Lake Winnipeg is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, and sixth largest lake in Canada. And it’s under threat.

That’s why the City of Winnipeg has developed a roadmap for action to better protect Lake Winnipeg.

For over a decade, upgrades to the North End Sewage Treatment plant have lingered without any funding source.

But City Council finally approved 408 million dollars in funding for Phase 1 of the 1.8 billion dollar upgrades in 2018, and the City remains the only level of government with a funding commitment.

Construction began in 2018.

Just yesterday, Council approved investing more than 15 million dollars for Phase 2.

And last year, the City prioritized the project and formally requested federal-provincial cost-sharing.

We are still waiting for a formal response from the Province but appreciate the recent, collaborative dialogue on this priority of Council. This is a positive step for all those that care about the health of Lake Winnipeg.

While the City has been waiting, last year we issued an RFP for interim phosphorus removal at the North End Sewage Treatment Plant. That RFP was awarded earlier this month and work is already underway.

This interim solution contemplates a retrofit that could lessen the amount of phosphorus in treated City wastewater while we await funding commitments and the construction of the remaining Phases of the upgrades to the North End Sewage Treatment Plant.

The City is acting as quickly and safely as science will allow.

What does the release of today’s report mean?

On December 5th of last year the City was advised by the Provincial government that it would be required to participate in an advisory group to develop an interim phosphorus reduction plan by the end of this January, with implementation mandated to take effect tomorrow, on February 1st.

The City is pleased to see that the Province has listened to our concerns and modified its position regarding the implementation date of February 1st.

More importantly, the Province is now working collaboratively with the City on this important project.

With the release of today’s report, I’d like to commend the work by our public service in bringing provincial officials up to speed so we can move forward together.
Today’s report confirms our initial plan to test the interim measures over the next year before implementation.

It concurs that while some phosphorous removal may be possible, the options would not meet the North End Sewage Treatment Plant licence requirement of 1 mg/L phosphorous removal.

It also confirms that a period of 1 year will be required for testing to ensure the integrity of the North End Sewage Treatment plant is not put at risk.

And it confirms that if the result of the testing is positive, the recommended interim phosphorous reduction option would commence in 2021.

So where do we go from here?

While our collaborative efforts on interim measures continue with the advisory group, Lake Winnipeg urgently needs a plan to reduce the 95% phosphorous loading from outside of Winnipeg.

It’s important to keep in mind that as a City we contribute about 5% phosphorus entering Lake Winnipeg.

When the City of Winnipeg meets its responsibility to reduce phosphorus levels in its wastewater, which we hope will include provincial and federal support, the reality is about 95% of phosphorus loading will remain from outside of Winnipeg... from other municipalities, Provinces and States. So we need to see a plan that all stakeholders can support and act upon.

Clearly there is more work to do by all levels of government, and I’ve offered my support to the Premier and the Prime Minister to help with those important efforts.