Water, Sun and Sand: To Lake Winnipeg With Love

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Walking With Nature Manitoba Along the South Basin of Lake Winnipeg

Flooded pathways lead to the beach
Nature Manitoba - click to expand

Nature Manitoba is a not-for-profit organization that was founded in 1920 as the Natural History Society of Manitoba (later known as the Manitoba Naturalists Society), for the popular and scientific study of nature

In 2009, the name changed to Nature Manitoba. Members share a passion for nature and the goal is to promote an appreciation and an understanding of nature, and to preserve and enjoy it. Nature Manitoba offers a wide variety of indoor and outdoor programs year-round, and advocates for the protection of our natural environment. 

Leopard Frog

Nature Manitoba believes that the opportunity to experience the natural world in peace and tranquility is a joy and a privilege. We believe in the importance of sound stewardship of our parks, wilderness and other natural areas, and are proponents of self-propelled (non-motorized) recreation when enjoying these areas. 

Elk Island

Roger Sutherland of Nature Manitoba
In June I went for a walk with a group of Nature Manitoba members led by Nature Guide, Roger Sutherland. 

The lake is swollen and deeper than in years before which prevented our planned expedition to Elk Island. You can reach Elk Island by walking across the water on a sand bar but Roger estimated that the lake was eight feet deeper this year. Roger and I walked for much of the hike in the water which had consumed much of the beach. The other hikers walked along the shore but must have been hot in their hiking gear. 

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Nature Manitoba 

Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba are remnants of prehistoric Glacial Lake Agassiz. Lake Winnipeg measures 24,514-square-kilometre (9,465 sq mi)  and is the sixth-largest freshwater lake in Canada, but it is relatively shallow (mean depth of 12 m (39 ft)) excluding a narrow 36 m (118 ft) deep channel between the northern and southern basins. It is the eleventh-largest freshwater lake on Earth. The east side of the lake has pristine boreal forests and rivers that are being promoted as a potential United Nations World Heritage Park. The name Winnipeg comes from the Cree language meaning muddy waters.

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The lake's watershed measures about 984,200 square kilometres (380,000 sq mi), and covers much of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, northwestern Ontario, Minnesota, and North Dakota. 

A watershed or drainage basin is an extent or an area of land where surface water from rain and melting snow or ice converges to a single point, usually the exit of the basin, where the waters join another body of water, such as a river, lake, reservoir, estuary, wetland, sea, or ocean. In closed drainage basins the water converges to a single point inside the basin, known as a sink, which may be a permanent lake, dry lake, or a point where surface water is lost underground. The drainage basin includes both the streams and rivers that convey the water as well as the land surfaces from which water drains into those channels, and is separated from adjacent basins by a drainage divide.

Roger digs for Cattail rhizomes
One of Roger's passions is wild edibles and healing with native plants. Cattails can furnish survival food. 

Rhizomes which underlie beds of cattails or bulrushes can be roasted and taste like a fibrous sweet potato and are great energy food. The raw rhizomes, peeled and dried, can easily be pounded into a a flour. On the running ends of rhizomes are white sprouts that will be next year's cattails and these make remarkably palatable vegetables, eaten either raw or cooked. In the early spring, when these sprouts have grown into fat young plants, they can be peeled to reveal a tender white heart referred to as Cossack asparagus.

A return visit
I returned for another visit to the lake in July, being the fortunate guest at a cottage at Victoria Beach. The first day was perfection with a high wind, no biting bugs and crashing waves. The lake had destroyed the cottage stairs, the landings down to the water, and had eroded great chunks of beach front earth banks.  

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Because of its long, narrow shape, the lake exhibits a variety of interesting wind and wave effects, including temporary water level rises of up to one metre in height at its southern shore, a process called seiche. This occurs when prevailing northerly winds blow along the length of Lake Winnipeg, exerting a horizontal stress on its surface. Surface waters move in the direction of the wind and pile up along the leeward south shores. 

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Water depths are known to be extremely variable at the south end of the lake. Many of the recreational beaches on the southern end of the lake feature rustic, seasonal piers for swimmers. It is not uncommon to be able to walk off the end of one of these piers one day into more than waist-deep water, then return a few days later to the same spot to find the water only ankle deep, or even, exposed sand.

Setups greater than 1m above normal lake levels have been recorded along many of southern Lake Winnipeg's recreational beaches, and the associated high waves with their up rush effects have caused considerable storm damage, back shore flood, and shoreline erosion. The highest setups occur in the fall, when the northerly winds are strongest.

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Lake Winnipeg is suffering from many environmental issues such as an explosion in the population of algae, caused by excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus seeping into the lake. The pollution is now so bad that it is reaching a dangerous point for human health.

