Early in 2021, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) held public engagements on its proposed ecosystem objectives and potential phosphorus reduction targets to tackle the algae bloom problem on Lake of the Woods. The Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation organized a series of town-hall style webinars to provide opportunities for the public to connect directly with the policy team at ECCC that is responsible for Lake of the Woods. At these sessions, ECCC outlined the expected responses of the lake to three potential scenarios reducing phosphorus loads by 5 per cent (natural flushing over several decades), 20 per cent, and 30 per cent but did not identify where or how the reductions could be achieved. The 20 and 30 per cent scenarios included 5 per cent natural flushing and included Minnesota’s plan to cut phosphorus by 17.3 per cent. Here are some of the main points that we heard:
- There is a strong desire to “get on with it” and take steps to reduce phosphorus loads.
- Phosphorus reduction targets are needed, and Canada should participate – but this is an international lake and Canada should not “go it alone” separate from the efforts that Minnesota will be taking as part of its more developed plan.
- The 5 per cent “do nothing” is not a viable option – some noted that this may end up as a net increase if the effects of climate change or increased development continue over the decades to come.
- There was a general preference for the 20 per cent option as it met most objectives, was aligned with Minnesota’s plans to cut phosphorus, and might be achievable.
- The 30 per cent option was preferred by some who wanted to take the strongest action, although the achievability and potential costs were questioned.
- In addition to the general scenarios presented, information was wanted from Canada, similar to that detailed in Minnesota’s plan, that identifies and sets targets for phosphorus reduction for each identified source.
- Involvement and coordination by the International Joint Commission was strongly supported given that the issue is international in scope and the two countries should not have separate targets or approaches.
In general, we heard that there is enough information to get moving on a plan to reduce phosphorus pollution and that this should be done jointly with Minnesota through the International Joint Commission. Canadian information gaps should not be an excuse to do nothing. Any plan should require follow up and adjustment if needed – adaptive management is supported but is predicated on a systematic and sustained monitoring program.