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Feds to spend $18M on Lake Winnipeg cleanup: Harper

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced today $18 million in funding to clean up Lake Winnipeg.

"We are leaving our bit of the world a better place," he said at a press conference in Gimli, Man., on a hotel on the shore of the lake.

The funding is for the second phase of the Lake Winnipeg cleanup initiative that began in 2006. For every dollar Ottawa spends, the province and other partners in the cleanup pitch in $2, he said.

Funding for the cleanup was due to end this year, but Harper is committing federal support for another five years.

The second phase of the Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative is to focus on projects and research to improve water quality for the fishing industry as well as for recreational users.

Harper said because more than half the pollution that enters the lake — much of it from fertilizer-laden agricultural runoff — comes from outside Manitoba, it is necessary to work with other jurisdictions to deal with it.

"This kind of scientific research is important for the long-term prosperity of our economy."

The press conference, on the eve of Gimli's Icelandic festival, was attended by cabinet ministers Lisa Raitt and Vic Toews and several Manitoba MPs, including local MP James Bezan.

The hot TV lights at Harper's news conference were too much for one young white-coated researcher, who collapsed after standing for more than an hour waiting for the prime minister to conclude.

She seemed to recover quickly and was ushered out of the hotel conference room where Harper was speaking.

'Not intending to continue' experimental lakes project

Outside, demonstrators carried signs protesting the Experimental Lakes Area losing its funding. Harper threw cold water on any suggestion his government might reverse its decision on that project.

The Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario has helped researchers for decades as they try to understand how freshwater bodies are damaged and how they can be restored. It started in the 1960s to study algae blooms choking Lake Erie.

The government is cutting its funding for the project, which is monitored by a team of scientists at the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg.

"Our priority in this area is this particular project (Lake Winnipeg) and obviously we are not intending to continue that other project," Harper said.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard and other supporters of the Environmental Lakes Area said ending the project also undermines research on Lake Winnipeg, where algae blooms are a major problem.

On another issue, Harper said he would be happy to talk with the Manitoba government about ways to prevent damage from flooding so as to minimize huge compensation payouts each year.

The province has complained that Ottawa has been slow to provide compensation under the federal disaster assistance program for last year's major flood.

With files from The Canadian Press

History

Updated on Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 2:44 PM CDT: Adds images.

4:13 PM: Adds information on ELA project, researcher, flood mitigation.

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