Experimental Lakes Area Agreement

THUNDER BAY, ON   ----- April 1, 2014 ----- The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), the Government of Ontario Experimental Lakes Ontarioand the Government of Canada signed three agreements to ensure the long-term operation of the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a world-renowned freshwater science research facility in northwestern Ontario, Canada.

IISD-ELA becomes the operator of the facility. The transfer 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.

ELA offers IISD an opportunity to strengthen its efforts to improve global freshwater management by directly applying world-class scientific research to create innovative policy solutions for regional and global water management. For over two decades, IISD has been working on water management issues in order to develop and strengthen the links between social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development, while ELA has been producing globally important scientific research on fresh water for over four decades.

IISD's independent, evidence-based approach to the development of policy recommendations and tools complements ELA's strong scientific foundation and will ensure the public interests are served through a transparent and accountable governance structure.




ELA is unique among the world's leading freshwater research facilities. It is the only place where it is possible to conduct whole-ecosystem experiments, which often produce dramatically different results to those conducted in labs. Unlike typical monitoring programs, these experiments can demonstrate clear "cause-and-effect" relationships because variables can be better controlled and results carefully measured. This work has provided the strong scientific evidence required to guide good environmental legislation in Canada and around the world. As well, over the facility's 45-year history ELA researchers have amassed one of the largest and most complete datasets in the world on long-term changes in small lakes.

ELA's scientific research and IISD's freshwater policy work are critical, as the current rate of global environmental change requires long-standing disciplines to give way to more integrated, adaptive management solutions.


Scientists react to the transfer of the Experimental Lakes Area to new operator

Winnipeg’s International Institute of Sustainable Development takes over as of April 2014

Global Research Possibilities Expand as IISD Assumes Operation of Canada’s Renowned Experimental Lakes Area

OTTAWA—April 1, 2014—Three agreements have been signed involving the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada 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 said.

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.

“I am pleased to announce that the federal government has secured a new operator for the Experimental Lakes Area,” said the Honourable Greg Rickford, Minister of Natural Resources and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario. “The federal government has been leading negotiations to transfer the Experimental Lakes Area for the past year and we are pleased IISD will continue the work of the ELA.”

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 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,” said Vaughan.

Under IISD, there is now an opportunity to expand the role of ELA to include training, workshops and field courses that will educate and benefit local communities, as well as the greater scientific community. IISD is already in discussion with several universities in Canada and the United States about developing stronger links with ELA.

For more information contact Sumeep Bath, Media and Communications Officer, at sbath@iisd.org or +1 (204) 958 7740

REGINA – Canadian scientists are relieved to learn that Winnipeg’s International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), with help from the Ontario and Manitoba governments, will move to preserve the world renowned Experimental Lakes Area (ELA ).  In May 2012, the federal government announced the closure of the world’s foremost freshwater research station which for forty years has provided studies on the impacts of aquatic pollutants on lakes.  The takeover by the IISD culminates a two year struggle by scientists and citizens to save the ELA.

This current agreement will allow the ELA to reopen to scientists performing whole lake experiments that have been on hold for almost two years.  This work is important, say scientists, because ELA is the one place in the world where a pollutant can be added to lakes, in a controlled way, in order to understand with certainty the changes that occur due to the pollutant.  As well, the ELA will now be able to resume its role in training the brightest aquatic scientists in the world.

It is with mixed emotions that prominent scientists react to this new agreement.  Dr. Dave Schindler (OC, AOE, FRSC, FRS) is encouraged.  "The move to IISD should be good for ELA, and for water research in Canada.  In recent years as federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ (DFO) interest in research has declined, ELA has been increasingly strangled, never able to reach its full potential.  Hopefully, with DFO out of the picture, that will change for the better", says Dr. Schindler, founding director of the ELA.  

However, while the general consensus is relief that ELA will not be closed, others lament the current treatment of science in Canada. “Today is a bittersweet victory ― while we rejoice in the hope that ELA will live on, we remain discouraged by the reality that the Canadian government refused to reinstate its funding for ELA as a public science program”, says Dr. Diane Orihel, co-founder of the Coalition to Save ELA.  “Although we believe that the IISD is fully committed to running the ELA in manner it deserves, there are significant hurdles the facility needs to overcome (such as long term funding stability) to ensure its future” says Dr. John Smol (OC, FRSC). “Thankfully the IISD and the governments of Ontario and Manitoba appear to be concerned about evidence-based policy when it comes to water issues”.

“The announced closure of ELA initiated a movement of advocacy for science and provides a unique example of how individuals can change a government’s course of action” says Dr. Britt Hall, director of the Coalition to Save ELA.  “Without the collective work of many, the Harper government would have closed this unique facility that provides vital data on our invaluable freshwater ecosystems.”  The Coalition to Save ELA is grateful to the many science societies, environmental organizations, lake stewardship groups, First Nations, federal and provincial politicians, public service unions, journalists, and citizens for their tremendous support (see www.saveela.org/thank-you for a complete list).   

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