This summer is turning into a scorcher and all I can think about is jumping in a lake to cool off.
Did you know that Canada has more than 3 million lakes? Apart from keeping us cool, the importance of our lakes cannot be overstated. Lakes act as drainage basins for groundwater, habitat for aquatic species and land animals, water for industrial and residential use, drinking water and so much more. Our lakes are a natural resource we literally can’t live without.
Close to my heart is Lake Winnipeg, home to Manitoba’s popular summer destinations such as Grand Beach, Victoria Beach, and the town of Gimli. A 90 minute drive from Winnipeg takes day trippers and cabin owners to the sprawling sandy beaches along Lake Winnipeg’s shore.
In my family, my mom would pack the sandwiches, snacks and cold drinks, while my dad would make sure to grab the beach umbrella and sun hats. Even though I had a slight fear of swimming, I forgot it once my sister, my dad, and I were playing Frisbee in the shallow waters.
Incredible, but true
Lake Winnipeg is located almost exactly in the centre of North America and is the tenth largest freshwater lake on the planet.
Unfortunately the health of the Lake has been deteriorating steadily every year since the 1990s. The problem is an overgrowth of blue-green algal blooms which has transformed the Lake into what can be best described as a thick green stinky sludge. Normally algae is a natural, healthy occurrence in lakes especially in the warmest months; and more algae means more fish which is great for fishers.
The problem is Lake Winnipeg now has the highest Chlorophyl concentration of any of the largest lakes in the world. Researchers fear that blue-green algae bacteria could take over the lake and become lethal towards humans and many other living species. In the 60s, the blooms occupied 30% of the algae and now they occupy a whopping 90%.
Save My Lake
The Nature of Things with David Suzuki made a documentary about the state of Lake Winnipeg called Save My Lake which aired last April on CBC (but you can watch it here online). Suzuki narrates a fine film that provides insight into the “perfect storm” of factors that have positioned the Lake on the verge of a tipping point.
Scientists say if you want to reduce the amount of blue-green algal blooms on a lake, you have to reduce the amount of phosphorus. There are many sources of phosphorus that end up in Lake Winnipeg; phosphorous-rich detergents, sewage, intensive pig-farming and fertilizers from agriculture to name a few.
Organizations like Living Lakes Canada are here to ensure long-term protection of our lakes by facilitating monitoring, protection, rehabilitation and policy development. Manitoba Water Stewardship (government) is working to re-build the health of Lake Winnipeg in conjunction with a number of partners including the Lake Winnipeg Foundation and the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium.
Every lake lover has fond memories of their time on the shores. Learn what you can do to help keep our lakes healthy.
Photo: Lake Winnipeg from the CBC documentary Save My Lake
Cheryl Gudz is Earth Day Canada’s Environmental Action Manager
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