Ottawa, ON -Three agreements have been signed involving the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Ontario’s provincial government and the federal government that together ensure the long-term operation of the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) research facility.
“This opens a fresh, new chapter in the life of the ELA and the promise of many important and exciting research possibilities ahead of us,” said Scott Vaughan, president and CEO of IISD. “What real-world research can tell us about the human impact on the natural environment is indispensable to putting the human relationship with this planet on a sustainable footing.”
The transfer of ELA required separate deals between Ontario and IISD, between Canada and IISD, and a trilateral Canada-Ontario-IISD agreement to support an open data policy for scientific research. The three agreements involving IISD were preceded by two bilateral Canada-Ontario pacts.
As one of the only whole-lake laboratories available on Earth, the ELA’s 58 lakes have attracted scientists studying the impacts of stressors and pollutants from human activity and industrial development on freshwater lakes, streams and surrounding watersheds.
Since 1968, this work has provided the strong scientific evidence required to inform environmental legislation in Canada and worldwide. Findings derived from ELA’s unique research opportunities have contributed to the phase-out of harmful phosphorus additives in cleaning products, to tighter air pollution standards in response to acid rain, and to proposed policies to reduce mercury levels found in fish.
“Pressure on water quality is a growing crisis in many countries, and we need science to help chart a course to protect increasingly precious freshwater resources,” said Vaughan. “IISD’s operation of ELA will ensure that Canada’s role at the forefront of freshwater research is not only maintained but flourishes,” he added.
Since autumn 2012, IISD has been in negotiations with the governments of Canada and Ontario with a view to keeping the ELA open under IISD management. Under agreements reached among the three parties, the ELA transfers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to Ontario, effective immediately, with IISD taking over operations of the facility shortly.
“Ontario has heard concerns from the scientific and academic community regarding the closure of the Experimental Lakes Area. Our government has stepped up to provide the financial support necessary to keep this world-class facility operational, while ensuring the environment is protected,” said David Orazietti, Ontario Minister of Natural Resources.
Through these negotiations, complex questions of past and potential future liability have been addressed and resolved. A governance structure has been designed that will oversee the research conducted at the facility. Pledges of financial support by the federal, Ontario and Manitoba governments, among others, will enable the IISD, a not-for-profit non-governmental organization, to operate the facility.
“These are some of the very practical considerations that enabled the IISD Board of Directors to give this project a green light,” said Vaughan. “At the same time, they have taken a certain leap of faith, because the future success of the ELA is not just in our hands but in the hands of the many people, organizations, companies and governments who share our vision of the importance and possibilities of this facility and on whose financial contributions we depend.”
In years past, research at ELA has been restricted to studies that fit DFO’s mandate, relating specifically to freshwater fish and the aquatic environment. Under IISD’s operation, ELA researchers will be able to set and participate in a wider range of research activities including, for example, terrestrial manipulations, or studies of clean water technology.
IISD says it looks forward to preparing a new science research program for the ELA later in 2014, with inputs from scientists as well as partnerships with local communities, and a commitment to an open and transparent program.
“The combination of applied research capability and a policy think tank creates exciting opportunities to traverse the science-policy divide,” said Vaughan. “Together, IISD and ELA will be positioned to offer ground-truthed, policy-relevant advice on numerous emerging questions such as the impact of mercury from coal-fired electricity generating plants, the impact of micro-pollutants and the impact of climate change on hydrologic cycles.”