Lake Winnipeg has important commercial fisheries. Its catch makes up a major part of Manitoba's $30 million-a-year fishing industry and 33% of all fishing revenues in Canada. More than 800 commercial fishing operations take some 14 million pounds of fish from the lake each year, exporting much of it to the United States and around the world. But a commercial fishing industry that has prospered for 120 years on the world's 11th largest freshwater lake is threatened by pollution, much of it flowing north in the Red River from Minnesota and North Dakota. Manitoba researchers have been collecting data since 2002, using a retired coast guard ship to travel the lake. The first noticeable negative impact appears to be the death of small aquatic species in areas where decomposing algae uses up all the oxygen.

Phosphorus levels have doubled, and researchers have found oxygen-depleted water over thousands of square miles, said Al Kristofferson, coordinator for the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium.

About half the phosphorus flowing into the lake comes from Minnesota and North Dakota, and agriculture is the biggest contributor, said University of Manitoba scientist Greg McCullough.

Red River valley farmers grow soybeans, wheat and sugarbeets on some of the richest farmland in the world.

Not only are people putting more phosphorus into the water from sewage, animal manure and farm fertilizer, McCullough said, larger, more frequent floods are efficiently flushing that phosphorus into the lake.

A lot of people 10 years ago would come to me and say, Well don't these big floods dilute all this? They don't. They do exactly the opposite, they pick up more, McCullough said.

Researchers are developing a computer model to help them predict the future and suggest when the lake could be overwhelmed by algae growth.

What does that do to the creatures that live on the bottom? Kristoferrson asked, standing on the bridge of the research ship Namao. The big ones can swim away, the fish and the larger invertebrates, but the little ones can't ... If nothing is done it will become more widespread and that's how it will kill the lake.

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Manitoba Water Stewardship Minister Christine Melnick says the problem has been developing for decades and it won't be quickly solved. But she says there is some urgency to fix it since it's not clear how much phosphorus the lake can handle.

I think we need to work as quickly as is reasonably and rationally possible, she said. And make sure that what we're doing will be effective and make sure that we're coming at all the different angles that we can.

Melnick says Manitoba has followed Minnesota in restricting phosphates in dish washing detergent, and limiting phosphorus in lawn fertilizer. Legislation recently passed in Manitoba will encourage farmers to plant more buffer strips at the edges of their fields to slow erosion, but researchers say those buffer strips won't stop much of the phosphorus leaving the fields.

Melnick says the problem can't be solved without help from Minnesota and North Dakota. The governments are all discussing the issue, but each government monitors water quality differently, and sometimes studies of water quality in the Red River stop at the Canadian border.

There are currently discussions between U.S. and Canadian officials about a common voluntary goal to reduce phosphorus by 10 percent.

McCullough said that's a good start, but it won't save the lake. The phosphorus concentration in Lake Winnipeg has doubled. Reducing it by 10 percent isn't going to do it. You've got to take a bigger swath out of it. To do that you've got to deal with phosphorus on the land somehow. Either with how much is put on the land as fertilizer or manure, or how it's put on the land, he said.

And that leaves researchers with the daunting task of finding a way to slow the phosphorus washing off the land across the vast Red River Valley.

A Possible Solution
Algal turf scrubbers
With water shortages looming in the future, we need new ways to clean water that's been fouled by human waste, agricultural runoff and industry. A new article published in BioScience shows that we can use naturally occurring algae as a filter. The plants would not only make the water suitable for re-use, but could also allow us to harvest pollutants for fertilizer and even biofuel. 
Algal turf scrubbers (or ATS) have been known for decades, and they are looking more attractive as demand rises for cheap and effective ways to clean water. The scrubbers are usually large outdoor fields, where the algae uses sunlight as a fuel source to pull nitrogen and phosphorous out of the water, and replaces them with oxygen. While traditionally used in large inland sewage treatment plants, the ATSs can also be modified to work in open water, so they don't take up useful space on land. Once you've sucked up the pollution from the water, what do you do with the algae? There's the fun part. The infusion of nitrogen and phosphorous make the algae into an excellent fertilizer, and with a bit of work you can even turn it into a biofuel. Once a week you can harvest the algae, and it functions as a fertilizer about as efficient as commercial options. The researchers are quick to point out that turning it into biofuel isn't yet efficient enough to turn a profit, it does help to recoup costs, and is another benefit for the system. 
At least one company is already working on a commercial application of ATSs, but there's more in the works. There's talk of making 3D meshes to grow the algae more efficiently, and of mobilizing screens of them into the ocean to help with runoff from cities.  Tim Barribeau 

Eutrophication is a slow, aging process during which a lake or estuary evolves into a bog or marsh, and eventually disappears. During eutrophication, the lake becomes so rich in nutritive compounds (especially nitrogen and phosphorus) that algae and other microscopic plant life become superabundant, thereby choking the lake and causing it to eventually dry up.

