Like many water systems across the continent, the Rainy River-Lake of the Woods basin faces several challenges, from climate change to water quality. A new report in the works will provide a snapshot of how the basin is doing and the status of efforts by government agencies and local communities to address critical issues.
Known as the State of the Basin report, it will have sections describing the current situation on the water and what’s been done so far on several priority issues. These include nutrients and harmful algal blooms, climate change, aquatic invasive species, fisheries, hydrology and erosion, contaminants, water quality objectives, watershed governance and emerging concerns.
“This is really an update on the 2014 State of the Basin report, which gave us a moment in time of everything known and not known about the Lake of the Woods,” said Todd Sellers, executive director of the Lake of the Woods Sustainability Foundation, which helps fund the report alongside the IJC.
The final report is expected to be completed and published at the 2022 Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Forum. It will be published both as a summary overview report designed for the general public and a lengthier technical report breaking down the science behind the conclusions.
This would be the third such “snapshot” of the basin, Sellers said. The first State of the Basin report was published in 2009 after three years of work, and provided an overview of what was known about water quality issues and water governance in the basin at the time.
“That was truly a ground-up effort because no one had ever taken a look at what was known (in the basin) before,” he said.
That was followed by the 2014 State of the Basin report. This edition provided updates on water quality issues laid out in the previous report. It also noted newly formed governance arrangements through the International Multiagency Arrangement (IMA) – which helps coordinate science and management activities between Minnesota, Ontario, Manitoba, the federal governments, the Red Lake Nation and local agencies – as well as the IJC’s Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Board.
Since the last report, Sellers said the governments and agencies involved through the IMA have learned a great deal about nutrients, between Minnesota’s own phosphorus study completed last year and a similar study from Environment and Climate Change Canada that was most recently out for public comment in the spring.
Along with work by the IJC’s Rainy-Lake of the Woods Board on water quality objectives, Sellers hopes the latest effort will lead to a water sustainability plan to deal with algal blooms on Lake of the Woods – a topic that will be included in the 2021 report. The report will also speak to a joint effort by the Rainy-Lake of the Woods Board and the IMA to produce a risk assessment on invasive species in the basin, as well as climate change research that the Rainy-Lake of the Woods Board and its Adaptive Management Committee have done so far.
The new report is being led through a binational partnership of Canadian and US experts on the basin. The report’s writers are being advised with editorial input from committees representing the two major knowledge traditions in the area: a Western science-based committee made up of IMA representatives, and another with Indigenous advisers, elders and experts on Indigenous knowledge. This is to ensure that the report provides a holistic view of water resources, ecosystems, responsibilities and perspectives under the principles of “two-eyed seeing.”
“This is really a grassroots partnership with all the folks in the basin,” Sellers said.
The IJC’s portion of the State of the Basin report funding is coming through its International Watersheds Initiative.
Kevin Bunch is a writer-communications specialist at the IJC’s US Section office in Washington, D.C.