Environment Canada: The ideal new operator of ELA

Fisheries & Oceans Canada maintains that research at the world-class Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) is no longer aligned with the department’s core mandate after changes to the Fisheries Act in Budget 2012.  As a result, DFO will cease funding the ELA in March 2013 and is dismantling its science team.  DFO plans to either transfer ELA to a new operator, mothball, or decommission and remediate the site. Today, the Coalition to Save ELA presented the solution – the ELA program and science team must be transferred to Environment Canada (EC).

“I call upon Environment Minister Peter Kent to do the right thing for Canada, for Canadians, and take over the operation of the ELA and its team of freshwater scientists”, proclaimed Diane Orihel, Director, Coalition to Save ELA at today’s press conference.

Canadians recognize the value of ELA in protecting Canada’s freshwaters.  Over 25,000 Canadians have signed a public petition calling upon the Government of Canada to reinstate funding for the ELA. Nine-teen municipalities have passed resolutions in support of the ELA. In an Environics Research poll, released yesterday by the Council of Canadians, over 73% of Canadians – including 60% of Conservative voters – oppose the Government’s decision to cancel federal funding for the ELA program.

The research and monitoring carried out by the ELA is an essential public good, and must remain within the public domain. “To ensure that ELA research continues to support federal government policy decisions and to ensure that science is conducted in the interest of all Canadians, ELA must remain a public program, funded and managed by the Government of Canada”, asserts aquatic scientist Dr. Rebecca Rooney, University of Waterloo.

Environment Canada is already using the ELA to meet its strategic outcomes.  ELA has operated a meteorological station for more than 40 years, which serves as a measurement site in EC’s Canadian Air and Precipitation Monitoring Network.  There is also a study underway at ELA, funded by EC’s Chemical Management Plan, which examines the fate and effects of PBDEs, a class of flame retardants.

The future capacity of EC to achieve its 2012/2013 plans and priorities depends on the whole-ecosystem research that only the ELA can deliver.  Studies done at ELA are essential to understanding the threats to Canada’s water resources from economic growth, climate change, and new environmental challenges.  ELA is useful for developing effective nutrient management strategies for the Great Lakes, Lake Winnipeg, and Lake Simcoe.  Furthermore, ELA is a powerful research platform to assist the oil and gas industry in managing risks associated with their activities. For example, ELA could be used by EC to determine the fate and effects of chemicals found in diluted bitumen in pipelines and oil sands tailings.

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Left to right in photo: Elizabeth May (MP, Green Party Leader), Francis Scarpaleggia (MP, Liberal Water Critic), Emma Lui (Water Campaigner, Council of Canadians), Diane Orihel (Director, Coalition to Save ELA), and Rebecca Rooney (Assistant Professor, University of Waterloo) (Missing from photo: Bruce Hyer, MP, Thunder Bay – Superior North)