Eutrophication is accelerated by discharges of nutrients in the form of sewage, detergents and fertilizers into the ecosystem.

Eutrophication can be a natural process in lakes, as they age through geological time. Estuaries also tend to be naturally eutrophic because land-derived nutrients are concentrated where run-off enters the marine environment in a confined channel and mixing of relatively high nutrient freshwater with low nutrient marine water occurs.

Eutrophication can also cause Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), which can harm fish and shellfish, as well as the people who consume them. Some algae can cause negative effects when they appear in dense blooms, while others have potent neurotoxins and need not be present in large numbers.


Water pollution has been defined as the presence in water of harmful and objectionable material - obtained from sewers, industrial wastes and rainwater run-off - in sufficient concentrations to make it unfit for use.

We have long used air, land and water resources as sinks into which we dispose of the wastes we generate. These disposal practices leave most wastes inadequately treated, thereby causing pollution. This in turn affects precipitation, surface waters, and groundwater, as well as degrading ecosystems. 

Pollution from agriculture, industry and domestic wastewater is making water resources, both surface water and groundwater, increasingly scarce and decreasingly poor in quality.

The sources of pollution that impact water resources can develop at different scales (local, regional and global) but can generally be categorized according to nine types: organic matter; pathogens and microbial contaminants; nutrients; salinization; acidification (precipitation or runoff); heavy metals; toxic organic compounds and micro-organic pollutants; thermal and silt and suspended particles.

Atmospheric contamination from industrial plants and vehicle emissions leads to dry and wet deposition. This causes acidic conditions to develop in surface water and groundwater sources and at the same time leads to the destruction of ecosystems. Acid deposition impairs the water quality of lakes and streams by lowering pH levels (i.e. increasing acidity), decreasing acid-neutralizing capacity, and increasing aluminium concentrations. High concentrations of aluminium and increased acidity reduce species diversity and the abundance of aquatic life in many lakes and streams.

Industrial discharge returned without treatment has high organic content, leading to rapid growth of algae, bacteria and slime, oxygen-depleted water, and thermal pollution. Discharge can affect a relatively large volume of water and have numerous impacts on human health. Polluted water may affect fishing grounds, irrigated lands, municipalities located downstream, bathing water and can have significant transboundary effects.

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· Climate change is associated with global warming and is a long-term change caused by natural factors and, as is now accepted, human activities due to greenhouse gas emissions.

· The average temperature of the earth’s surface has risen by 0.6°C since the late 1800s. It is expected to increase by another 1.4 to 5.8°C by the year 2100, and the sea level may rise from 9 to 88 cm during the same period.

· It is generally agreed that more precipitation can be expected from 30° North and 30° South because of increased evapotranspiration. In contrast, many tropical and subtropical regions are expected to receive lower and more erratic precipitation in the future.

· Climate change is having a significant impact on weather patterns, precipitation and the hydrological cycle, affecting surface water availability, as well as soil moisture and groundwater recharge.

· Climate change is also likely to lead to increased magnitude and frequency of precipitation-related disasters – floods, droughts, mudslides, typhoons and cyclones.

· It has been suggested that the number of environmental refugees could rise to 150 million by 2050 as one of the results of climate change.

· If climate change follows the projected scenarios, we can expect more erratic weather in the future, including increased variability in precipitation, which will threaten crop yields in both developed and developing countries, while placing more than 2.8 billion people at risk of water shortage.

· On a global level, polar and arid systems appear to be the most vulnerable to climate change. Polar systems store the vast majority of freshwater, and most scenarios suggest they are likely to develop a considerably increased discharge of water, driven by higher temperatures in both the polar regions and particularly in the Arctic.

· While global warming may increase productivity in some regions and habitats, the overall predictions are that the impacts of climate change on aquatic ecosystems will be detrimental. Coastal wetlands such as mangroves and coral reefs (Southeast Asia), coastal lagoons (Africa and Europe) and river deltas (the Nile, Niger and Congo in Africa; the Ganges and Mekong in Asia) will be seriously affected by rising water levels, as well as other coastal lowland areas with an elevation of less than 0.5 m.

· A recent study estimates that climate change actually accounts for about 20% of the global increase in water scarcity, the remaining 80% accounted for by population growth and economic development.

