Late John Turner a champion of local lakes and rivers

By Todd Sellers

The Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation (LOWWSF) and its Directors mourn the loss of the Right Honourable John Napier Turner PC CC QC, former Prime Minister of Canada and LOWWSF supporter and mentor.

Lake of the Woods has lost a great friend and champion for the lake. Mr. Turner was passionate about water, its importance to Canadians and our responsibilities as citizens to protect it. He had a special passion for Lake of the Woods and for protecting its water quality. Mr. Turner said in a video interview with LOWWSF “We are fortunate as Canadians to have a great share of the world’s water and we have to consider the gift we have been given as a trust for future generations. Lake of the Woods is a majestic piece of that great gift.”

Mr. Turner’s words always had actions behind them, and this has left a great legacy for Lake of the Woods. His determination to bring attention and action to protect the lake water quality led to the formation of the LOWWSF and led to the establishment of the International Joint Commission (IJC) watershed board to coordinate water quality efforts on this binational great lake.

Lake of the Woods, as an international lake, falls under the auspices of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and the attention of the IJC, if Canada and the USA jointly agree there is a need. Mr. Turner was instrumental in persuading governments of this need, starting in 2004 when he invited the Right Honourable Herb Grey, then Canadian Co-Chair of the IJC, to the lake to see water quality conditions first-hand and to hear public concerns. Mr. Turner’s inspiration was a key driver for establishing the LOWWSF and for a focused effort to seek an IJC mandate for Lake of the Woods. By 2012 these efforts paid off, with both countries directing the IJC to establish an international watershed board and to develop a master plan of study for the lake. Subsequently, Mr. Turner’s advocacy for the lake helped secure federal funding for the Canadian Lake of the Woods science program aimed at developing nutrient objectives and targets for Lake of the Woods to combat algae blooms.

Throughout, Mr. Turner provided key advice and mentorship to LOWWSF and was particularly generous with his time and experience in securing and leading our meetings with governments. We all also greatly appreciated the passion for the lake he showed at the many public meetings and his exhortations to government officials to “get on with it”.

Without Mr. Turner’s determination, passion and expertise with governments and international water governance, we would not be where we are today. Lake of the Woods is now an international priority and the building blocks of a sustainability plan are being put in place with: research completed to solve the water quality problems; plans to cut phosphorus to combat blue-green algae blooms being developed by Canada and Minnesota, and an international water quality board established through the IJC. Mr. Turner’s legacy for Lake of the Woods is substantial and reflects his care of our waters as a gift and a trust for future generations.

Canadians and Americans who share Lake of the Woods have lost a great Canadian and great friend of the lake who understood that we must cooperate closely to protect our shared waters. We will miss him deeply.

Todd Sellers is the Executive Director, Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation