FROM THE MAYOR'S DESK: PROTECTING LAKE WINNIPEG

Earlier this summer, and most recently this past week, the City of Winnipeg was unfairly characterized as “rejecting” a proposal from the International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD) and the Lake Winnipeg Foundation (LWF).

They proposed a way the City of Winnipeg could reduce the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Winnipeg from City of Winnipeg wastewater.

Their proposal was represented as a $5 million, “simple retrofit” to the City’s north end wastewater treatment plant.

It suggested it would not only result in meeting provincial licensing requirements for phosphorus removal, but also in the City not having to invest $1.8 billion to upgrade wastewater facilities. And, it could all be in place by December 31, 2019.

Who wouldn’t want to remove phosphorus from our wastewater by December 31, 2019, with a simple retrofit, at a cost of just $5 million, and also avoid billions of dollars in capital costs?

Nobody!

Which is why I want to assure you the City of Winnipeg did not "reject" their proposal. Engineers and scientists (not politicians!) working in the department of Water and Waste took their proposal seriously.

In fact, their proposal, together with many other options to remove phosphorus on an interim basis, were submitted to an external, third party for further study and review. The consultant reviewing their proposal was AECOM. The review was led by Dr. Keith Sears, a scientist, who holds a Ph.D in Environmental Engineering from Purdue University.

The consultant determined that some of what was recommended by IISD/LWF might indeed be possible, but that it would be insufficient to meet provincial licensing requirements to remove phosphorus. As a result, the City of Winnipeg is moving forward with examining interim solutions similar to, but not as precisely prescribed in, IISD/LWF’s proposal.

You can review for yourselves what the consultant said here.

It’s unfortunate events over the last month have ended up pitting people against each over the health and future of Lake Winnipeg.

Mischaracterizing the City of Winnipeg’s commitment to doing its part to protect Lake Winnipeg is not the collaborative effort needed in the short-term, and certainly not the immense national and international collaborative effort required to protect our lake over the long-term.

Who wouldn’t want to remove phosphorus from our wastewater by December 31, 2019, with a simple retrofit, at a cost of just $5 million, and also avoid billions of dollars in capital costs? Nobody!

-Mayor Brian Bowman

Lake Winnipeg is Canada’s sixth largest lake. It’s one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. It’s a treasure.

Its drainage basin covers over one million square kilometers. This means water and runoff into Lake Winnipeg spans four Canadian provinces as well as four American states.

This topographical reality makes Lake Winnipeg globally unique. But for the wrong reasons. Why? It makes Lake Winnipeg’s ratio of land drainage to lake surface area the largest of any of the great lakes in the world.

It’s a ratio of about 40:1. That means there is about 40 square kilometers of watershed, spanning multiple provincial borders as well as an international border, draining into every square kilometer of Lake Winnipeg.

The City of Winnipeg certainly falls within the one million square kilometer drainage basin of Lake Winnipeg.

And our city is, without a doubt, a source of nutrient loading into Lake Winnipeg.

What is meant by “nutrient loading”?

Two nutrients identified as contributing to nutrient loading into Lake Winnipeg are nitrogen and phosphorus.

Nitrogen and phosphorus are essential plant nutrients. However, when their levels are too high (or too low) they can have harmful impacts on rivers and lakes.

Nitrogen and phosphorus enter Lake Winnipeg from a number of sources across the million square kilometer drainage basin of the lake.

In a research report by the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board, it was estimated that about 53% of all the phosphorus entering Lake Winnipeg from across its million square kilometer drainage basin comes from “upstream” jurisdictions – the United States, Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan.

What does this mean? It means more than half the phosphorus (53%) entering Lake Winnipeg comes from outside our own province, and our own country! About 47% of the phosphorus entering Lake Winnipeg originates from within Manitoba.

The point here is not to deflect responsibility.

The City of Winnipeg is absolutely a point source of phosphorus entering Lake Winnipeg. As a city, we contribute about 5% of the phosphorus entering the lake, according to the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board report.

In comparison, the natural environment, other municipalities, and other undefined sources contribute about 21%. Agriculture contributes about 15%. The atmosphere contributes about 6%.

When the City of Winnipeg meets its responsibility to reduce phosphorus levels in its wastewater (and it will!) the reality is about 95% of phosphorus loading will likely remain.

Several years ago, there was a significant amount of disagreement amongst scientists over which of these two nutrients was the greater contributor to blue-green algae growth in Lake Winnipeg.

Dr. David Schindler, a University of Alberta professor, has said for many years that removing nitrogen from Winnipeg’s wastewater is the wrong approach. Greater focus should be placed on phosphorus.

In 2009, however, the Clean Environment Commission recommended the City of Winnipeg continue with upgrades to wastewater treatment to remove both nitrogen and phosphorus.

Furthermore, they recommended the City of Winnipeg use the most sustainable and environmentally responsible forms of removing nitrogen and phosphorus. According to the Clean Environment Commission, chemical removal processes (the process recommended by IISD/LWF) should only be used in situations when additional treatment is required beyond that which is achieved through biological removal.

The Province of Manitoba, as a condition of licensing the City of Winnipeg’s wastewater treatment facilities, continues to require the City of Winnipeg to remove both nutrients as recommended by the Clean Environment Commission.

And we’re proceeding with that requirement at all three of the City's wastewater treatment facilities, notwithstanding the scientific evidence suggesting otherwise!

Mischaracterizing the City of Winnipeg’s commitment to doing its part to protect Lake Winnipeg is not the collaborative effort needed in the short-term, and certainly not the immense national and international collaborative effort required to protect our lake over the long-term.

-Mayor Brian Bowman

The City of Winnipeg has wastewater treatment facilities in the south, the west, and the north.

The west facility is the smallest, treating about 10% of the city’s wastewater. The south facility treats about 20%. The north facility, the city’s largest, treats about 70% of the city’s wastewater.

In 2008, the west facility was upgraded to biologically remove both nitrogen and phosphorous. This facility now reliably treats wastewater and meets its environmental license to remove both nitrogen and phosphorus.

The south facility is currently being upgraded to add biological removal of both nitrogen and phosphorous from the wastewater, as well as expand the facility’s capacity to meet expected population growth in the area.

The north facility is also slated to be upgraded to remove both nitrogen and phosphorus. It’s a major capital project, estimated to cost about $1.8 billion.

For over a decade, upgrades to this facility have lingered without any funding source.

Just last week, however, it was prioritized by Council for federal-provincial cost-sharing… the first time any Council has identified and prioritized this project for critically important federal-provincial funding support.

To put this into perspective, the City of Winnipeg has an infrastructure deficit of about $6.9 billion. In every corner of our city, there is a need to either repair existing infrastructure or build new infrastructure ranging from roads, back lanes, community centres, and hockey arenas.

Above all those infrastructure needs, Council this past week prioritized wastewater treatment for federal-provincial cost-sharing.

The City of Winnipeg is committed to doing its part to protect Lake Winnipeg, and as Mayor I will continue to ensure it follows through on that commitment.

And as we move forward, I hope we can do so together.

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