially — return the prairie to something like its original condition, and we might have the workings of a solution. …


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Les McEwan: former hog farmer and now strictly a grain producer

McEwan speaks in a soft voice but he has a lot to say. He has years of experience as a farmer in southern Manitoba. And he’s been deeply involved in ways to research ways that agriculture not only thrives but also reduces its impact on the land and on Lake Winnipeg.

As chairman of the Deerwood Soil and Water Management Association and a director of the Lake Winnipeg Foundation McEwan has as deep roots in research as he does in practice.

A key take-away from this interview is that we so radically changed the prairie landscape that it’s hardly surprising that Lake Winnipeg is under pressure. …


William (Bill) Barlow was involved in small town politics for decades. He also served on bigger stages and for years was the chair of the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board. That group was tasked by Manitoba’s Minister of Water Stewardship to produce a report about the state of the lake, which was presented in December 2006. It was a hard hitting document with 135 recommendations, all of which were quickly accepted by the provincial government.

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Barlow is a director with the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium and chair of Gimli’s Lake Winnipeg Visitor Centre committee

But not much happened. So, three years later, Barlow’s board wrote a follow-up. If you translated that second report from its careful diplomatic language, what it was saying was: “what the hell…?”. In what passes as strong language from a careful politician like Barlow, he concluded the of the second report in an unambiguous statement. “It’s time to go further than just thinking about action; the time for implementing action is now. …


Vicki Burns is well-known in environmental and animal health circles. For more than 14 years she was the executive director of the Winnipeg Humane Society. Now she is director of the Save Lake Winnipeg Project where she increases public awareness of the crisis facing the Lake Winnipeg Watershed. She is also associated with Hogwatch Manitoba, campaigners for major changes to the hog industry in the province, commonly thought to be a contributor to lake pollution.

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Burns was my first interview for this project. …


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“It’s like wanting your kid to grow up to become a doctor but instead he becomes a stage actor. It’s not what you wanted but he’s still alive.” The ’parent’ of that kid is Mike Stainton, a retired scientist who studied lake chemistry for decades. “Lake Winnipeg is a managed body of water, a managed aquaculture project,” he said, wild Einstein hair blooming above his thin face and spare frame. “It’s managed by default, by neglect. None of it is malicious but cumulatively it’s of consequence. The lake isn’t dying, it’s reacting and living in ways we don’t like.”

— —…


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Blacklegged ticks, at different stages of feeding.

Put a fence around something and call it a park and you draw people. Even if what’s inside isn’t particularly awesome. That’s the case with Beaudry Provincial Park, ten minutes west of Winnipeg. Much of it is a few thumbs of land regularly overrun by the placid Assiniboine River, which periodically rediscovers its friskiness and floods.

The 46-year-old park is a river bottom forest with basswood, cottonwood and maples. Regardless of species the trunks have the grey and ghosted look of the near-drowned. There is lots of mud that threatens to pull everything into an early grave.

While seldom a destination, the park is just far enough from the city to feel like escape. Many visitors come with dogs but few know that something voracious awaits them. Ticks. Lots of them, especially in the spring. And while this free range vampirium can pose many dangers to both pets and owners, this is also where I learned compassion for the tick. Yes… tenderness towards a potentially diseased blood sucker. Before I get to how this empathy grew, let’s first figure out why ticks elicit such an out-sized reaction, considering they are about half the size of a headache pill. …


Mea culpa (updated July 28, 2020)

I rushed this story out before all the facts were in. Poor journalism? Excess of enthusiasm? Bad research? Who knows…

But it seems that other dubious facts have also appeared about the dying of the carp. And whether my ‘facts’ are as fictional the ones coming from the Manitoba government is an interesting question.

Provincial government staff gathered samples from the carp washed ashore and tested the cadavers for two viruses: koi herpesvirus (which I thought was the culprit — see below) and spring viraemia of carp virus. …

About

Bramwell Ryan

Canadian writer with a runaway curiosity and a short attention span. More at bramwellryan.com

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