Environmental Approvals Branch
Conservation and Water Stewardship
123 Main Street, Suite 160
Winnipeg MB R3C 1A5
MUNICIPALITY OF DELORAINE-WINCHESTER – WHITEWATER LAKE MANAGEMENT PROJECT – FILE: 5822.00
Nature Manitoba would like to express our grave concern that this proposal, if enacted, could cause extreme damage to the delicate ecology of this species-rich area.
Whitewater Lake is a terminal basin. Its high biodiversity and richness rely on the fluctuation in water levels that wet-dry cycles create. A crescent of ephemeral wetlands stretching from the west around the north to the northeast corner of the lake proper are extremely productive for waterbirds and an extraordinary variety of species. The health of these wetlands is dependent on the natural variation in water levels and they serve an important ecological function of water retention. Shallow parts of the basin and mudflats created by rising and receding water around the lake create vitally important habitat for many species of breeding and migrating shorebirds, while deeper parts of the lake and ephemeral wetlands provide heterogeneous habitat for water fowl, long-legged waders, and other wetland-associated species. As a terminal basin, water levels on the lake naturally fluctuate from bone dry, as was seen in the 1990s, to the extremely high water levels seen today. The result is that fish are excluded and the aquatic invertebrate community flourishes in a unique manner not seen in connected waterways. The richness of aquatic invertebrates thus created is a key to the richness of birdlife found here. In addition to the rich wildlife, the area also hosts unique plants such as the very rare Heliotropium curassavicum. If Whitewater Lake were to be connected to the Souris River, for example, carp could be introduced, with the kind of disastrous results we have seen in many places in the province, like Delta Marsh.
Whitewater Lake is considered a globally significant Important Bird Area (IBA), designated for its massive concentrations of waterfowl (sometimes in excess of 250,000 birds in fall) and tens of thousands of shorebirds, as well as its importance as a breeding site for many dabbling ducks and colonial birds including Franklin’s Gulls that can total more than 40,000 birds in a season, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Eared Grebe. This is essentially the only breeding site in Manitoba for White-faced Ibis, Cattle Egret and Snowy Egret (Canada’s second only nest was recorded here in 2011). It is a major stop-over site for Buff-breasted Sandpiper (globally near-threatened). Several threatened grassland species also breed in the upland areas surrounding the lake including Ferruginous Hawk, Loggerhead Shrike and Sprague’s Pipit. The area is a major tourist attraction too, bringing bird watchers and hunters from across North America. This is a featured stop on any bird watching itinerary in Manitoba for the unique species found here that can be found nowhere else in the province and for the spectacle of massive flocks of waterbirds and shorebirds. Through various agencies the Government of Manitoba encourage people to visit Whitewater on their way to or from the Grasslands birding trail. It is identified as a major site in Manitoba’s Wildlife Viewing Guide, “Pelicans to Polar Bears”, and one of Manitoba’s top wildlife-viewing sites identified in Tourism Manitoba/Sustainable Development Watchable Wildlife Program.
We believe that linking the lake to any of the nearby creeks would seriously jeopardize the ecology of this globally significant area. Water levels at the lake must be permitted to maintain their natural cycle. The area would in fact benefit from tighter controls of drainage into the lake from nearby fields, which is part of the reason for current extreme water levels; expansion of the Wildlife Management area to encompass the highly productive ephemeral wetlands around the north of the lake; and greater promotion as a tourist attraction for watchable wildlife.
If the current proposal is enacted, when Manitoba swings back into a drought cycle, as is inevitable, the decrease in water-retention capabilities will cause hardship not just for wildlife but also for all agricultural producers in the area. We would ask that we be kept informed as to the progress of the proposed environmental licensing applications for works associated with drainage of Whitewater Lake and on the environmental impact assessment(s) that will be called for due to the factors outlined above, as well as any/all mitigation measures that may be proposed and post-construction monitoring, should the project be approved.
We also are concerned that the Province recently released a surface water management strategy that specifically addresses water management in terminal basins. http://gov.mb.ca/waterstewardship/questionnaires/surface_water_management/index.html. This EA application does not match the direction outlined in that strategy.
We appreciate the opportunity to participate in the review of this project proposal and we look forward to a response to our concerns, as well as being kept informed as to the progress of the proposal. If the Department would like clarification of any of the issues raised above and/or any further information on the bird species mentioned above, our members, including professional and amateur birders, would be glad to assist. Do not hesitate to call or email us.
President, Nature Manitoba
Cc: Honourable C. Cox, Minister of Sustainable Development
Mr. R. Wowchuk, MLA