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Manitoba Liberals Release Plan to Save Lake Winnipeg

WINNIPEG - A Manitoba Liberal Government will end decades of NDP/PC neglect of Lake Winnipeg and act to save the lake, as well as Manitoba’s other waterways, by helping the city of Winnipeg and other municipalities upgrade infrastructure.

For years, Lake Winnipeg has been at risk of becoming a “dead lake” as massive blue-green algae blooms grow in the Lake, fed by fertilizer run-off and waste from municipal sewers. The algae threatens the health of the lake and washes up on beaches where it can make people and animals sick.

Lake Winnipeg is home to a fishery worth tens of millions of dollars a year. Thousands of Manitobans depend on the Lake for a living, drinking water, and tourism.

“For decades, raw sewage and undertreated water have been flowing into our lakes and rivers, and NDP and PC provincial governments refused to help cash-strapped municipalities solve the problem,” said Lamont. “We want to leave a better Manitoba to our children than the one we inherited. In order to do that, saving Lake Winnipeg and restoring it to health needs to start now.”

Manitoba Liberals say if the City of Winnipeg agrees, a Manitoba Liberal Government will fund the process that could cut the North End Treatment Plant’s emissions of phosphorous by 70%. The process, adding “ferric chloride” to water, has been recommended by both the Lake Winnipeg Foundation and the International Institute for Sustainable Development as a lower-cost means to bring the city quickly in line with environmental guidelines for $5-million.

Manitoba Liberals also said they would accelerate progress on wastewater infrastructure and help the City of Winnipeg pay for the completion of the new North End Treatment plant and other wastewater treatment by issuing $500-million in “Save Lake Winnipeg Bonds” that would be dedicated to financing the construction of infrastructure projects across the province and permanently reduce the flow of phosphorous into lakes and streams.

While the Red River supplies less than 10% of Lake Winnipeg’s water, it accounts for nearly 60% of the phosphorous. The largest point source of all, 5%, is the City of Winnipeg’s North End Treatment Plant.

In addition to the ferric chloride treatments, a Manitoba Liberal Government will:

- Work with Conservation districts and the Lake Winnipeg Foundation’s existing network to map and target phosphorous “hotspots,” in Manitoba and work to eliminate them.

- Create new wetlands and restore old ones, including the Netley-Libau Marsh, where the Red River flows into Lake Winnipeg, to naturally clean the water flowing into the Lake.

- Commit to making upgrades to green infrastructure a priority, including funding for an “innovation” stream to build and test small-scale pilot projects for new or different technologies.

- Use sound science to track fish populations in Lake Winnipeg so we can manage the fishery with certainty for the future.

There are already federal infrastructure funds available that are earmarked for the purpose of environmental infrastructure. The federal government offered $451-million in funds for green infrastructure in May 2018. One year later, the Pallister government had submitted no projects.

The federal share of funding for projects varies from 40% to 75%.

“The funds for what needs to be done are available, but the PCs have chosen to delay action, even if it hurts the environment and Manitobans,” said Lamont. “After years of decline, we want to see Lake Winnipeg get better.”


Policy Backgrounder

In the early 2000s, the growth of large blooms on Lake Winnipeg as a result of increased phosphorous in the lake was identified as a critical issue for Manitoba.

In 2006 the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board produced an in depth report on the lake (1). The report found that the City of Winnipeg wastewater treatment facilities, in particular Winnipeg’s North End Water Pollution Control Centre, were the largest point source of phosphorous going into Lake Winnipeg and were continually discharging major amounts of phosphorous into Lake Winnipeg.

The report said “The City of Winnipeg has three wastewater treatment facilities that currently contribute about five per cent of the phosphorus load to Lake Winnipeg.” The report recommended that, “The Province of Manitoba should continue to require that nutrient reductions be implemented as quickly as possible at the large municipal and industrial wastewater treatment facilities in the cities of Winnipeg, Portage la Prairie, and Brandon.”

Further, in the report it was noted that the Environmental license to the City of Winnipeg’s water treatment plants required phosphorus levels in the effluent from the North End Treatment plant be reduced to 1 mg/L phosphorous by December 31, 2014 — an action that would reduce phosphorous going into Lake Winnipeg. The target of December 31, 2014 was not met and has been extended to December 31, 2019. There is still no clear plan to meet this target. It is unlikely to be met.

Thus, in spite of the report of the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board in 2006, there have been delays at the provincial and municipal level in implementing a process to remove phosphorous to Winnipeg’s North End Water Pollution Control Centre (NEWPCC), the largest point source of phosphorous entering Lake Winnipeg. Noteworthy, the NEWPCC is the fourth largest phosphorous polluter among all waterwater treatment centres in Canada.

The City of Winnipeg has plans for a full upgrade to the NEWPCC, the latest cost estimate is $1.8 billion, and at the current rate of progress, nutrient-reduction efforts may not start for many years. However, there is a low cost interim solution — a simple retrofit to the NEWPCC to use ferric chloride to bind and remove phosphorous could be implemented quickly for an initial startup cost of only $5 million. This interim solution has the potential to reduce the plant’s phosphorus contribution by 70 per cent and to meet the target of less than 1mg/L phosphorous in the effluent.

Jurisdictions around Lake Erie (which was threatened with algal blooms in the 1950s) have successfully used ferric chloride as part of their water treatment process to remove phosphorous. Interestingly, the NEWPCC does use ferric chloride but not for phosphorous removal. By adjusting the timing for adding ferric chloride, it could be readily used at the NEWPCC to remove phosphorous as the Lake Winnipeg Foundation/IISD report shows (2).

As the Lake Winnipeg Foundation\IISD report says, "adding ferric chloride prior to primary clarification would convert the phosphorus in Winnipeg’s wastewater into a particulate form which could then be removed through the subsequent clarification and digestion processes. This interim retrofit will remove an average of 426 kg of phosphorus per day. This represents a 70 per cent reduction in phosphorus, which would bring the NEWPCC into compliance with the provincial 1 mg/L limit.”

The Lake Winnipeg Foundation has also developed a community based monitoring initiative – The Lake Winnipeg Community-Based Monitoring Network. This network involves volunteers as citizen scientists to help collect the data gather which is collected with a high level of quality control. The data is now publicly available through the Lake Winnipeg DataStream initiative in collaboration with the Gordon Foundation. The Province of Manitoba is now contributing water quality data being produced by the province to the Lake Winnipeg DataStream initiative.

Should the City of Winnipeg say the interim solution can not be done as proposed, Manitoba Liberals will convene a meeting of federal, provincial and municipal experts, together with engineers knowledgeable about the solutions achieved for treatment plants around the Great Lakes, which have previously addressed removing phosphorous from wastewater and sewage. It is imperative that all levels of government start working well and closely together to achieve a better Manitoba. Disagreements among governments has been a cause of the delay, as has a lack of sufficient provincial leadership.


1) Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board: 2006. Reducing Nutrient Loading to Lake Winnipeg and its Watershed. Our Collective Responsibility and Commitment to Action. Report to the Minister of Water Stewardship, Government of Manitoba, December 2006.

2) Lake Winnipeg Foundation/IISD: 2019. Undertreated sewage contributes to harmful algae blooms An affordable retrofit to Winnipeg’s north-end sewage treatment plant will ensure the city meets provincial licence requirements to protect Lake Winnipeg.

3) Kives, B: 2019: Fewer fish or fishy science. CBC report -

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