Lake Winnipeg Nutrient-Bioenergy Projects

What's New in Lake Winnipeg Nutrient-Bioenergy Projects?

Cattails for Clean Community Waterways (video)

This project has multiple benefits. Cattail and grasses absorb large amounts of phosphorus, a nutrient that can cause algal blooms when it enters waterways. Harvesting cattail and prairie grasses captures this phosphorus before it can enter urban waterways and Lake Winnipeg-which was named the most threatened lake in the world in 2013 by the Global Nature Fund. At the same time, renewable and sustainable bioenergy is produced. The pellets were used to provide space heating for the Living Prairie Museum in the winter and spring of 2014.

IISD has been exploring the use of cattail harvesting to improve water quality for more than eight years. This project was the first time IISD applied the concept in an urban setting.

Cattails Harvesting for Carbon Offsets and Nutrient Capture: A "Lake Friendly" greenhouse gas project
The Cattail Biomass Harvesting project is pursuing and evaluating the commercial-scale harvesting of cattail (Typha spp.) for its multiple co-benefits. This progress report details the project background, descriptions of current cattail biomass harvest sites, a proposed plan for commercial-scale cattail harvesting, and opportunities for carbon offset markets and certification. It concludes with a legislative and regulatory review for cattail harvesting in Manitoba. The Cattail Biomass Harvesting project, a component of the International Institute for Sustainable Development's ongoing Netley-Libau Nutrient-Bioenergy Project, is co-funded by Manitoba Lotteries, Manitoba Conservation Department of Water Stewardship and Manitoba Hydro.

Our Lake, Our Solutions: Two years of progress and partnerships
In 2010, IISD hosted the Lake Winnipeg Basin Summit in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The event brought together 150 stakeholders to talk about solutions for Lake Winnipeg, the 10th largest freshwater lake in the world and one of the most nutrient-stressed.

After the Summit, IISD took ownership of implementing the idea of a bioeconomy, an economy in which the basic building blocks for industry and the raw materials for energy come from plant-based renewable resources. For example, this video showcases a 2012 harvesting of the common wetland plant, cattail (Typha spp.). This pilot initiative proved that large-scale harvesting of this source of biomass is possible. In total, IISD harvested 850 cattail bales at Netley-Libau Marsh, in ditches along the Trans-Canada Highway and at Pelly's Lake in the LaSalle Redboine Conservation District. The resulting bales removed roughly 900 kilograms of phosphorus, equivalent to the amount of phosphorus in 3,300 bags of lawn-starting fertilizer. The harvesting also offset roughly 630 tonnes of carbon, equivalent to the average annual greenhouse gas emissions from about 120 cars.

In 2005, IISD began work on the concept of harvesting the wetland plant, cattail, in Netley-Libau Marsh, located at the south end of Lake Winnipeg, with a goal of capturing phosphorus and reducing algal blooms in the lake. Since then, the concept has flourished and expanded. New benefits to harvesting cattail have been recognized, including the production of bioenergy, potential flood mitigation, greenhouse gas sequestration and habitat improvement. IISD is now working with partners at many urban and rural throughout Manitoba to develop and refine new bioenergy and bioproduct value chains. IISD is also seeking to replicate the concept outside of Manitoba.

The Netley-Libau Marsh Research Project

Netley-Libau Marsh, a 250 km2 freshwater coastal wetland, lies at the mouth of the Red River and the south end of Lake Winnipeg (click here for aerial tour). Considered one of the largest freshwater wetlands in Canada, Netley-Libau Marsh is recognized as an important wildlife area. It is designated an Important Bird Area by Bird Studies Canada and the Canadian Nature Federation, and is also a candidate for designation as a Manitoba Heritage Marsh by the Manitoba government. The area is traditionally used for agriculture and recreation (such as boating, hunting, fishing and snowmobiling). In addition, the wetland is a filter for the large quantity of nutrients flowing through the Red River and into Lake Winnipeg—which is an important and overlooked function of the marsh that is increasingly understood as a key component of an overall Lake Winnipeg nutrient management strategy.

Netley-Libau Marsh is comprised of shallow lakes, channels and wetland areas through which the Red River flows on its way to Lake Winnipeg. It was described in 1857 as "a series of reedy marshes that extend in all directions as far as the eye can see" (Hind 18601). Over the past few decades, however, the structure of Netley-Libau Marsh has been significantly altered. Drainage, dredging and other water management schemes occurring since the early part of the last century have substantially altered the natural flow of the Red River through the marsh. Since the 1970s, Lake Winnipeg water levels have also been managed by Manitoba Hydro for hydroelectric production. Netley-Libau Marsh has experienced a significant loss of plant communities and wildlife and fish habitat, a gradual loss of aquatic vegetation and wetland areas, the erosion of channels, an amalgamation of water bodies and declining water bird populations. Unfortunately, Netley-Libau Marsh is not currently functioning as a healthy coastal wetland. Many of the benefits the lake could provide as a habitat and in removing and storing excess nutrients that have been lost can be revitalized through restoration and management of the marsh.

Netley-Libau Marsh (Canada)


The Netley-Libau Marsh Research Project: Exploring the Opportunities

The purpose of the award-winning and internationally recognized Netley-Libau Marsh research project is to understand the importance of the marsh to the health of Lake Winnipeg, and how this large freshwater coastal wetland influences the quality of water flowing into the lake from the Red River. Current research on the Netley-Libau Marsh has looked at biomass and nutrient accumulation in marsh plants such as cattail to understand nutrient cycling and nutrient storage within this marsh system. Research has also examined the concept of harvesting and removing marsh plant biomass for the purpose of removing stored nutrients from the wetland. Click here to view brochure (PDF - 3.8 MB).

IISD is working with several key project partners as part of a new Wetlands Working Group, hosted by the Department of Water Stewardship, which clearly emphasizes the growing commitment and renewed interest for the research, future management and rehabilitation of this critical coastal wetland. The award-winning and internationally recognized Netley-Libau Marsh research project continues to evolve with an enhanced and expanded research program for 2009–2010, with financial support from Manitoba Water Stewardship and from Environment Canada's Lake Winnipeg Basin Stewardship Fund.

View a detailed case study of Netley-Libau Marsh here (PDF - 1MB).

Netley-Libau Nutrient-Bioenergy Project Recognized Nationally and Internationally

Media coverage of IISD's award-winning and internationally recognized Netley-Libau Marsh research project

1 Hind, H. Y. (1860). Narrative of the Canadian Red River Exploring Expedition of 1857 and of the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Exploring Expedition of 1858 in Two Volumes. Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts. London.