Lab Canada

Regulations move ELA plans forward

Ottawa, ON – Plans for transitioning the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) to a third-party operator are a major step closer to fruition this week.

This came with an announcement by the federal government that Experimental Lakes Area Research Activities Regulations have been published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, for a 30-day public comment period, ending on March 16. The government says this step is needed in order to allow a third party to operate the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA).

When finalized later this spring, the regulations will authorize the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) to be the third party operator that will continue scientific research at the area.

The ELA, located in northwestern Ontario, is a unique research facility. Encompassing 58 freshwater lakes and basins designated for research, it has been in operation since the late 1960s and is the only whole ecosystem freshwater research facility in the world. It has been a powerful resource for understanding the impact of human activities and industrial development on freshwater ecosystems, based on whole-lake experiments and manipulations.

In May 2012, the federal government announced it would no longer fund the scientific work or operate the ELA. The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) came forward a year later as a potential operator of the ELA. In September 2013 the Ontario and Manitoba governments said they would provide funding support for ongoing operations at the ELA.

The same month, a tripartite memorandum of understanding was announced, and negotiations between the IISD, the federal government (led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada) and the Ontario government have been ongoing ever since. The federal government says the three have committed to finalizing an agreement for operating the area by March 31, 2014.

The IISD itself welcomed the news, with the organization’s IISD president and CEO Scott Vaughan saying in a statement: “IISD continues to negotiate with both Ontario and the federal government, and we are hopeful that a final arrangement regarding legal transfer of the Experimental Lakes Area can be reached in the coming weeks.”

Save ELA, an advocacy group fighting for the survival of the ELA, also welcomed this week’s news, but noted that spring field sampling will start soon and there is no agreement in place to allow it to happen.