Phosphorus compliance requires political leadership


Thank you for joining us in advocating Manitoba’s environment minister, Tracy Schmidt, to accelerate phosphorus compliance at Winnipeg’s north end sewage treatment plant. (If you haven’t yet contacted Minister Schmidt, learn more about our advocacy campaign here.

Several LWF members have shared with us the response they’ve received: a letter from the director of Manitoba Environment and Climate Change’s Environmental Approvals Branch. You can read a copy of this letter at the end of this post.

The letter reiterates many of the same statements we’ve heard for decades – even as environmental regulators remain unable to achieve or enforce compliance at the north end sewage treatment plant. Frustratingly, the province continues to ignore evidence from IISD-Experimental Lakes Area that shows that algal blooms can be managed by reducing phosphorus – all while doubling down on requirements which serve as roadblocks to actual progress.

Despite assurances that Manitoba’s government “takes the health of Lake Winnipeg very seriously,” the provincial response to our advocacy continues to turn a blind eye to the realities of skyrocketing costs and the impacts of chronic non-compliance, while also ignoring the fact that chemical phosphorus reduction systems have been effectively operating at wastewater treatment plants across the country for decades.

ballooning costs without secured funding is impeding progress

In 2016, the full three-phase upgrade at Winnipeg’s North End Water Pollution Control Centre (NEWPCC) was expected to cost $795 million. This estimate has ballooned with each passing year of inaction. A recent public service report now estimates the total cost at approximately $3 billion – a “conservative” estimate that will undoubtedly continue to climb.

No funding agreements are in place to share the burden of this cost increase – nor does any federal funding program exist for infrastructure projects of this scope.

Together with our members, we continue to call on Minister Schmidt to amend NEWPCC’s provincial operating licence to require that the phosphorus limit of 1 mg/L be met through the construction of new biosolids facilities, by scaling up chemical phosphorus reduction to achieve phosphorus compliance. Doing so will ensure that evidence-based protections for Lake Winnipeg are included within the scope of a currently funded project.

lake-lovers expect political leadership

The protection of Lake Winnipeg has been identified as a key commitment of Manitoba’s current government. In his October 2023 mandate letter, Premier Wab Kinew directed Minister Schmidt to “work with experts and scientists to protect Lake Winnipeg and safeguard the health of all our waterways.” Premier Kinew also directed Minister Lisa Naylor, who leads the departments of Transportation and Infrastructure as well as Consumer Protection and Government Services, to “work with other levels of government to get the upgrades to the North End Water Pollution Control Centre done with good Manitoba jobs created along the way.”

Rather than deflecting our calls for action to non-elected public servants, Minister Schmidt must work with her cabinet colleagues to put in place a fully funded, accelerated, evidence-based plan for phosphorus compliance at NEWPCC.

As concerned lake-lovers, we are looking to Minister Schmidt for political leadership. We expect accountability to the mandate she has been given.

Again, thank you to all who have joined us in our collective call for action. Our individual actions add up to something larger; it’s because we work together that we achieve results.

Let’s keep the pressure on and demand results.

Read the response to our advocacy below: