Cattails could help restore Lake Winnipeg

Researchers in Winnipeg hope a simple plant can restore health to Lake Winnipeg.

Winnipeg research team has high hopes for simple plant

Researchers are testing a floating bioplatform to see if the cattails will grow on it in deeper water. (CBC)

A team of researchers in Winnipeg hopes a simple plant can begin to restore health to Lake Winnipeg.

"Cattails are like the workhorses of wetland systems," Lisette Ross, a senior wetlands specialist with Native Plant Solutions, told CBC News. "They need phosphorus and nitrogen to grow."

An overload of those nutrients in Lake Winnipeg and other bodies of water contributes to the growth of toxic algae, and the researchers believe the cattails they are planting could make all the difference.

However, while the plants can soak the nutrients up, they have one shortcoming: They won't grow in water deeper than 40 to 60 centimetres.

Lake Winnipeg has "fluctuating water depths," Ross said. "So you might have at times water depths that are really good for growing cattail, and then at other times —because we have flooding events —it might become one or two metres deep and all that vegetation dies off."

Cattails soak up nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen that contribute to the growth of toxic algae. (CBC)
To deal with that problem, entreprenuer Mike Curry of Curry Industries designed a floating bioplatform to help cattails grow just about anywhere.

"What we're doing is cleaning the lake up that needs — it's in desperate need of the front line back," Curry said. "The kidney's gone, we've got to replace it, so that's the whole concept of the platform."

Phase 1 will include measuring how much nutrients the plants remove and seeing whether platform plants can survive a Manitoba winter.

If the test is successful;, the team expects the bioplatforms will be used clean up retention ponds and lagoons across the province.

"A lot of that water ultimately ends up in Lake Winnipeg," Ross said, "so if we can improve the water quality in those bodies, then the water in Lake Winnipeg will be better as well."

with files from the CBC's Megan Benedictson