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Water Stewardship Division

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Water Quality Management


The Water Quality Management Section provides services in support of the Department's mission by protecting, maintaining, and where necessary, rehabilitating the quality of Manitoba's aquatic ecosystems. This is done through the application of principals and policies of sustainable development and through the innovative management of risks.

The Water Quality Management Section is comprised of six full time professionals, one part time professional, and often several others on term, part-time, or students with expertise in various areas of aquatic ecology, water chemistry, biology, limnology, groundwater hydrogeology, statistical analyses, plus other related disciplines.

Partners, Stakeholders, and Clients:

Partners, stakeholders, and clients of the Water Quality Management Section are varied and include general public, First Nations, municipalities, volunteer lake and stream stewardship groups, Conservation Districts, non-governmental organizations, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Agriculture Canada (PFRA), Indian and Northern Affairs, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, neighbouring jurisdictions, consultants, industries, other provincial government departments, other departmental Divisions, Branches, and Sections, students, and educators.


The objectives of the Water Quality Management Section are:

  • To develop, implement, and regularly update routine, long-term programs intended to protect and maintain the health of Manitoba's aquatic ecosystem;
  • To develop and implement programs to respond to water quality issues that can be addressed through intensive, short-term activities;
  • To respond in a timely manner to immediate water quality issues, emergencies, and pressures that may change from day to day;
  • To provide leadership within Manitoba, within the Canadian prairie region, nationally within Canada, and internationally within watersheds shared with the United States to develop and implement coherent and co-ordinated water programs that are responsive to present and to long-term future needs, issues, and pressures.

To achieve these objectives, the Water Quality Management Section:

Sampling for invertebrates
Sampling for invertebrates
sampling for water chemistry
Sampling for water chemistry
  • Operates an ambient monitoring network on major streams and lakes, including Shoal Lake, other municipal water supplies, and recreational beaches, assisted by volunteers, organizations such as Conservation Districts, and Regional personnel:
    • Ambient water quality monitoring activities are conducted at over 50 sites. Up to 100 water quality variables are measured at most sites throughout the year, while the bottom invertebrate community are assessed at over 20 sites. Both water chemistry and the structure of the invertebrate community assist in determining ecosystem health. Data continued to be routinely requested by external stakeholders, and are used extensively by the Department, for example, to determine assimilative capacity prior to making discharge licencing decisions under the Manitoba Environment Act.
    • The quality of water at nearly 50 beaches is monitored and information is posted as it becomes available (Beach Monitoring Data). While monitoring is not specifically undertaken for the presence of swimmer's itch at Manitoba beaches, reports of confirmed cases of swimmer's itch are compiled (Swimmer's Itch Posting) and posting of advisory signs at affected beaches are coordinated.
    • Shoal Lake, the source of the City of Winnipeg's drinking water, is also monitored on a routine basis.
  • Undertakes issue-based, site-specific studies, usually by intensive sampling over a short period. Studies assess point and non-point source impacts arising from agriculture, mining, forestry, municipal discharges, and others.
  • Co-operates with industry, government, and others to protect water quality from impacts related to agricultural diversification.
  • Supports and participates in scientific studies to better understand impacts of human disturbance on ecosystem structure and function.
    • A 3-year water quality study on the Assiniboine River was initiated late in 2000. A major portion of the study will provide information that will assist to better manage effluent discharges to the river.
    • Participation occurs in experimental studies at South Tobacco Creek to gain a better understanding of agricultural impacts on water quality.
  • Develops and recommends water quality standards, objectives, and guidelines to protect water quality and ecosystem integrity:
    • Personnel from the Water Quality Management Section represent Manitoba on the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment's Water Quality Guidelines Task Group.
    • Significant revisions to the Manitoba Water Quality Standards, Objectives, and Guidelines are proposed. Important proposed revisions include protection of ground water in addition to surface water, protection of broader ecosystem integrity along with updated standards, objectives, and guidelines for over 100 materials, and harmonizing the approach with principles advanced by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.
    • A draft Nutrient Management Strategy was released for review in early 2000-2001. One of the major water quality issues in the major regions of North America, including Manitoba is the artificial enrichment of streams and lakes with plant nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen. Virtually all man's activities in the contributing watershed (i.e., Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Ontario) including municipal and industrial discharges, agricultural activities, forestry, discharges from cottages, plus others play a role in this issue. The Nutrient Management Strategy will lead to more appropriate water quality objectives for both prairie streams and for receiving lakes such as Lake Winnipeg, then will involve development of an implementation plan, if reductions are required. The Clean Environment Commission will be playing a role in both major parts of this Strategy. In December 2001, a comprehensive technical report was completed that describes the findings from an assessment of trends over about the past 30 years in nitrogen and phosphorus at 46 water quality monitoring sites on 33 streams in Manitoba (link to Trend Report. (PDF 13.5mb). In November 2002, a technical report was completed that provides a preliminary estimate of total nitrogen and total phosphorus loading to streams in Manitoba. Other technical reports on this important issue will follow, as they become available.
    • As part of the basic scientific activities related to the Nutrient Management Strategy, considerable water quality work is being undertaken on Lake Winnipeg to better understand its existing condition, and to develop a water quality model to assist with better managing inputs of nutrients. Click on the following pictures of water quality sampling on Lake Winnipeg for a larger image.
Lake Winnipeg water quality monitoring Lake Winnipeg water quality monitoring Lake Winnipeg water quality monitoring DFO ship Namao

