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Community-based phosphorus data missing from Manitoba’s water strategy action plan

Manitoba’s water strategy action plan has ignored available phosphorus data that could improve water decision-making and protect Lake Winnipeg – despite stated objectives to support community-based monitoring and increase collaboration and sharing of water data.

Released July 5, 2023, the plan identifies 72 actions meant to advance the goals and objectives found within a broader water management strategy framework released in November 2022.

Manitoba Environment and Climate had previously solicited public feedback to inform the development of the action plan. Our April 2023 submission highlights the importance of integrating phosphorus data generated by the Lake Winnipeg Community-Based Monitoring Network (LWCBMN) into regional and provincial water decision-making.

LWCBMN is a long-term water-monitoring program designed to identify phosphorus hotspots within the larger Lake Winnipeg watershed. Nationally recognized for its ability to successfully engage in cost-effective, scientifically robust water stewardship, the network owes its success to the efforts of dedicated volunteer citizen scientists and watershed district partners across the province who collect water samples that build our collective understanding of where and when phosphorus loading to Lake Winnipeg occurs.

The value of LWCBMN data to improve regional water management was repeatedly recognized in the Manitoba Water Management Strategy Recommendations Report, produced for the government in 2022 by Enterprise Machine Intelligence and Learning Initiative (EMILI), an agri-food industry-led organization.

Notably, EMILI’s report recommended that the provincial government:

  • Engage with LWF’s citizen science program as a means to supplement provincial data gathering, and identify hotspots; and 
  • Identify hotspots throughout the province that consistently struggle with poor water quality and prioritize mitigating actions in these areas.

Building on these recommendations, our April 2023 submission urged Manitoba’s government to use LWCBMN phosphorus data to guide provincial water management and reduce phosphorus loading to Lake Winnipeg. Along with recommending specific actions to be included in the new plan, our submission highlights:

  • How LWCBMN data is designed to be used to target phosphorus-reduction initiatives within persistent phosphorus hotspots;
  • How LWCBMN data is interoperable with provincial and federal water-quality data; and
  • How LWCBMN data is a valuable source of information to evaluate the effectiveness of phosphorus-reduction initiatives to protect Lake Winnipeg.

Unfortunately, none of our recommendations were incorporated into the water strategy action plan, which fails to acknowledge LWCBMN data at all.

The exclusion of Lake Winnipeg Community-Based Monitoring Network data from this plan is incredibly disappointing. LWCBMN is a credible source of valuable water-quality data which can be used to improve water policy and management. By not integrating LWCBMN data, the government is ignoring an important source of information.

More generally, we continue to have significant concerns about the broader provincial water strategy framework, which fails to meaningfully include Indigenous peoples, lacks a transparent governance structure for water decision-making and continues to ignore the best available evidence for the management of freshwater eutrophication. None of these concerns have yet to be addressed.

Evidence-based, strategic and focused action – including both regulatory protection and financial investment – are required from the government of Manitoba to improve Lake Winnipeg’s water quality and reduce the impacts of eutrophication caused by excess phosphorus loading. Unfortunately, the water strategy action plan falls short.

Background information:

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