Canada and the US Partner Up to Address Lake of the Woods Water Basin (A. Koundourakis)

Back in early 2015, the International Joint Commission (IJC) recommended 32 projects to address concerns in the Lake of the Woods Water Basin titled, “A Water Quality Plan of Study for the Lake of the Woods Basin“. The IJC is simply a committee that helps the USA and Canada prevent disputes over transboundary water. Canadians and Americans both contribute to the IJC’s annual budget, where Canada allocated $6-$8 million per year. Lake of the Woods water basin is located near the border of Ontario and Manitoba, while a majority of the basin is located in Ontario.

Lake of the River Basin

Now, of the 32 projects, four have the capability to be immediately implemented. Project 27, which is an International Platform for Implementation, is important for any future binational management opportunities. Project 14, which is a rapid evaluation and implementation of options to manage recent zebra mussel infestation in the headwaters. These non-native species have a threefold effect on the ecosystem: they harm native species; they reduce the game population; and they have costly effects on water infrastructure. Project 1, which is a recommendation for long term funding of Wheeler’s Point Gage and Designation as a Gage of Binational Significance. This one is important because there is a need of a robust monitoring system that provides long term and consistent data for tracking trends in nutrients, contaminants and aquatic invasive species. Finally, the fourth recommendation is a combination of Projects 5 and 7, which is an implementation of proven best management practices (BMPs) and removal of solids from effluent. Where BMPs have been identified as effective at reducing nutrient loads from agricultural lands, the IJC believes they should be implemented immediately. Effluent from sewage and wastewater treatment facilities is an important source of nutrients that can impact lakes and rivers.

They also recommended 11 projects that help improve the management of harmful algal blooms (HABs) and reduce their severity and frequency. HABs occur in basins due to climatic, chemical and biological factors. One of the major contributors to HABs is a high level of phosphorous that originates from detergents, fertilizers, manure and decaying plants.

Satellite Image of a Cyanobacteria Bloom Resulting from High Phosphourous Levels_

They recommended 7 projects to strengthen prevention measures and pursue control efforts. All this means is that they want to strengthen their ability to target non-native species. These 7 projects will result in a better understanding on contamination sources, improve our ability to assess vulnerability of water resources and establish protective measures. The water basin and land nearby has contaminated sites that have resulted from large scale mining, petroleum transport and catastrophic breaches of agriculture chemicals.

There are 6 projects to help build greater capacity for engaging all interests on water quality management. The IJC said that there are a variety of concerns in terms of community engagement for water quality management. These include a comprehensive, coordinated approach for addressing water quality concerns that seem to be lacking; diverse approaches that are lacking; there currently is a limited ability to coordinate management efforts; there is limited public awareness and access to information; and finally there is limited indigenous people’s engagement. I know that the Liberal government promised to improve indigenous relations, so the last challenge shouldn’t be of much concern.

The Government of Canada’s 2016 Budget proposed up to $19.5 million (can be found under “Managing Transboundary Water Issues”) over five years, starting fiscal year 2016 to 2017, to study water quality, quantity and flooding issues in four Canada-United States boundary basins with the goal of protecting the local environment and communities. Of the $19.5 million, $5.5 million of funding will be allocated to Environment and Climate Change Canada to undertake the required science and monitoring to implement, with the United States, a binational science plan for the Lake of the Woods Basin. The two countries determined that developing and implementing a binational science plan focused on phosphorus reduction within the basin is the most effective approach to address water quality issues in Lake of the Woods. The Canadian government said that they will collaborate with the IJC, First Nations, Metis, provinces and local stakeholders such as interests groups like the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation in order to produce new understandings that will benefit the residents of the Lake of the Woods Basin.

Chart showing a drop in phosphorous levels entering Lake of the Woods from Rainy River. Water quality has dropped, while phosphorous has as well. (H

In 2010, local residents had voiced their concerns that the water quality in the region had declined. This led to a follow up by the Canadian and American governments who requested that the IJC examine and make recommendations to improve the water quality. This led to the IJC’s 2014 report, in which they recommended that a water quality plan of study be developed for the Lake of the Woods Basin in order to better understand the issues in the basin to inform remediation steps. This finally led to the January 2015 report where the 32 projects were introduced.

Water is one of the things I’m particularly concerned about. If anyone’s been to a dinner party and the topic has changed to water, you’ll always hear “water is going to be the next oil” or how “countries will go to war over water.” I don’t like the fact that our water basins are getting bad enough that those measures need to be taken to correct it. Water preservation and care should not be a reactive measure; it should be proactive or never be required in the first place. I do understand we need it for so much more than for ourselves and nature, but also for agriculture and mining, so a balance needs to be struck in our usage. I also know that there have been several improvements in recycling, cleaning and conservation of water over recent years. A lot of investors, particularly those investing in ethical funds, invest in water. If anyone’s interested in investing trends, there are a handful of big money men that are betting on water. We are getting better and we will get there one day.

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