It’s hard to believe that the annual “meeting of the minds” where Canadian and U.S. scientists gather to discuss research in the Rainy-Lake of the Woods watershed just had it’s 17th year this past March!

Back in the early 2000s, concern for water quality and algae blooms on Lake of the Woods was growing, as was interest in understanding the driving forces, so bringing together those who were studying it from around the watershed just made sense. At the time, monitoring was sketchy on the Canadian side but universities, the province and other academics were fascinated by this lake and its complexity. On the U.S. side, Minnesota was finishing up its “Rainy Basin Plan,” a comprehensive review of water issues on the U.S. side and detailed recommendations for restoration. Knowing that Canadian waters are an immense part of the larger watershed and wanting to make connections with Canadians, build relationships and make use of any available data, the cross-border water conversations began. It was shortly after this the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation came into being and it has been the host for the forum ever since, drawing upwards of 160 attendees each year.

Starting with the collaboration between Ontario and Minnesota to put together the Boundary Waters Fisheries Atlas, communication across the border continued to grow on many other resource-related issues and joint research began to emerge. The forum became the place to share the results, conjure up new ideas and partnerships and learn from each other. What impresses me year after year is the excitement that builds as the forum approaches, the scientists excited to tell about their past year’s findings, the resource managers excited to talk about how to use the science and the colleagues from across the border excited to see those who have now become friends, not just work partners.

Each year brings new discoveries – some of the key research takeaways from this year’s forum include:

  • modern septic drain fields function effectively in preventing phosphorus from entering the lake;
  • bloom severity indices from satellite imagery have decreased since 2002, suggesting that the lake may be responding to historical decreases in phosphorus loads;
  • there are potentially important hotspots of phosphorus loading in small Ontario streams flowing into the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods that are candidates for best management practices;
  • algae toxins can accumulate in water and transfer up the food chain, including into fish tissues; and