The Water Cycle

The Earth’s hydrological cycle is the global mechanism that transfers water from the oceans to the surface and from the surface, or subsurface environments, and plants to the atmosphere that surrounds our planet.

The principal natural component processes of the hydrological cycle are: precipitation, infiltration, runoff, evaporation and transpiration.

Human activities (settlements, industry, and agricultural developments) can disturb the components of the natural cycle through land use diversions and the use, reuse and discharge of wastes into the natural surface water and groundwater pathways.

The Earth’s atmosphere contains approximately 13,000 km3 of water. This represents 10% of the world’s freshwater resources not found in groundwater, icecaps or permafrost. However, of more importance is the fact that this vapour cycles in the atmosphere in a ‘global dynamic envelope’, which has a substantive annually recurring volume, estimated to be from 113,500 to 120,000 km3. These large volumes illustrate precipitation’s key role in renewing our natural water resources, particularly those used to supply natural ecosystems and rainfed crops.

When atmospheric precipitation reaches the ground, it divides into several sections, which pursue the terrestrial part of the hydrological cycle along different paths. Out of a total annual amount of 110,000 km3 of precipitation on the land surface, about 40,000 km3 is converted into surface runoff and aquifer recharge (blue water) and an estimated 70,000 km3 is stored in the soil and later returns to the atmosphere through evaporation and plant transpiration (green water).

The processes of evaporation and transpiration (evapotranspiration) are closely linked to the water found in soil moisture; these processes act as driving forces on water transferred in the hydrological cycle. Movement through soil and vegetation is large and accounts for 62% of annual globally renewable freshwater.

About 40% of the precipitation that falls on land comes from ocean-derived vapour. The remaining 60% comes from land-based sources.

In a temperate climate, 33% of the total precipitation generally either returns by evaporation or evapotranspiration back into the atmosphere, 33% becomes surface water through runoff, and 33% recharges groundwater.

In a semi-arid climate, 50% of the total precipitation either returns by evaporation or evapotranspiration back into the atmosphere, 30% becomes surface water through runoff, and 20% recharges groundwater.

In an arid climate, 70% of the total precipitation either returns by evaporation or evapotranspiration back into the atmosphere, 29% becomes surface water through runoff, and only 1% recharges groundwater.

Wild Beach Roses

References with Links:
Lake Winnipeg Research Organization
Lake Winnipeg Foundation
Lake Winnipeg Organization
Manitoba Eco Network
Manitoba Wildlands
Nature Manitoba

Cooking with Shanti Bhakoo. A Hindu Punjabi Menu with Recipes.

Take Note BBC. Make Room Nigella. There's a New Star in the Kitchen.

To visit the kitchen of Shanti Bhakoo, is to enter into a graciously serene and ordered realm. I was fortunate to spend an afternoon with Shanti, who was visiting from England, and her daughter, Bhavni, recently. Shanti shared some of her family recipes from an area of India known as Rajasthan which is her ancestral home, and a roti bread recipe which is her original creation. 

Born in Nairobi at a time when Kenya was still a British colony, Shanti had few options other than work or arranged marriage. She learned to cook at home with her mother and seven sisters and at school with British teachers and traditional anglo recipes.

Shanti shared with me her desire to be a professional chef and a wistfulness that the opportunities for the modern young woman were not available to her.


Glorious Garam Masala: The Magic Spice
Garam masala means hot spice and there are as many recipes for it as there are families in India. Here is a basic recipe to get you started:

4 T coriander seeds
1 T cumin seeds 
1 t black peppercorns 
1 1⁄2 t black cumin seeds (shahjeera) 
1 1⁄2 t dry ginger 
3⁄4 t black cardamom (3-4 large pods) 
3⁄4 t cloves 
3⁄4 t whole cinnamon (2- 1” pieces) 
3/4 t crushed bay leaves

Heat a heavy skillet on a medium flame and gently roast all ingredients (leave cardamom in its pods till later) except the dry ginger, till they turn a few shades darker. Stir occasionally. Do not be tempted to speed up the process by turning up the heat as the spices will burn on the outside and remain raw on the inside.

When the spices are roasted turn off the heat and allow them to cool. 
Once cooled, remove the cardamom seeds from their skins and mix them back with all the other roasted spices. Grind them all together, to a fine powder in a clean, dry coffee grinder. Store in an air-tight container in a cool, dark place.

