Experimental Lakes Area's future to be made clearer Monday

The province of Ontario is expected to announce details on the future of an internationally renowned freshwater research facility Monday, but some supporters of the facility worry about the province's level of commitment.

Supporters hope for agreement to save internationally renowned research facility in Ontario

Scientists say Ontario's Experimental Lakes Area is unique for research on water quality and fisheries - and the only place in the world where experiments can be performed on whole lakes. (Experimental Lakes Area Handout/Canadian Press)

The future of an internationally renowned research facility for the study of water pollution and lake ecosystems will be announced by the province of Ontario and the International Institute for Sustainable Development on Monday.

Supporters of the Experimental Lakes Area hope for an agreement that will secure the future of the facility, which they say is unique for research on water quality and fisheries — and the world's only natural outdoor laboratory to study the physical, chemical and biological processes in actual lake ecosystems.

The ELA is made up of 58 pristine lakes near Kenora in northwestern Ontario and research conducted there has pioneered investigations into acid rain and phosphates in laundry detergents.

The facility was closed at the end of the fiscal year, March 2013, because of cuts to the federal government's budget in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, but re-opened in May after a deal was reached between the federal government and the IISD.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it would run sampling programs over the summer to help long-term data collecting stay current.

The province of Ontario said it would pay to keep the Experimental Lakes Area operating in the long term after the federal Conservative government walks away from the freshwater research station at the end of August.

Government 'dragging their feet'

Scientists who perform experiments are now concerned that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s commitment of support for the ELA last April may have meant a one-time-only injection of cash.

"Both the provincial and federal government are still dragging their feet on this," Britt Hall, a biology professor at the University of Regina and a member of coalition group Save ELA told CBC News on Friday.

"One of the things that concerns us about the decision is that it's being made by bureaucrats and lawyers. This deal is being written without any real scientific input. They’ve had one ELA staffer come in as a visiting scientist — but only as of Aug. 1."

Diane Orihel, a scientist who founded Save ELA, said: "The ELA is the only place in the world to conduct experiments on whole lake ecosystems."

The health of Canada's water is at stake if it closes, Orihel added.

"We need ELA science to ensure that our lakes are clean to swim in, that water is pure for us to drink and fish are safe to eat. We need ELA now more than ever, as Canada's lakes are under threat like never before, from climate change to oil spills to discharges of synthetic nanomaterials."

Wynne is expected to be present at the announcement in Kenora on Monday morning.