A nine-month-long competition tasking young people on the prairies with solving environmental problems facing Lake Winnipeg is about to declare a winner.
The Lake Winnipeg Aquahacking Challenge, presented by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), has narrowed the field down to five finalists from over 100 initial applicants and will be announcing the winners at 4 p.m. Tuesday via the IISD’s Facebook page.
“We’re facing persistent challenges on the lake. We have algae blooms which have been going on for a long time which we haven’t been able to tackle in any real way, and it’s only getting worse now,” the IISD’s Jane McDonald told Global News.
“We do so much research around what’s causing these issues and we really wanted to make sure our research was landing in the hands of people who could help us find some innovative solutions to get on top of these problems.”
McDonald said on top of the long-running algae concerns, the lake is also suffering from a real problem with microplastics at the same level as Lake Erie, despite that lake having twice the nearby population as Lake Winnipeg.
The contest also focuses on finding solutions related to water and land management, fish health and drinking water in northern communities.
“It’s an amazing competition that we first heard about because it was being run around the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence,” said McDonald.
“We decided, why not bring that the competition here in Winnipeg and put the young people across the prairies to work coming up with solutions for our own Great Lake?”
The competition, which was open to university students and recent graduates between the ages of 18 and 35, with interests in fields like water science, engineering and sustainable development, offers a share of $50,000 in funding as a prize, plus a spot at a local startup incubator.
McDonald said the field was narrowed from 19 contenders to five this summer, and the $20,000 winner — plus runners-up receiving smaller amounts — will finally be announced Tuesday afternoon.
“Because we’re so interested in finding real business solutions to these issues, every one of the finalists goes away with seed money and a spot at a startup incubator, so we’re really hoping that they all continue these great innovations that they’ve come up with over the last nine months,” she said.
“We need everyone involved — this isn’t just an environmental issue, it affects all of us in terms of the water we use for recreational purposes, for our businesses — and young people really bring a fresh set of eyes.”