• by Larry Powell
An environmental think-tank is warning that the province of Manitoba faces more frequent and severe droughts and floods, due to climate change.The Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), singles out Lake Winnipeg, already besieged by a number of environmental problems, as being particularly vulnerable to further damage as a result of these changes.
It is believed to be the first time such a research group has so clearly stated a link between global warming and such obvious consequences as the massive, frequent and catastrophic flooding which has occurred on the Red River over the past century or so.
The Institute has done what it calls "a prairie-wide cumulative stress analysis" of prairie water resources. It finds a significant part of southern Manitoba, including much of the Red River Valley (the Red flows into Lake Winnipeg), suffers from a high demand for water, a high risk of damage to water quality and, despite the catastrophic flooding events, an actual shortage of supply!
And, even with more frequent ands severe rainstorms, the IISD predicts problems for agriculture due to increasing drought and negative water quality impacts. This is because these irregular and extreme storms will produce heavy nutrient loads and longer periods of low flow in streams and rivers. (Nutrients such as phosphorous have, for years, been lending to huge growths of algae In Lake Winnipeg. The algae, in turn, clog the lake and rob it of oxygen, harming fish life.)
Increasing problems brought on by climate change, adds the IISD, will also bring increasing tension over the widespread practice by farmers of digging drainage ditches on their land to get rid of excess water. It says such drainage conflicts with the idea of adapting to climate change by storing runoff water for use later.
In an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press, the Institute's lead researcher on the project, Dr. Hank Venema, said, "It's in the agricultural industry's best interests not to do this, (drainage) given the nature of climate-change projections. But those guys are under extreme pressures to squeeze profits out of increasingly small margins," he told the paper.
The Institute is also critical of short-term measures like government money for drainage projects, flood protection and even disaster assistance after flooding, when it might have been better used for long-term management and governance of watersheds.
The study suggests there should be a major shift away from what it calls our present "hard path" approach to water management. This places the emphasis on big, expensive water projects, which are centrally managed, to meet whatever the demand might be.
The Institute calls instead for a "soft path" philosophy, which would develop more evenly distributed, relatively small-scale energy sources. Traditionally, "soft-path" systems stress conservation and the careful managing of the demand side.
Despite this gloomy and uncertain era of climate change we are now living through, the Institute sounds this note of optomism in its summary;
"We propose that Manitoba is now on the cusp of a new era of water policy (the Adaptation
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