Like a lot of engineers Hank Venema is forceful, loud and outgoing. And on the day we spoke in his office in downtown Winnipeg he was restless too. As a water resources engineer with a doctorate in systems design engineering it’s busy at the environmental consulting firm where he works.
His knowledge isn’t limited to small scale projects across the Prairies. He also knows a lot about large bodies of water after his years working at the experimental lakes research project… where so many water specialists cut their teeth.
Venema doesn’t mince words about how Lake Winnipeg got in to mess it is in the first place. He says that if we hadn’t done everything we could to get water off the prairie as fast as possible, we might not have the same levels of eutrophication in the lake. But there’s no point in blaming the past. Nothing can be done about what was done. Instead, says Venema, we have to look forward and innovate.
And in words you don’t often hear from engineers, he says hugely expensive engineering projects might not be the answer. Instead, what if we put a price on phosphorous and reduced the amount that ends up in the lake. Couple that with ongoing efforts to return the prairie to something like its original condition, and we might have the workings of a solution.
Whatever happens, he says there’s no time to waste. Climate change, an overdue multi-year drought and continued bad practices mean that the future looks dark for the lake.
This is another in a series of full interviews I am posting as part of the Lake Winnipeg project. That’s a collaborative journalism project hosted by Dispatches. The idea is that together we can create a compelling story about how we’ve hurt the lake… and find ways to undo the damage and restore the lake to health.
This is your invitation to listen to what Venema has to say. Help me identify the key insights needed to build this story. Let me know what stands out for you in the comments section below. And don’t miss other interviews in this series.
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