Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/5/2012 (3404 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Closing down a world-class freshwater research program would be a shame, says former Manitoba Hydro boss Bob Brennan, who joins hundreds of scientists, cottagers and Manitoba politicians who object to Ottawa's decision.
Brennan, who retired in February after 22 years at the helm of the province's Crown power company, said the Experimental Lakes Area near Kenora does the kind of large-scale research that attracts elite scientists and helps keep lakes clean.
"I just think it's the type of work that's not easily done. It would be a shame to see it go," said Brennan Friday.
Manitoba Hydro has funded research at the experimental lakes, which in turn altered the way dams and reservoirs are built to reduce the amount of mercury released during flooding. Scientists also discovered that dams, contrary to popular belief, do cause greenhouse gas emissions because of rotting, flooded-out vegetation.
The Harper government announced earlier this month it was laying off roughly 40 people at Winnipeg's Fisheries and Oceans office, most of whom are scientists who do double duty as researchers at the experimental lakes.
Over the last 40 years, work done at the 58 experimental lakes has prompted governments to crack down on acid rain, remove phosphorous from detergent to help save the Great Lakes and create tough new mercury-emissions rules for American coal-fired power plants.
Scientists deliberately pollute the remote lakes with small amounts of mercury, phosphorous and even acid to see how ecosystems react and how best to prevent and clean up real-world pollution. There is no other place in the world where "whole ecosystem" research is done on freshwater lakes.
The federal government has said the ELA and its brand of long-term research no longer fits with Fisheries' mandate at a time of fiscal restraint. The hope is the provinces or universities will take over funding the program.
Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh said Friday he's been in touch with Ontario's environment minister to begin work on a joint plea to Ottawa to save the ELA.
Meanwhile, scientists who normally shy away from the political spotlight have launched a website and a "save the ELA" Facebook page with 3,000 "likes." A series of petitions is also underway, including an online one that has earned signatures from as far away as Germany and Texas.
Scientists from Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institute and several other elite institutions have called the decision to mothball the ELA a tragedy. Several Canadian researchers say the move is part of the federal government's disdain for science and environmental protection.
"The scientific community is outraged and they are willing to fight to reverse this decision," said Diane Orihel, who is finishing her PhD at the experimental lakes and whose husband is among the laid-off federal scientists. "This is sort of the last straw... I think this is the issue where people are going to go, 'All right, that's enough.' "
Orihel is part of a long series of research projects on algae blooms, the kind that suffocate and stink up Lake Winnipeg every summer. Orihel and other scientists are trying to understand how nutrients stored in muck at the bottom of a lake get released and recycled and contribute to algae blooms.
If the sediment continues to release nutrients, that could delay the recovery of Lake Winnipeg even if Manitoba succeeds in shrinking all the outside sources of nutrients, such as sewage and fertilizer.
Robert Bulman, vice-president of the Lake of the Woods District Property Owners Association, said his group has already appealed to its 4,000 members, asking them to write to MPs and the prime minister about the ELA.