Phase 1 of the Red River Basin North Chapter’s (RRBC) Netley Marsh Restoration Project is complete and giving real hope that the future of the marsh, and Lake Winnipeg, is looking bright.
The project, which used Amphibexes to dredge a small section of the river to restore flow and use the sediment to rebuild vegetation shelves, aims to return Netley to a hemi-marsh – a type of marsh that’s roughly equal parts open water and emergent vegetation or plant life.
Bringing the marsh back to a working state
Selkirk’s Deputy Mayor John Buffie, Coun. Doug Poirier, and CAO Duane Nicol toured the marsh this fall with the North Chapter Executive Director Steve Strang to see the work up close.
Buffie, the City of Selkirk’s board member of RRBC international, was impressed.
“I have to admit when I first heard about the project I was thinking ‘man taking on nature, can we really affect a change that big?’,” Buffie said.
“And when I got out there to see for myself it looks like we actually have a chance at it. I was really encouraged by what I saw for sure.”
Poirier is the alternate member and the city’s representative for the North Chapter. Both gave Strang credit for his determination to see the project through.
“Steve Strang deserves a ton of credit for this work, he had the persistence to get this project going, and there was plenty of red tape to get to where we are today,” Poirier said.
“The trip out there was interesting to see and the work they’re doing to get the marsh back into a working state where fish and wildlife will return, and it can purify the lake is great. And it falls in line with what the City of Selkirk is doing with its wastewater treatment plant and the clear water we’re putting back into the river and the lake.”
Restoring the kidneys of Lake Winnipeg
Nicol, a past Chair of the RRBC’s North Chapter, said the innovative project is yet another measure being taken to address the negative environmental impact humans have had on the lake.
“By restoring what is essentially the kidneys of the lake, we can reduce the negative impact nutrient-rich river water is having, plus we are restoring habitat which supports biodiversity and resilience to climate change. Not only will this project provide positive environmental results, it supports a more vibrant provincial economy, and it generates cultural and social returns. As someone with Icelandic heritage Lake Winnipeg is very special to me. It is special to many people who have ties to this place, whether those ties are measured in generations or millennia. It’s part of who we are,” Nicol said.
According to the RRBC website, the marsh has been deteriorating for years, due to several factors, one of them being the stoppage of dredging of the Red River in 1999. Prior to that, the river had been dredged every year since 1883.
Without dredging, sediment has built up at the mouth of the river and great amounts of river water have diverted into the marsh, reducing its depth to the point it resembles a shallow water lake more than a marsh.
Once the marsh is again a hemi-marsh, it will be able to do its natural job of filtering water entering the lake.
Educating the public is crucial
For Strang, getting people out to see the work up close is crucial to helping educate the public about the important project.
“Connecting the local municipalities, like the City of Selkirk, in this way, allows them to be informed, so that they may have a good understanding as to the project and be able to answer questions that any of their constituents may have on the restoration of the marsh, the project and the efforts being undertaken to save the Netley Marsh,” Strang said.
“We at the RRBC and our partners can continue to speak to our activities and show pictures, but the moment folks are on site, they get a clear vision of the undertaking involved in getting this project off the ground.”
The drought-like conditions we’ve been experiencing actually assisted in getting the regrowth off to a good start.
“With the water levels presently so low, they also get to see how Mother Nature has assisted us in giving us her proof of concept as well. With water levels the lowest we have seen since this drought started, it has given the opportunity to the vast amount of the seed bank to start growing,” Strang said.
“The sun is able to penetrate to the muddy bottoms like it has never done before and with that we are seeing an unbelievable amount of vegetation growth occurring. This tells us that the simplicity of our project, which is to elevate the bottom of the marsh by using dredged material from the Red River, should work effectively, allowing the marsh to continue to flourish like it once did when it was a vibrant hemi-marsh so many years ago.”
Seeds planted this fall will lay dormant over the winter and start to grow in the spring. The growth will be monitored for the next few years as will the uptake of phosphates and the removal of other pollutants.
“We’ll also calculate the amount of carbon storage that can be expected from these efforts too. This information will show the true value of the project as far as marsh restoration, lake rehabilitation and assisting us in fighting climate change,” Strang said.
The RRBC North Chapter will be applying for an extension from the province to continue filling geo-tubes that will be used to create more vegetation shelves.