By: Vicki Burns
This article originally appeared on Vicki’s website, SaveLakeWinnipeg.org, and can be viewed here.
Blue-green algae(cyanobacteria) is a growing threat in many areas around North America and this summer it seems to be getting an early start, likely due to hot temperatures. I receive news of blue-green algae every day via a Google Alert and recently these headlines popped up:
- “Toxic blue-green algae blooms’ long-term health effects need study, hospital CEO says” from Florida, where there is growing recognition of the threat that algal toxins pose to human health.
- “Digging Deeper: The lasting impact of blue-green algae” is an article from Madison, Wisconsin in which they reference the fact that Madison area beaches were closed due to algal threats for 103 days last year. They are studying the economic impacts of lost tourism as one of the lasting effects of the algae.
I’m highlighting these articles in hopes of stimulating more attention to the challenges we face with blue-green algae in Lake Winnipeg and other southern Manitoba lakes. It’s not just attention we need but significant action to alter some practices that are contributing to the problem. Specifically, we need to upgrade sewage treatment starting in Winnipeg to decrease the phosphorus and nitrogen that are in our wastewater effluent when it is released into the Red River. Then we can move further afield to sewage treatment everywhere in Manitoba. Next we need to measure how much phosphorus and nitrogen is running off agricultural lands and alter industrial agricultural practices to decrease this threat.
The most important thing to note is that we do not need to treat this as a hopeless situation. Human beings have tremendous ability and capacity to change if situations become urgent enough. In regards to blue-green algae (some of which is dangerously toxic) what we are lacking now is the will to make those changes. Our lakes are resilient and they will rebound to healthier states if we can do our part to cut down on the pollutants we’re allowing to flow into them. Swimmable, fishable and drinkable are the adjectives I hope we’ll see applied to our Manitoba lakes in the near future.