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Climate Change in Our Backyard: Freshwater Lakes

Posted on September 1, 2021

It’s such a big thing – climate change. And, from maps of melting glaciers to a growing list of endangered species, the impacts of the crisis can feel large and sometimes far removed.

But, if you look closely, you can see the impacts of the climate crisis right here at FortWhyte Alive, located on Treaty 1 Territory, near the centre of Canada.

The Prairies are recognized as a potential climate change “hotspot.” Warmer summers, drier winters, and wetter springs are all projected and will have large impacts on ecosystems. As the climate becomes more variable and less predictable, the natural environment adapts. One of the most dramatic ways we observe species responding to climate is the timing of different events in nature. 

With warmer spring temperatures: 

  • Boreal frogs are waking from their winter hibernation earlier. 
  • Migratory birds like Canada Geese that closely follow snowmelt lines are arriving sooner. 
  • Plants like Golden Alexanders and Prairie Crocuses, our first signifiers of spring, are blooming ahead of time.

You see, nature adapts all the time. It has to.

And these changes look different in different ecosystems. At FortWhyte Alive, we’re lucky to have representation of four ecosystems: prairie grasslands, wetlands, aspen forests and lakes.

So how does climate change impact each of these ecosystems?

Freshwater Lakes

Water is our planet’s most essential and most limited resource. The same water you see in your glass has been moving through the water cycle for billions of years. Here in Canada, we are lucky to be home to 9% of the Earth’s available freshwater. Yet some communities in Canada and around the world do not have access to clean drinking water, and many of us experience the impact of water pollution in our rivers and lakes.

The lakes of FortWhyte are its lifeblood. As exhausted clay quarries of Lafarge’s cement manufacturing days, they gradually filled with runoff over the decades. They are enjoyed year-round for wildlife viewing, fishing, swimming, paddling, sailing, skating, and tobogganing.

But today, like many of Manitoba’s freshwater lakes, ours are showing signs of deteriorating health.

This is due in large measure to nutrient loading from watershed runoff, the feces of thousands of staging geese and gulls each fall, and a changing climate. These nutrients have accumulated year upon year and are now at a level that supports major algae blooms and associated declines in dissolved oxygen, which in turn are threatening a vibrant fishery and general public enjoyment.

What happens on our land affects what happens in our water.

Manitoba’s freshwater lakes are a crucial part of the climate change solution. But as the climate changes, so does this landscape.

So what does climate change mean for Manitoba’s freshwater lakes?

  • Water levels, temperature, nutrient load, oxygen content, and ice thickness are all susceptible to climate change.
  • In turn, these changes will have profound effects on the lake’s productivity, biodiversity, and overall health.

There’s no doubt that freshwater lakes are important to Manitoba’s ecosystems. Many communities will be affected by these changes. This underscores the importance of watershed and lake management, adaptation planning and policy, and effective collaborations that address climate change and the other immediate threats facing Manitoba’s essential watersheds.


The Climate Change in our Backyard series highlights the climate change impacts on the different ecosystems that can be found at FortWhyte Alive.

For resources and to see what we’re doing to mitigate climate change, check out our Sustainability page