Press release

Moving Phosphorus from Noxious to Precious: IISD report sets out the challenges for Lake Winnipeg

March 3, 2010

WINNIPEG—March 4, 2010—The International Institute for Sustainable Development has issued a report today looking at ways to keep phosphorus on the land and out of waterways as part of an overall plan to address issues associated with the health of Lake Winnipeg.

The problem of excessive phosphorus loading is affecting water bodies in all parts of the world, including Lake Winnipeg, which is the tenth largest lake in the world by surface area, and among the most heavily loaded with phosphorus of the world's great lakes.

Essential to plant growth and all life, phosphorus is mined from rock phosphate deposits and synthesized into chemical fertilizers for food production. While it is essential to food production, Lake Winnipeg and many other water bodies are suffering from algal blooms, feeding off phosphorus from wastewater and agricultural runoff. 

"Phosphorous is an indispensible resource that has been mismanaged to the point that we are jeopardizing our long term food and water security. We need not look any further than Lake Winnipeg to see the consequences of that," said IISD's Vivek Voora, co-author of Peak Phosphorus: Opportunity in the Making—Why the Phosphorus Challenge Presents a New Paradigm for Food Security and Water Quality in the Lake Winnipeg Basin.

While our total global phosphorus reserves remain unknown, statistics on deposits found in recent decades indicate that more phosphate is being extracted than discovered. 

Although dwindling rock phosphate reserves may challenge our industrial model of agriculture, it will also stimulate innovation and create new economic opportunities for capturing and recycling phosphorus back onto agricultural lands.

"Closing the loop on our food systems and moving toward phosphorus independence is crucial to maintain long-term global food and water security," Henry David (Hank) Venema, director of IISD's Sustainable Natural Resources Management program and Water Innovation Centre in Winnipeg.

Agricultural practices that improve plant nutrient uptake can lower fertilizer requirements and runoff. Phosphorus recovery from wastewater, manure, human and food waste can lower mineral fertilizer dependence. For instance, implementing phosphorus recovery technologies in wastewater treatment plants could help recover this precious nutrient.

Phosphorus management and self-sufficiency will be prominent among the solutions strategies discussed at the Lake Winnipeg Basin Summit hosted by IISD's Water Innovation Centre in Winnipeg, November 2010. The phosphorus management solutions developed at the summit will provide insights for addressing food security and water issues worldwide.


For more information, please contact IISD media and communication officer, Nona Pelletier Phone: +1-(204)- 958-7797, Cell: +1-(204)-962-1303 or for additional comment contact Vivek Voora +1-(204)-958-7706 or Henry David (Hank) Venema Phone: +1-(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.