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Study eyes wetlands’ role against nutrient overload

Ducks Unlimited Canada has picked up almost $380,000 in federal funds to see how isolated wetlands can help keep watersheds free of excess nutrients and sediment.

While the study’s larger goal is to find ways to protect Lake Winnipeg, its focus will be on the other side of the province, in the Broughton’s Creek watershed north of Brandon.

DUC said it will direct $379,800 in federal funding to its Broughton’s Creek watershed project “to further the development of a model/experimental watershed representative of the Manitoba Prairie Pothole region.”

The research, DUC said, will establish a monitoring network that will be used to assess the role isolated wetlands play in mitigating export of nutrients and sediment from watersheds contributing to Lake Winnipeg.

The Broughton’s Creek watershed was studied by DUC because the land use and wetland loss trends are representative of southwestern Manitoba and the Prairie Pothole region.

(The Prairie Pothole region includes essentially all of the Canadian Prairies and extends south into the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana and Nebraska. Its name comes from the millions of shallow depressions, or potholes, in which most of the region’s wetlands were formed, left behind after the retreat of the glaciers during the last ice age.)

The results from DUC’s previous research have found 5,921 wetland basins, or 70 per cent of the total number of wetlands in the Broughton’s Creek watershed, have been “degraded or totally lost” due to drainage activity between 1968 and 2005. This has resulted in 21 per cent of the wetland area being lost, DUC said, not counting wetland loss before 1968 or after 2005.

The study to date has “clearly confirmed” that continued wetland loss is “significantly deteriorating Manitoba’s environment,” DUC said Monday.

“Algae blooms on Lake Winnipeg and many other lakes in Manitoba are a symptom of increased nutrients delivered from upstream watersheds,” the organization said. “The Broughton’s Creek research also has implications in other parts of Canada that are influenced by the same land use practices.”

The new DUC monitoring project will develop models that can be used by the Lake Winnipeg community as a blueprint for future nutrient load reduction efforts, Manitoba MP Vic Toews said in DUC’s release.

DUC said its work in the Broughton’s Creek watershed stresses the “importance of wetlands in delivering ecological goods and services to all Manitobans.”

Wetlands, DUC said, “mitigate the effects of floods and drought, lessen the impacts of erosion and sequester carbon. Landowners are looking for solutions to remain sustainable and wetlands are part of a healthy agro-Manitoba.”

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