Water quality monitoring on Lake Winnipeg
  • The Water Quality Management Section lead the provinces' participation in the development of a Watershed Management Plan for Shoal Lake, the source of the City of Winnipeg's water supply, along with Ontario, Canada, and five First Nations. The Section provides significant support to develop locally-based plans for other water bodies such as Killarney Lake.
  • Provides technical and scientific support to the Department, government agencies, Clean Environment Commission, and others.
  • Because over 70% of Manitoba's surface water originates from other jurisdictions, Water Quality Management Section plays a major role in ensuring that transboundary water quality is protected and of sufficiently good quality to meet our needs.
    • Co-operates with neighbouring jurisdictions to protect water quality from upstream developments, including participating in International Joint Commission, Prairie Provinces Water Board, and other multi-jurisdictional task forces and committees. The Water Quality Management Section participates on the International Joint Commission's International Red River Board, the Canada - United States Garrison Joint Technical Committee, and the Prairie Provinces Water Board's Committee on Water Quality.
    • Significant support is provided to oppose the interbasin transfer of water and the threat posed to Manitoba from aquatic nuisance species from the proposed outlet to Devils Lake and various features of the Garrison diversion project.
  • Addresses non-point source pollution problems through informal partnerships with cottage-owner associations, lake and stream stewardship groups, Conservation Districts, municipalities, and other local authorities. Water quality information is collected where necessary, and cooperative, basin-wide approaches to maintaining and rehabilitating water quality are developed.
  • Educates volunteers and local citizen groups to foster greater awareness and empower local stewardship. Activities include presentations, short non-technical articles for newsletters appropriate to the audience, and comprehensive widely-distributed documents such as the Manitoba Water Protection Handbook.
  • Monitors mercury concentrations in fish tissues and develops guidelines for the consumption of recreationally angled fish from Manitoba waters. The guidelines are derived from Health Canada recommendations.
  • Reviews and comments on proposals under The Environment Act and The Dangerous Goods Handling and Transportation Act.
  • Provides leadership in many areas of aquatic ecosystem protection including participation in local, provincial, regional, national, and international committees to address specific issues and to develop coordinated actions.
  • Administers the Canada-Manitoba Water Quality Monitoring Agreement.
  • Develops and implements co-operative, proactive strategies to prevent invasion by zebra mussels and other aquatic non-indigenous species including participating on the executive of the Western Regional Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species and the 100th Meridian Project. Monitoring is undertaken in Manitoba for the presence of zebra mussels and other aquatic nuisance species, and inspections are conducted for zebra mussels during the summer months on boats and other water equipment being transported into Manitoba.
  • Contributes to sustainability reporting, including operation of ambient monitoring sites in several ecozones, database maintenance, and incorporation of community- and ecosystem-level monitoring and reporting tools to provide information on sustainability indicators including the Canadian Water Quality Index.
  • Manages acquisition of on-going, high quality laboratory analytical services for the Department.
  • Manages water quality data in a secure, user-friendly system that meets complex, on-going needs of the Section, Department, clients, and partners.