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This article was published 5/6/2012 (1899 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Scientists and politicians have stepped up the pressure on Ottawa to reverse a decision to scrap a research program that has changed the products we buy and may be crucial to the future of Lake Winnipeg.
In an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday, eight prominent North American scientists said they were "deeply concerned" with the Conservative government's decision to close the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area, 45 minutes east of Kenora, which they said is unique in the world.
"The ELA is vital to Canadians: Its value lies in the irreplaceable capacity for Canadian scientists and their partners to conduct experiments on entire lake ecosystems, not just in test tubes in laboratories," the scientists wrote.
At a news conference in Winnipeg, scientists along with NDP and Liberal politicians said the loss of the research program has serious implications for the future of Lake Winnipeg, which has been beset by problems of nutrient loading.
"All I can say, if you care about water, if you care about Lake Winnipeg, you should care about ELA," said Alex Salki, who spent considerable time at the facility in his 39 years with the Freshwater Institute.
Greg McCullough, a research associate at the University of Manitoba, said the work done at the ELA -- which consists of 58 small lakes, a permanent field station and research team -- cannot be replicated in a lab.
"Our understanding of what's happening to Lake Winnipeg and how we correct that depends very much on work that was done at the Experimental Lakes Area and the experiments that are continuing to this day," he said.
Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh called Ottawa's plan to close ELA next March "a very bad and dumb decision." He and his Ontario counterpart have written a joint letter to the Harper government asking the feds to reconsider.
Mackintosh said ELA research has been key in protecting Manitoba's drinking water, fisheries and the lakes they enjoy for recreation.
He said he is worried Ottawa is prepared to abandon hard-won environmental gains made in recent decades. "We cannot revert back to 1980s-era-calibre environmental protection," he said.
Diane Orihel, a PhD candidate and leader of the Coalition to Save ELA, said the program is "irreplaceable" and addresses issues "critical to all Canadians."
She also castigated the Harper government for not allowing ELA scientists to speak out in their program's defence.
"Because of the Conservatives' draconian muzzling of government scientists, the scientists and staff of the ELA have no voice," she said. And that's why others have formed a coalition to take up their cause.
Ottawa was contributing $2 million a year to the Environmental Lakes Area program.
Ray Hesslein, a former Department of Fisheries and Oceans senior scientist and ELA section leader, said the planned federal savings are penny-wise and pound foolish.
He said the program's research alone in narrowing the cause of problems relating to lake nutrient levels have saved governments of all levels vast amounts of money.
Benefits go deep
RESEARCH at Canada's Environmental Lakes Area has:
helped with the clean up of Lake Erie;
helped in developing strategies for combating harmful algae blooms;
saved municipalities untold millions by pointing to more effective sewage-treatment plant designs targeting phosphorus;
led to North American regulations to combat acid rain;
contributed to the design of reservoirs to minimize greenhouse gas emissions;
helped in devising measures to reduce mercury contamination in fish;
looked into the impact of aquaculture on freshwater; and
led to better understanding that even small amounts of hormones in effluent can affect fish health.
-- Source: Coalition to Save ELA