Lake Winnipeg – Phosphorus and Hydro

By David Nickarz

For Earth Day I attended the talk Beyond us and them: A collaborative conversation about Lake Winnipeg.  It took place at St. Mary’s Road United Church and was put on by the Lake Winnipeg Foundation (LWF).

The bottom line is that Lake Winnipeg is in serious trouble.  It’s getting too much Phosphorus from a number of sources.  Too much phosphorus leads to algae blooms, which then die and use up the oxygen in the water, which other animals rely on to live.  If enough oxygen is used up then the lake will no longer support aquatic life.   This is a real possibility in the near future if we don’t reduce the phosphorus going into the lake from all sources.

The watershed for Lake Winnipeg includes not only Manitoba but Alberta, Saskatchewan and Southwestern Ontario; and four states.  The major sources of phosphorus are “solid waste” (poop) from livestock and humans, agricultural and lawn fertiliser, and from cleaning products.

Increased rainfall in Manitoba from global warming causes more flooding events, which helps wash nutrients into the lake.  The Lake is also used as a massive hydroelectric reservoir.  Lake and wetland levels are kept too high throughout the year, and this causes even more problems.

The bottom line is that Lake Winnipeg is close to being ruined.  We have to start solving the problem now and there are a few places to start.


We need to regulate hog barns and other factory farms.  A town of 5000 people has to have a sewage treatment plant, but somehow a livestock operation of 5000 hogs doesn’t.  Agricultural and lawn fertilisers need to be restricted somehow.  Winnipeg’s sewage treatment is a source as well.

I helped to install a composting toilet in a home a couple of years ago.  That means much less nutrients coming from that household which ultimately ends up contributing to the problem in Lake Winnipeg.  One house makes a small difference, but what if we did it for ten thousand households?

The Boreal Forest also helps to take up the nutrients and so do wetlands.  Cattails can be grown to take up the excess nutrients.  Cattails can also be used to make fuel pellets.  The Fort Whyte Centre uses cattail fuel pellets to heat their facility during the winter.

There are many things you can do yourself.  Learn more at

The Lake Winnipeg Foundation also does classroom presentations.