Interim Funding Rescues ELA

Last Updated: 2013/09/02 05:58:43 PM

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger says he hopes a final deal to transfer responsibility of the Experimental Lakes Area to the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development will be forthcoming in about half a year.

But in the meantime, Manitoba and Ontario have stepped forward with interim funding as part of their plan to keep the world-renowned water research facility open until that final arrangement materializes.

Selinger and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne jointly announced in Kenora Monday separate funding plans to secure the short-term future of the ELA.

"Clean water is a big part of our future," Selinger told the Free Press. Research conducted at the ELA has had "enormous benefits" for the science community in general and would continue to do so, he said.

"Potentially, the benefits of this research get shared around the world," Selinger said.

No other facility in the world allows for freshwater research on whole bodies of water. The ELA experiments have driven public policy on issues such as acid rain, mercury, hydro dams and phosphorus in soap.

It was responsible for work that helped save Lake Erie and it's hoped research there will help save Lake Winnipeg, too.

The remote region has been used since 1968 for fundamental freshwater studies. The agreement allowing the federal government to operate the research centre was to expire Sept. 1.

Ottawa announced last year it was closing the area to save $2 million annually.

Manitoba's pledge to the IISD is a funding deal worth more than $6 million over five years, with $900,000 in that time frame dedicated toward research and technological advancements at the ELA.

Wynne's plan involves Ontario spending $2 million a year to keep the ELA open on an interim basis as details over its future get hammered out. That amount should cover most of the annual cost of keeping the ELA alive.

Arriving at a final deal involves the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans negotiating what to do about infrastructure and any cleanup of past experiments at the site, which is comprised of 58 small freshwater lakes and drainages.

The old lease agreement between Ottawa and Ontario specifies the DFO must return the area to Ontario in pristine condition. That means hundreds of buildings, weirs and other pieces of infrastructure must be removed.

"That's one of the final hurdles," Selinger said. Wynne, meanwhile, said the investment would help make Ontario a world-class destination for scientific research.

"The research performed here provides invaluable knowledge about climate change and helps protect freshwater systems around the world," she said.

Selinger was optimistic the collaborative approach on the ELA's future would reap benefits and result in a final deal in six to seven months' time.

"Everybody's talking now," he said.

The transitional arrangement means fish and water monitoring of the lakes will continue to the end of the 2013 field season. It also means operational and scientific knowledge will be effectively passed on to the IISD, Wynne said in a statement.

Monday's announcements will allow the IISD to also develop a research plan for the ELA for 2014, Matthew McCandless, the IISD's project manager for the ELA said.

"It was great news. This is the next step," he said. "There's still a lot of work to do." McCandless said he hoped to see a final agreement establishing the NGO's responsibility for the ELA in place by the end of next March.

The interim deal will also allow the IISD to conduct fundraising on behalf of the experimental lakes, in hopes of further expanding the facility's possibilities.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

-- with files from The Canadian Press and Mary Agnes Welch