Press release

IISD study finds billions of dollars could be gained through restoration of Lake Winnipeg watershed

June 8, 2008

IISD study finds billions of dollars could be gained through restoration of Lake Winnipeg watershed Findings have implications for better management of Canada's environmental assets

WINNIPEG—June 9, 2008—Manitoba could gain billions of dollars a year in ecosystem services through environmental restoration of the Lake Winnipeg watershed, according to the co-authors of a ground-breaking study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

IISD has been working with Environment Canada to assess the ecosystem services provided by the current and pre-settlement distribution of southern Manitoba's environmental assets or natural capital, as this landscape contributes a substantial portion of the nutrient load flowing into one of Canada's largest and most threatened lakes.

For example, water treatment and purification services could be obtained from wetlands, which also prevent floods by retaining surface runoff. There are many other ways in which environmental assets or natural capital can be used to deliver economic value through ecosystem services, such as providing wildlife habitat or carbon sequestration.

The study reconstructed three separate pre-settlement views of the Canadian Prairie, and focused on the Souris, Red and Assiniboine watersheds that are part of the massive Lake Winnipeg watershed. These areas, once a mosaic of forest, native prairie and wetlands, have largely been cleared and drained for agriculture.

"We can't turn back the clock completely, nor should we. Agriculture is an important component of the Manitoba economy, and sustainable agriculture provides many of the same ecosystem services as did pre-settlement ecosystems. Our challenge is to find the right balance between productive and natural landscapes within our watersheds – a lot of money hangs in the balance," said Henry David (Hank) Venema, IISD's director of Sustainable Natural Resources Management, co-author of the report

"If those pre-settlement landscapes could be re-created, they would provide, on an annual basis, between $500 million and $3.1 billion of ecosystem services, and between $80 million and $1.4 billion worth of carbon offsets in the emissions market."

"Having the means to value ecosystem services can help justify spending in preserving and restoring these natural environments, compared to often more expensive hard infrastructure investments," said Vivek Voora, IISD project officer and co-author.

The study also has important implications for the health of Lake Winnipeg and our ability to cope with extreme weather expected with climate change.

"The restoration of the Prairies' natural capital could help address many of the major environmental management problems and threats we are facing," Venema said. "This work has applications for improved management of watersheds in other parts of Canada and around the world."

Learn more about the study

Please refer to the following two reports: The Natural Capital Approach - Concept Paper (PDF - 1.5 mb) and An Ecosystem Services Assessment of the Lake Winnipeg Watershed: Phase 1 Report - Southern Manitoba Analysis (PDF - 2.3 mb).

For more information, please contact: Nona Pelletier, IISD media and communications officer (204) 958-7740

For additional comment, please contact: Vivek Voora (204) 958-7797 or Henry David (Hank) Venema (204) 958-7706

About IISD

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resource management, and fair economies. Our work inspires better decisions and sparks meaningful action to help people and the planet thrive. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities come together. IISD’s staff of more than 250 experts come from across the globe and from many disciplines. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, our work affects lives in nearly 100 countries.