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UPDATE: The endangered Lake Winnipeg watershed

Lake Winnipeg is the sixth largest freshwater lake in Canada and the tenth largest in the world. The Lake Winnipeg watershed is the second largest watershed in Canada. It stretches across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and western Ontario, as well as into North Dakota and three other U.S. states. Its health is vital numerous lakes, rivers and streams.

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has described Lake Winnipeg as “the sickest body of water in Canada.”

1. PHOSPHOROUS POLLUTION: Barlow writes in Blue Covenant about Lake Winnipeg being contaminated by phosphorous (page 182). Every year 8,000 tonnes of phosphorus and 90,000 tonnes of nitrogen enter Lake Winnipeg. Phosphorous is found in fertilizer, pesticides, detergents, as well as human and animal waste. More than half of this pollution is coming from the United States (primarily Minnesota and North Dakota), with most of that resulting from agriculture. Excess amounts of phosphorus leads to algae blooms and consequently hypoxia, or oxygen depletion of the water.

2. DEVIL’S LAKE DIVERSION: She also highlights the danger posed by the Devil’s Lake diversion to Lake Winnipeg in her book Too Close for Comfort (page 223). In short, the Devils Lake outlet is a 23-kilometer diversion designed to address chronic flooding in North Dakota by draining water into the Sheyenne River, which flows east into the Red River. The Red River would then carry the water north to Lake Winnipeg. Devils Lake contains organisms that are foreign and harmful to Manitoba waters.

3. BULK WATER PLANS: Lake Winnipeg has also been identified in a bulk water export plan. The Central North American Water Project (CeNAWAP), proposed to link Great Bear Lake and Great Slave Lake to Lake Athabaska, Lake Winnipeg and then the Great Lakes for bulk water exports to the United States.

4. INVASIVE SPECIES: In March, the Globe and Mail reported that under the Northwest Area Water Supply project, North Dakota wants to transfer 13.3 million tonnes (3.5 billion gallons) of water a year from Lake Sakakawea, a Missouri River reservoir, through a 72-kilometre-long pipeline into a parched area of North Dakota. That water would drain into the Souris River where it would then flow northward into Canada toward the Arctic. Manitoba has fought this in court and “the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has ordered the (Bureau of Reclamation) to take a ‘hard look’ at the threat the water transfer poses to Canada’s environment, as well as water levels in the Missouri River. It is also keeping in place an injunction currently stopping completion of the controversial project. In its decision, the court said the consequences of having foreign species move into Canada ‘might be catastrophic’.”

5. WETLAND LOSS: There has been significant wetland loss across the Lake Winnipeg watershed due in part to agricultural production and urban growth. Wetlands act as natural filters, preventing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from entering Lake Winnipeg and others lakes. The Netley-Libau Marsh on Lake Winnipeg and the Delta Marsh on Lake Manitoba are the two largest in Canada, but they are sick because of harmful fish, plant species, and pollutants.

North Dakota’s KFGO radio reports that, “U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. announced that four-party talks to address several long-standing water policy conflicts that exist between the state of North Dakota and the province of Manitoba will be held on Oct. 7 and 8 in Washington, D.C. Participants will include Dorgan, Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Gary Doer, U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, Republican North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. …The issues include Devils Lake, a Manitoba road that North Dakota claims aggravates flooding in Pembina county and a water project in northwest North Dakota that’s ended up in court.”

More on phosphorous pollution at, the Devil’s Lake diversion at, bulk water export plans at, and invasive species at