A History of Innovation in the Lake Winnipeg Basin (Video): IISD Publications

Feb 11, 2011 | Corporate Member News

Bonus coverage below:

  • Lake Winnipeg Basin Summit: Key concepts and summit rationale
  • Envisioning the Watershed of the Future

Karla Zubrycki, Jason E.J. Manaigre (Technical Producer), IISD, 2011. Video (22:17), copyright: IISD

Karla Zubrycki of the Water Innovation Centre presents on the history of innovation in the Lake Winnipeg Basin at the Lake Winnipeg Basin Summit, held in Winnipeg, Canada, on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2010. An analysis of the history of the Lake Winnipeg Basin shows that, for centuries, people living in the region have responded to challenges with highly innovative and inspiring solutions that have enabled them to survive and thrive on the prairie landscape. The earliest example given is in the thirteenth century, when First Nations people in Alberta and Saskatchewan adapted to drought by forming a taboo against killing beavers, recognizing that beaver dams store water. The presentation also focused on the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and the innovations that came out if it, including new farm technologies (e.g., the Noble Blade), new government organizations (e.g., the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration) and new non-governmental groups (e.g., Ducks Unlimited Canada). The history of flooding within Manitoba, and responses to it, is also detailed.

Throughout, examples of technological, social and political innovation during the history of human habitation of the basin are discussed. Implications of “lessons learned” for future planning in the basin are suggested, in particular how innovative thinking could potentially help people living in the Lake Winnipeg Basin find solutions to nutrient loading.


Lake Winnipeg Basin Summit: Key concepts and summit rationale

Henry David Venema, Karla Zubrycki (Editor), Jason E.J. Manaigre (Technical Producer), IISD, 2011. Video (12:52), copyright: IISD

Dr. Henry David (Hank) Venema introduces key concepts of the Lake Winnipeg Basin Summit, held in Winnipeg, Canada, on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2010. Dr. Venema presents the focus question for the summit: “How do we create and take advantage of opportunities for Manitoba’s economy while reducing nutrient loading within the Lake Winnipeg Basin?” Key elements of the summit rationale include the possibility that strategic investment in phosphorous recapture could help develop a strong Manitoban bioeconomy (an economy structured around renewable resources and the efficient use of non-renewable resources) and the notion that the world economy is on the verge of a new “wave of innovation.” In addition, Dr. Venema explains that Manitobans have a history of visionary thinking, as witnessed through such past feats such as the construction of the Manitoba Floodway. Dr. Venema suggests that Manitobans can, once again, seize upon their history of innovative thinking in order to solve the problems currently facing Lake Winnipeg.

Envisioning the Watershed of the Future

 Matthew McCandless, Dean Medeiros, Karla Zubrycki (Editor), Jason E.J. Manaigre (Technical Producer), IISD, 2011. Video (22:51), copyright: IISD

Matthew McCandless and Dean Medeiros of the Water Innovation Centre present on a hypothetical watershed at the Lake Winnipeg Basin Summit, held in Winnipeg, Canada, on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2010. This future watershed has attained a sustainable environmental and socioeconomic equilibrium through the development of a bioeconomy—an economy in which the basic building blocks for industry are obtained from renewable sources. This vision reduces non-point nutrient loading in the watershed, while simultaneously strengthening the agricultural sector. It provides greater resilience to droughts, floods and high fertilizer prices, while simultaneously generating new value chains for agricultural wastes and ecological services.

Central to the “Watershed of the Future” concept is the harvesting of agricultural residues, as well as the restoration of wetlands and shorelines, from which plant materials could also be harvested. The “Watershed of the Future” seizes upon the impressive nutrient uptake potential of wetland plants (e.g., cattails) and aquatic vegetation (e.g., duckweed), and recognizes that the nutrients locked within these plant fibres could be recaptured. In total, non-point phosphorous loading to waterways could be reduced by 25 to 95 per cent.

Once harvested, this plant matter would be processed in biorefineries—industrial plants that take biological materials as their inputs—and turned into high-value products such as cellulosic ethanol, bioplastics and pharmaceuticals. Through these biorefineries, phosphorous and nitrogen would also be recycled back into agriculture as fertilizers, thereby decreasing Manitoba’s reliance on fuel-intensive nitrogen fertilizers and phosphorous imported from mines.

In addition, the “Watershed of the Future” takes an innovative approach to wastewater treatment, proposing that the approximately 400 wastewater treatment sites in Manitoba could become part of the bioeconomy through the creation of constructed wetlands that would not only clean the water and provide wildlife habitat, but also grow raw materials for processing in biorefineries.

About the International Institute for Sustainable Development

The world is challenged by a changing climate, biodiversity loss, abject poverty and environmental degradation. What can make a difference? Good ideas. Creativity. Passion. Innovation. The achievement of change.

IISD is in the business of promoting change towards sustainable development. As a policy research institute dedicated to effective communication of our findings, we engage decision-makers in government, business, NGOs and other sectors in the development and implementation of policies that are simultaneously beneficial to the global economy, the global environment and to social well-being.

In the pursuit of sustainable development, we promote open and effective international negotiation processes. And we believe fervently in the importance of building our own institutional capacity while helping our partner organizations in the developing world to excel.

Established in 1990, IISD is a Canadian-based not-for-profit organization with a diverse team of more than 150 people located in more than 30 countries. Through our dynamic portfolio of projects, we partner with more than 200 organizations throughout the world. To learn more about our history, please visit the IISD Timeline.

Click here to learn more about our project work and programs, which are guided by our strategic institutional directions. And please visit our IISD Linkages site to follow our coverage of international negotiations on environment and development.

IISD is registered as a charitable organization in Canada and has 501(c)(3) status in the United States. IISD receives core operating support from the Government of Canada, provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Environment Canada, and from the Province of Manitoba. The Institute receives project funding from numerous governments inside and outside Canada, United Nations agencies, foundations and the private sector.

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