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World Wetland Day: Wetlands are Essential

Posted on January 31, 2022

February 2 is World Wetlands Day. We know, a strange time of year to celebrate water — our water is frozen pretty solid in Winnipeg right now. But in every season, wetlands play an essential role in the health of our environment.

marsh with floating boardwalks in winter covered with snow

Why are wetlands important to FortWhyte Alive?

The wetlands at FortWhyte Alive bring us both a feeling of peace and a boost of energy, depending on the season — from goslings and ducklings plopping into the ponds for their first swim in spring, to zooming dragonflies and lazy turtles on hot summer days, to spotting the tracks of a mink traveling through the snow looking for muskrats.

What you may not notice is the cattails and plants around the marsh edge quietly sucking up nutrients that could cause algae blooms downstream, and that in the still waters of the pond, soil particles are settling out, leaving behind clearer, cleaner water.

Frost clings to cattail in winter.

Did you know that a wetland is an essential component in FortWhyte Alive’s sustainable wastewater treatment system? Our treatment system was the first of its kind in Winnipeg when it was built in 2001.

How it works…

  • Three million litres of wastewater per year travel from FortWhyte’s two main buildings — the Alloway Reception Centre and Interpretive Centre — to our on-site wastewater treatment system, located along the north shoreline of Lake Devonian.
  • The wastewater passes through three ponds:
    • In pond #1, an aeration system encourages an army of oxygen-loving bacteria to break down the waste. Water remains here for approximately 100 days before being pumped to pond #2.
    • In pond #2, an aeration system also bubbles, keeping those bacteria breaking down waste into its elements. After 200 days, the wastewater still contains levels of phosphorus and nitrogen (nutrients). This is the stage that most municipal water is treated to. But at FortWhyte each fall, this water is released to the constructed wetland.
    • In pond #3, a constructed wetland, cattails and plants do their job to suck up nutrients and lock them in their leaves and roots. Water spends a year or more before being released into Lake Devonian.

Does it work?

Yes! FortWhyte Alive water chemistry tests have shown that the constructed wetland removes over 90% of the phosphorus from the wastewater that enters it, returning the concentration to a safe level for lake health.

Why does this matter?

Wetlands must be valued for the services that they provide for ecosystem health, but also for the benefits they can give to us as humans who want to take better care of our environment.

Happy World Wetlands Day!