Lake Winnipeg named world's most threatened lake in 2013
Published Tuesday, February 5, 2013 8:30AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 5, 2013 6:54PM EST
Manitoba’s Lake Winnipeg has been given the dubious distinction of "Threatened Lake of the Year" by an international environmental organization.
According to the Germany-based Global Nature Fund, the health of Canada's third largest freshwater lake and the world's tenth largest lake is in jeopardy due to increasing pollution from agricultural run-off and sewage discharges.
The pollution, in turn, creates an overabundance of phosphates which results in the formation of blue-green algae. Algal blooms are toxic to humans and throw the lake's ecosystem off-balance.
GNF said the lake's pollution is especially notable given that there are relatively low populations in the lake's watershed – about 7.0 inhabitants per square-kilometre.
The lake's watershed encompasses almost 1 million square kilometres that stretch across parts of Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, as well as the U.S. states of North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana.
GNF said there are other problems that pose a danger to the lake.
"The increasing frequency and severity of flooding associated with climate warming the drainage of wetlands, and the regulation of water levels are having further negative effects on the lake," the group said in a statement on its website.
Alex Salki, a Lake Winnipeg Foundation liaison for Living Lakes Canada, said the designation is a wake-up call.
“This all meant that what we’ve done to date has not been effective, and we perceive that this continuing increase in phosphorus is a serious threat to the lake,” Salki said.
Outreach coordinator for the Lake Winnipeg Foundation Vicki Burns said in a statement that scientists have been issuing warnings about the lake since 1969.
Now, the embarrassment that comes with global recognition is spurring the foundation and its partners into action.
"We are more determined than ever to save our lake," she said.
The Foundation is planning to unveil the first stage of a clean-up plan in the coming weeks.
Lake Winnipeg was in the spotlight in August 2012 when the federal government pledged $18 million to help fund research aimed at cleaning up the lake, including reducing nutrients.
Salki said the solutions to Lake Winnipeg lie beyond the body of water itself.
“The real question is: have we provided enough federal and provincial funding to understand the sources of phosphorus in the watershed,” he said.
Surrounded by lakes and forests to the north and east, Lake Winnipeg is fed by the Saskatchewan, Red, Winnipeg and Assiniboine rivers. Its southern edge is located approximately 50 kilometres north of the city of Winnipeg.
Since 2004, GNF has annually selected a "Threatened Lake of the Year" on International Wetlands Day to draw attention to the destruction of lakes around the world and spur environmental action.
Lake Titicaca, located in Peru and Bolivia, was given the distinction in 2012.