Intro to My Watershed: Hudson Bay, by Vicki Burns

Lake Winnipeg, our spectacular lake, is almost like an inland ocean, right in the heart of Manitoba. It’s huge in size, almost 25,000 and from many points you cannot see across to land on the other side. When the big storms hit, you can imagine you’re on the ocean, with the powerful waves pounding the shores. As a child I recall many thrilling times, jumping in the big waves and then as I grew older, realizing that those big waves could also bring tremendous danger to boaters on the lake. Today there are even greater dangers on our great lake – huge blue-green algae blooms that threaten the very health of the lake and everything that depends on it.
So where is all the water that carries what feeds those algae blooms coming from? It travels great distances from as far west as the Rocky Mountains almost to Lake Superior in the east and south into South Dakota. All the water in that 1 million square km. area eventually ends up in Lake Winnipeg and thus, the area is referred to as the Lake Winnipeg watershed. Our lake then flows north, draining into Hudson Bay. It surprises many people who live in towns and cities hundreds of kilometers away from our great lake, when they learn that the water flowing by in their local stream or river will end up in Lake Winnipeg. If you’re walking alongside the beautiful Bow River in Banff, it’s hard to imagine that water can have an impact on what eventually occurs in Lake Winnipeg 1,500 kilometers away.
The health of our precious Lake Winnipeg, and several other lakes across the Prairies, is threatened by blue-green algae blooms, some of which contain toxins that are very dangerous to animals and people. These blue-green algae blooms are being fed by phosphorus that is running off our land into the streams and rivers that flow into the lakes. Scientists have defined the origins of the phosphorus as either “point sources” like sewage treatment effluent or “non-point” sources like run-off from agricultural lands. Part of the problem is that our rivers and lakes are receiving run-off from the land much more quickly now because we have drained so many of the wetlands that used to slow the water and filter some of the pollutants out before it hit the rivers and lakes.
The good news is that our lakes are very resilient and can return to good health if we can make the investments necessary to stopping the phosphorus before it enters our waterways. I think it’s worth it to ensure we have safe swimmable, fishable lakes now and for future generations and I hope you do too!

Vicki Burns, Save Lake Winnipeg Project

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