Manitobans should not want this designation and it is a call for action.
Global Nature Fund (GNF) has announced Lake Winnipeg is in the running for the designation of Threatened Lake of the Year, 2013.
“As one of the largest lakes in the world, Lake Winnipeg is very well known, but not much is known internationally about the dramatic environmental problems of the lake and the wetlands in its watershed,” said the GNF’s Udo Gattenlöhner.
Manitobans know the problem. Lake Winnipeg faces a surge of blue green algae through high drainage levels of nitrogen and phosphorus.
For governments and policy makers to tackle the problem, the blame game and political cheap shots must stop. But even the GNF could not resist.
“Many people in Germany and throughout Europe believe environmental problems hardly occur in Canada,” Gattenlöhner said. “However, recent changes in Canadian policies seem to be eroding the protection particularly of vulnerable water ecosystems — and it is disappointing because this does not really fit with our image of Canada”.
Unless mistaken, one surmises that this outside observer of Canadian affairs is blaming these problems on proposed federal changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Critics may feel good about potshots, but at the end of the day, they do not change anything.
This problem extends beyond one piece of legislation or level of government.
Manitobans are recognizing that blaming one industry for the problems is not constructive. The rhetoric surrounding the NDP government’s decision to enact a hog industry expansion — made worse by environmentalist organizations with a romanticized opposition to modern farming — seemed more about criticizing hog farmers than finding solutions. Make no mistake; agriculture is part of the problem. However, declining nutrient-filtering wetlands and municipal sewage plants also contribute.
On the latter, those interested in solving this problem need to realize governments cannot be owners of waste water treatment facilities and also regulators. If facilities were private, suing them for allowing waste into our water systems would be easier.
Government regulations will be part of the solution, but policy makers need to take economic policy instruments seriously. These policies influence behavior through market signals as opposed to government edicts. They are not perfect and would need monitoring, but they focus more on carrots than sticks. Hog farmers and other agricultural producers, for example, should not bear the full burden of ensuring Lake Winnipeg is clean and safe. Right now farmers must spread manure and bear costs of ensuring it is environmentally sound. Providing farmers with subsidies or incentives would help them deal with the costs of maintaining Lake Winnipeg.
The International Institute for Sustainable Development released a two-year report titled Market Based Instruments for Nutrient Management in the Lake Winnipeg Basin. It explored options such as payments for ecological services to farmers and landowners, water quality trading, and wetland banking.
The Great Lakes are a prime example of political players coming together to protect our water systems for future generations. We can do that engaging contributors, not blaming them. Then we must measure the results of our actions.