Dozens of citizens attended a meeting about the health of Lake Winnipeg in Grand Marais Saturday.

In attendance were members from Lake Winnipeg Foundation and the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, along with cottagers and permanent residents of the area.

Priorities discussed at the meeting included the North End Treatment Plant, phosphorus levels, zebra mussels, algae blooms as well as how to engage provincial and federal politicians ahead of elections later this year.

Alexis Kanu with the Lake Winnipeg Foundation gave a presentation at the meeting.

She said phosphorus is the agent that causes algae blooms frequently on the lake and she’s working to find ways to reduce it, whether it be from sewage in Winnipeg, agricultural land chemical fertilizers, or garden products.

“We have the opportunity to take collective action. We all do things in our homes to protect our water and protect our natural environment, but it’s really important for citizens to come together to speak up for larger changes, policy changes and infrastructure opportunities,” Kanu said.

One of the improvements the group is pushing for is the ‘interim retrofit’, aimed to reduce phosphorus coming from the North End Water Treatment Centre.

Kanu said the five million dollar project, which would take phosphorus out of the sewage, is under review with the city and hopes it could get approved this summer.

The city said that in January, Manitoba Sustainable Development requested the city submit a notice of alteration that provides interim implementation options to expedite phosphorus removal in the North End Sewage Treatment Plant in advance of full biological removal.

“The city will be responding to the province by the required date of July 31, 2019,” said a city spokesperson in an email to CTV News.

 Zebra mussels ‘another complication’

“Zebra mussels are just another complication in an already struggling lake, something unfortunately we have to accept. Zebra mussels are here to stay. In a lake the size of Lake Winnipeg we are not going to be able to get them out. So it’s about adapting and preventing their spread to other lakes and rivers in Manitoba,” said Kanu.

She said some people say the water has been appearing clearer now that the mussels are here.

“They do have an impact on the food chain of the lake. They tend to preferentially eat the good algae that form the base of the food chain, and we might see other types of algae start to take hold as well,” Kanu said.

The foundation said it’s still important to follow provincial protocols when it comes to removing watercrafts from the water to prevent the spread of the invasive species.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the impact but we can protect all those hundreds of thousands of lakes that Manitobans enjoy,” said Kanu.

Hillside Beach clean-up

At Hillside Beach, area councillor Cheryhl Corrie said the zebra mussels were so bad this spring, kids playing on the beach had to wear shoes, and helped get the mussels cleaned up.

Corrie said the RM of Alexander paid to have machines move the mussels to the dump around the end of June.

"It was delightful, people complain about the sharpness and the cutting feet, and all the rest of it, and I saw kids playing out there in bare feet,” she said.