Work to resume on the Experimental Lakes Area

No research has been conducted on the site in five months.

During an era of increased federal cutbacks to scientific research programs, a glimmer of hope has come out of Ontario. The Ontario provincial government has proposed regulations that would allow for experiments to be conducted at the Experimental Lakes Area, an outdoor freshwater laboratory near Kenora, Ont. No new research has been conducted in the area since the federal government pulled funding five months ago.

The Experimental Lakes Area is unique, not only in Canada, but also internationally. The site, which comprises of fifty-eight small lakes and their drainage basins, is a dedicated research facility for ecosystem-scale experimental investigations, as well as long-term monitoring of ecosystem processes. The ELA is relatively unaffected by human influences and industry, which makes it an ideal location for the study of natural and biological processes.

In the summer of 2012, the federal government announced that it would close the facility by 2013. This decision struck many as odd, as the ELA only costs $2 million a year to operate. The timing was also seen as odd, as the ELA shut down decision occurred at the same time the federal government was striking down laws and regulations that were designed to protect freshwater and marine habitats.

On May 25, 2012, the North American Lake Management Society (NALMS), which represents almost one thousand scientists, administrators and citizens, wrote a letter of concern regarding the imminent closure of the ELA, arguing that their work depends on findings from the ELA. They argued that the ELA was a rare resource, and that it has led to many important discoveries over the past forty years.

In March 2013, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans began dismantling cabins that have been used by ELA project scientists, with no advance notification. This had led scientists to seriously doubt whether the government would transfer the facility to another operator.

A public policy research group based in Winnipeg called the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) hopes to take over the management of the ELA. Negotiations are ongoing. The IISD insist that new rules were needed in order to continue work without breaking environmental law. This led to a set of proposed regulations intended to authorize experimentation to be released by Ontario’s Environment Ministry.

The proposal outlines criteria that have to be met for experiments to be carried out. This includes monitoring plans, and controls in order to prevent off-site impacts and minimize hostile effects.

Before the ELA turmoil, a whole-lake experiment was conducted to assess the effects of silver nanoparticles on freshwater ecosystems. Silver nanoparticles are found in many household products, including clothing—these nanoparticles are increasingly being introduced to waterways. The regulations set forth by the Environment Ministry would allow for that research to proceed.

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