How to make your own Indian Spice Masala Dabba (Traditional Indian Spice Box) 

Garam Masala
Red chillies
Cumin seeds
Curry leaves
Black mustard seeds
Cardamom Pods
Coriander Seeds
Cloves, whole
Fennel Seeds
Ginger, ground
Star Anise
Bay Leaf

Your masala dabba can also contain all of the spices that you use on a consistent basis. Make Spice Kits for Fast, Creative Cooking Serious Eats

I noticed Shanti's method of adding the ingredients in double measure. The volume of minced onions combined with the garlic, ginger and chili determined the amount of crushed tomatoes and they in turn  directed the quantity of peas and cheese.  The last addition of boiled water is again twice the volume of all the preceding ingredients. 

Mater Paneer
Peas with Homemade Indian Cheese
2 T oil
1 large red onion, minced
1/2 t ginger, finely grated
1 long green chili, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t garam masala
1/2 t tumeric powder
1/2 t red chili powder 
4 T crushed tomatoes
1 400 gram package fried paneer
2 c frozen peas
5 c + 2 T boiled water 
salt to taste 
fresh cilantro, chopped

Heat oil at high heat in a non-stick skillet. Sauté minced onions until transparent. Add garlic, ginger and long green chili. When all is golden brown, add 2 tablespoons boiled water. After 2 minutes, mix in the crushed tomatoes and lower the heat to medium. Now is the time to add the dry spices. This combination of ingredients creates the Masala which is the base for all Hindu Punjabi dishes. Add the peas, paneer and 1 cup of boiled water. 

Simmer. Finish with 3-4 cups of boiled water. 

Continue to cook for 10 minutes on low heat, covered. Adjust seasoning. 

Cover again and simmer until the oil separates which lets you know the dish is complete. When serving, garnish with chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of garam masala.  

Khumbé Palak
Mushrooms with Spinach

I also  noticed that Shanti was attentive to the dish being prepared which developed quickly and requires stirring as it simmers and moves along from stage to stage as the successive ingredients are added.

2 T oil 
1 medium purple onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t ginger, grated
1 long green chili, chopped
400 grams mushrooms, quartered
1 roma tomato
1/2 t red chili powder
1/2 t tumeric powder
1/2 t garam masala
salt to taste
garnish: fresh cilantro, chopped

Lightly steam the spinach. Heat oil on medium high. Add the onion and sauté until transparent. Add garlic, ginger and chili.  Next add the mushrooms and sauté for a couple of minutes.  Add the tomato.  After another couple of minutes add the dry spices. Add the spinach with the steaming liquid. At this point you have the option of adding cream which you must stir constantly to prevent curdling. Let the mixture cook for a few minutes, uncovered. Adjust to taste with salt. When serving, garnish with fresh chopped cilantro.

fresh fenugreek

Maki Methi Roti
Cornflour and Fenugreek Bread

Bhavni stated that Hindu people respect butter. When I asked her to explain this statement she told me that it is because the cow gives so much and that is why it and its gifts are greatly respected and in her family home. Butter was never wasted and always greatly appreciated. 

1 long green chili, chopped 
1 c cornflour
1 c fresh fenugreek, chopped
1/2 c boiled water
Yield: 4 Roti

Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl. Add 1/2 cup of boiled water and blend with a fork to form a doughy consistency.

On a dry surface sprinkled with cornflour divide the dough into 4 equal parts and form into small patties.  

Heat an un-oiled nonstick skillet, high heat.
Using your hands, shape the dough patties into a round, flat shape about 6 inches in diameter, passing the dough back and forth from hand to hand.

Roast the bread on both sides in the dry skillet until lightly browned, dabbing with a piece of paper towel to absorb excess moisture.

Garnish with butter and serve hot. 

Spiced Yogurt
Plain Yogurt
red chili powder
garam masala
fresh cilantro, chopped
tomato, chopped
salt to taste

Garnish the yogurt with the ingredients.

By the time the food is ready to eat, like me, you will have been tantalized by the divine smells as it is prepared. I loved the way the dishes were presented in their own little bowls on a platter and served with the buttered roti and the spiced yogurt. Bhavni neatly ripped the bread into pieces and piled all three on top and before I knew it had fed it to me directly. Oh! heavenly tastes and delectable textures.

An inpromptu visit by family friend Annabelle led to her being fed as well.

The ingredients for these dishes are readily available at most grocery stores but I would recommend Bhavni's favourite: Dino's Grocery Mart at 460 Notre Dame Ave. where all of the ingredients are available along with fresh fenugreek as well as SHANA frozen fenugreek which is frozen in cubes (use one cube for the roti recipe). Dino's also has the stainless steel spice containers which are customary in an Indian kitchen, called a masala dabba

Many thanks to you, Shanti, 
for sharing your experience, passion and healthy family recipes. It was very enjoyable and invaluable to begin to learn the art of  Hindu Punjabi cooking. You are a guiding star in the kitchen.