Byrne film an environmental landmark

This story first appeared in the Lethbridge Herald


An educational film with algae-filled Lake Winnipeg as its focal point appeals to farmers and city dwellers to change their ways and help the country's watersheds to heal.

Choking Lake Winnipeg, a 25-minute documentary available free online, was screened Thursday at Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs. Produced by Jim Byrne, U of L prof and Chair of Geography, and his wife, Leanne Little, it includes interviews with many of the nation's top environmental scientists, including David Schindler, Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta, and Joe Rasmussen, Canada Research Council Chair in Aquatic Ecosystems at the University of Lethbridge.

An original soundtrack for the film was created by Stephen McGlenn, a U of L grad who attended COP 16 in Cancun — the United Nations Conference on Climate Change — as a Canadian Youth Delegate.

"We're looking to change a political/social approach to the way we deal with environment," said Byrne. "I went to some of my very favorite colleagues, Canada Research Chairs in many locations, outstanding and brilliant colleagues."

Byrne's expertise is in global environmental change. He was the lead scientist, originator and co-producer of the 2002 award-winning television series Global Change and the 2004 TV series Water Under Fire.

"Our goal was to inform people in a qualitative way and let them know that not only do we have this very challenging environmental problem, but we have some suitable solutions if we just have the political will."

Comparisons can be made with conditions in southern Alberta, where chemical runoff from farming and manure from beef, chicken and hog operations makes its way into the Oldman River watershed. Farmers, said Byrne, can go to zero-tillage practices which holds moisture in the soil and doesn't allow erosion and runoff; while city dwellers can take steps that include conserving water, being aware of what they shouldn't flush down their toilets, and using less — or zero — herbicides and pesticides on their lawns.

The film shows how massive blue-green algae blooms have appeared in Lake Winnipeg and other water bodies across the Canadian prairies. Eutrophication (when water is depleted of oxygen by algae, killing the body of water) is fast becoming a problem; not just in Canada but in the most heavily-populated parts of the industrialized and developing world.

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