Growing effort underway to protect water quality

FORT FRANCES—More joint support and expertise is being offered to help protect and sustain Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River basin.
This was apparent last week as nearly 100 researchers and resource managers gathered in International Falls, Mn. for the fourth-annual International Lake of the Woods Water Quality Forum.
The two-day event saw numerous presentations on a range of related topics from cyanobacterial liver toxins in Lake of the Woods to mercury in fish in Voyageurs National Park.
“Water doesn’t respect international boundaries,” said forum leader Todd Sellers, with the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation.
“There’s a lot of good research going on in Minnesota, there’s a lot of good work going on in Ontario and Manitoba,” he noted.
“We’ve got to collaborate all this research and work together—that’s the real theme here,” he stressed.
And Sellers said that’s exactly what has been happening.
“The purpose of [this] forum is to get these people together to share their research, network, and collaborate on joint research projects,” he explained. “It’s been the real success story in the last couple of years.”
When the forum first began four years ago, Sellers said there were just 30 scientists in attendance.
“It gets bigger every year,” he enthused, adding more agencies and groups also are on board with the projects.
“All communities in Ontario, Manitoba, and Minnesota have been supportive of initiatives to protect and sustain the lake,” Sellers added.
“And I think that speaks well for the future of Lake of the Woods—we’re paying attention to it now so we can continue to have it in the future.”
He also noted multiple levels of government are collaborating to help.
The guest speaker at the reception following the forum was Dr. John Carey, director general of Environment Canada.
“It’s tremendous to have someone like him here,” Sellers remarked, noting Carey spoke about developing mechanisms to enhance this co-operation.
Sellers also noted it was the first time they’ve had someone from Environment Canada involved in the forum.
“There’s a growing mass of scientific and political interest to sustain Lake of the Woods as the jewel of the north,” he added.
“It’s a really wonderful lake and we have the opportunity to develop a plan to keep ahead of any problems,” he said. “The time is right and if we don’t take advantage of the opportunity, we’ll risk the opportunity passing.”
Tammy Karst-Riddoch, of Gartner Lee Limited, offered a presentation of the requirements, development, and utility of a nutrient mass balance model as a management tool for Lake of the Woods.
“We’re in very good shape to develop a nutrient budget for Lake of the Woods,” she told forum delegates, though adding a hydrodynamic model may not be suitable or feasible because of time, money, and the complexity of the lake.
“I would suggest a modified steady-state mass balanced model,” she said.
The model would help to provide understanding of the algae blooms in the water.
“We need to know what amounts of nutrients are coming in and where they are coming from,” Sellers explained. “If we were to reduce the nutrients, how, if at all, would it affect the algae.”
He noted they’re in the process of determining what information they have—and what information they still need to complete a model.
The next steps would be for the scientists to debate the issue and if they agree with it, they will start working to build the model.
Sellers said several groups also are working to develop a Lake of the Woods and Rainy River State of the Basin report, which would provide a snapshot of different measures surrounding the lake, such as climate, wetlands, nutrients, and fish communities.
They believe it will take a year to pull together all the information and hope to have the report completed by January.
“We need a base line synthesis which is critical to moving the concept forward of where the lake is today and to know where to go in the future,” Sellers added.
He noted the forum went very well, and was pleased with the mix of presentations.
“I thought there were several interesting topics,” agreed Kiley Hanson, assistant co-ordinator with the Rainy River Watershed Program on this side of the border.
“It was a very good forum.”
Hanson, along with watershed program co-ordinator Adam Scott, are organizing a similar conference April 11-12 in International Falls—the ManOMin Watershed Conference.
“It’s similar because it does have a scientific focus, but you won’t see presentations full of data results,” she noted. “There’s more of a philosophical approach and concepts will be presented, but not as scientific.”
The public is encouraged to attend this conference, but registration is required.
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