The emerging bioeconomy offers profitable solutions to many of Manitoba’s water woes. Our water and nutrient management issues that bedevil us now will be our strategic assets in the future.

Currently, we oscillate between flood and drought risks in our watersheds relying heavily on drainage, which is essentially a 19th-century technology. We lament natural capital lost as our wetlands disappear. We fear for the health of our beloved Lake Winnipeg, and we debate the science for waste water treatment to protect the lake.

To address these issues we need to see the underlying strategic value of our natural assets — land, water and nutrients — as the basic inputs for a 21st-century bioeconomy. Neither this generation of Canadians nor the next should accept less than world-class stewardship of our natural resources — it will be Manitoba’s comparative advantage.

At the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference in Saskatoon last month, Canadian clean-tech investment guru John Hamer noted that companies focused on biomass production and refining for high-end products, such as bio-plastics and bio-chemicals, are now attracting major investment interest.

These leading-edge companies are gravitating to regions with high biomass production potential — something Manitoba is rich in. It offers our generation an opportunity to demonstrate foresight and global intelligence — Lake Winnipeg is our reason to plot a course to a sustainable and prosperous bio-economy.

There is great potential to harness excess nutrients for biomass production and leverage these opportunities to revitalize Manitoba communities through the development of profitable biomass refining and nutrient recovery.

The long-term strategic value of agricultural nutrients is enormous — global food security depends on it and a clear implication is that every new urban and municipal wastewater treatment system should be built around the principle of maximizing nutrient recovery.

IISD’s Water Innovation Centre has put some important ideas on the table, though there is still much work to do. We’ve identified a potential game changer in the peak phosphorus issue; the nutrient we generally regard as a noxious pollutant is actually a scarce and valuable resource with major technology and economic development implications.

We’ve highlighted the strategic significance of the huge Netley-Libau wetland complex at the mouth of the Red River and we’re proving that we can “design with nature” using wetlands to produce biomass feedstock and recover nutrients.

IISD has identified Manitoba’s version of the smart watershed — infused with the right mix of water management and agricultural biotechnology — as the key to drought and flood protection and nutrient management.

We don’t choose our crises; we only choose how we respond.

This article originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press November 5, 2010 

About Henry David Venema, PhD:

Dr. Henry David Venema

Dr. Henry David (Hank) Venema directs IISD’s Water Innovation Centre and Sustainable Natural Resources Management Program. Dr. Venema is a professional engineer with a diverse natural resource background spanning water resources, agriculture, energy, climate change mitigation and adaptation, rural development, ecosystem management, environmental economics and environmental finance.

Since 2004 Dr. Venema has led IISD’s research on water and agricultural issues in pioneering the application of Natural Capital principles to water management challenges in Western Canada. In 2009, Hank led the creation of IISD’s Water Innovation Centre with an initial mandate to build a strategic vision for Lake Winnipeg Basin management based on leading-edge policy, management and technological concepts.

To learn more about Dr. Venema click here. To learn more about IISD click here

About John Fjeldsted:

John Fjeldsted

John is the CEO / President of Global Wind Group Inc and the  Executive Director of the Manitoba Environmental Industries Association (MEIA), a position he has held since July, 2007.He has Bachelor of Arts in geography from the University of Manitoba.  He also holds journeyman licences in both the Power Electrician and Construction Electrician fields. Previous to joining MEIA, John worked for over 35 years for Manitoba Hydro retiring from the position of Manager of Corporate Planning and Environment. During his time with Manitoba Hydro, he worked as a journeyman power electrician, held various positions in corporate purchasing and human resources, and since 1995 in Environmental Management and Corporate Planning. Additionally, he was a member of the executive committee and co-chair of the task group for the Environmental Commitment and Responsibility Program of the Canadian Electricity Association. John was also a member of the technical committee on Environmental Auditing and Related Investigations for the Canadian Standards Association and as such participated on the joint committee responsible for Canadian input to ISO 19011, the Guideline for Quality and/or Environmental Management Systems Auditing. 

To find out more about Global Wind Group Inc click here

To find out more about MEIA click here.