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Experimental Lakes Area

Experimental Lakes Area
Founder(s) W. E. Johnson
John Vallentyne
Established 1968
Budget $2.5 million
Location Kenora District
Website Experimental Lakes Area
ELA is located in Ontario
The ELA's position in Kenora District, Ontario, Canada.

The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) is an internationally unique research station encompassing 58 formerly pristine freshwater lakes in Kenora District Ontario, Canada.[1][2] Previously run by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the facility is now managed and operated by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and has a mandate to investigate the aquatic effects of a wide variety of stresses on lakes and their catchments. The ELA uses the whole ecosystem approach and makes long-term, whole-lake investigations of freshwater focusing on eutrophication.[3][4]

In an article[1] published in AAAS's well-known scientific journal Science, Eric Stokstad described ELA's "extreme science"[1] as the manipulation of whole lake ecosystem with ELA researchers collecting long-term records for climatology, hydrology, and limnology that address key issues in water management.[3] The ELA has influenced public policy in water management in Canada, the USA and Europe.[1]

Minister of State for Science and Technology, Gary Goodyear, argued that "our government has been working hard to ensure that the Experimental Lakes Area facility is transferred to a non-governmental operator better suited to conducting the type of world-class research that can be undertaken at this facility” and that “[t]he federal government has been leading negotiations in order to secure an operator with an international track record." On April 1, 2014, the International Institute for Sustainable Development announced that it had signed three agreements to ensure that it will be the long-term operator of the ELA research facility.[5]


  • History 1
  • Contributions to hydrology 2
  • Controversy about defunding 3
    • Bill C-38 Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act cutbacks to science 3.1
    • Fisheries Act 3.2
    • DFO dismantling ELA cabins 3.3
    • Defunding widely condemned by scientific community 3.4
    • Response from opposition parties and Senators 3.5
    • International Institute for Sustainable Development 3.6
  • Silence of the Labs 4
  • Notes 5
  • Citations 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


Detail map of the Experimental Lakes Area, Kenora District, Ontario, highlighting designated research lakes and selected roads, trails,and watersheds. Map depicts a 30 km x 30 km area, showing detail to less than 1/4 km.

In 1968, the Province of Ontario and the Government of Canada set aside an area in a sparsely inhabited region of central Canada, southeast of Kenora, Ontario, which is relatively unaffected by external human influences and industrial activities, for experimental studies of the causes and control of eutrophication and other types of water pollution. It included 46[6] small, deep, pristine lakes and their catchment areas in the Precambrian Shield.[7]

The ELA project originated as a Canadian governmental response to the International Joint Commission (IJC)'s recommendation (1965) to Canada and the United States for additional support for studies on transboundary pollution in the lower Great Lakes.[7][8]

In the 1960s, there was a widespread concern about the consequences of eutrophication but there was a lack of solid scientific evidence. Dr. W. E. Johnson of the Freshwater Institute of Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) convinced the Canadian government that unimpeachable evidence could be obtained by experimental pollution of pristine lakes through controlled overfertilization of specified elements.[9] The Experimental Lakes Area was established in 1968 by the Fisheries Research Board of Canada. Dr. John Reubec Vallentyne and Dr. W. E. Johnson of the Freshwater Institute created the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA). While Vallentyne was Scientific Leader of the Eutrophication Section from 1966 to 1972, he attracted a stellar staff of scientists from around the world in the late 1960s and early 1970s.[10] He recruited a junior scientist, David W. Schindler. Schindler, who would become one of the world's leading limnologists, would direct ELA projects from 1968 to 1989.[11][12][13][14][15][16][17]

Contributions to hydrology

In 1969, the fertilization experiment began with Lake 227, and in 1973, the double-basin eutrophication experiment on Lake 226 began, in which a section of the Lake 226S was overfertilized with carbon and nitrogen and the other section 226N with carbon and nitrogen as well as phosphorus.[18] The iconic image of the green eutrophied section 226N has been described as the most important in the history of limnology. It convinced the public and policy-makers that phosphorus levels needed to be controlled.

"Work at the ELA has produced important evidence on the effects of acid rain and led to the discovery that phosphates from household detergents cause algal blooms. It has elucidated the impacts on fish of mercury and shown how wetland flooding for hydroelectricity leads to increased production of greenhouse gases."[19]

In the years leading up to the 2001 Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal for Science and Engineering award, Schindler's research "demonstrated the cumulative impacts on boreal lake life of global warming, acidification and ozone depletion. Using long-term reference data collected at the ELA, he has shown that climate warming and drought have severe and previously unrecognized effects on the physics, chemistry, and biology of lakes."[20]

ELA has produced 745 peer-reviewed scientific articles, 126 graduate theses, 102 book chapters and synthesis papers, 185 data reports, and several books. ELA scientists have been the recipients of numerous prestigious international water awards, including the Stockholm Water Prize, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement[21] and the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal for Science and Engineering.[20][22][23]

According to John Shearer, who worked at the ELA as Senior Biologist and Operations Manager, from 1969 until his retirement 2007, 47 PhD candidates completed dissertations and 80 master’s students completed theses, using research they participated in at the ELA.[24]

Hundreds of peer-reviewed articles have been based on ELA research in journals such as Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP), Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, Hydrological Processes, Limnology and Oceanography, Environmental Science and Technology, including at least 184 in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences and 30 in Biogeochemistry.[25]

Controversy about defunding

Bill C-38 Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act cutbacks to science

The Bill C-38 Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act[26][27][28][26](informally referred to as Bill C-38) is an Act of the Parliament of Canada, an omnibus bill passed as a 2012 Budget Implementation Act in June 2012.

Fisheries Act

Bill C-38 amended the Fisheries Act and closed the Experimental Lakes Area.[29][30] Bill C-38 was given Royal Assent on June 29, 2012.[31]

In 2012, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced that it planned to discontinue supporting the site at the end of the financial year, March 31, 2013, at a cost of $50 million.[32] The site would be either decommissioned or handed to a third-party operator.[33][34]

Senator Angus Cowan[35] at the 1st Session, 41st Parliament (June 21, 2012) expressed his concerns. "There are a number of proposed changes to the Fisheries Act that are causing deep concern among Canadians. The bill amends the act to limit fish protection to the support of "commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries." Protection of fish habitat is relegated to a vastly lower priority — something that caused those four former fisheries ministers, in their words, "especial alarm."[35] Cowan also expressed dismay at the closure of Experimental Lakes Area.

Bill C-38 eliminates $2 million in annual funding to the Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario. This research centre will close within a year if a new operator cannot be found. John Smol, a biologist at Queen’s University, has said that the Experimental Lakes Area is the best-known freshwater research facility on the planet. The planned closure of the centre was the subject of an article on May 21 in Nature magazine.
—Senator Cowan 2012

According to Elizabeth May,[36]

Fish habitat provisions will be changed to protect only fish of "commercial, Aboriginal, and recreational" value and even those habitat protections are weakened. The new provisions create an incentive to drain a lake and kill all the fish, if not in a fishery, in order to fill a dry hole with mining tailings.
—Elizabeth May 2012

DFO dismantling ELA cabins

In March 2013, with no advance notification to scientists whose personal belongings remained at the site or to the IISD, Department of Fisheries and Oceans began dismantling cabins that had been used by the Experimental Lakes Project scientists.[34] Scientist Roberto Quinlin of the Society of Canadian Limnologists said that this move "brings into serious doubt the government’s sincerity to actually transfer the facility over to another operator.”[34]

Defunding widely condemned by scientific community

The decision to abruptly defund the ELA was widely condemned by the Canadian and international scientific community. The scientific journal

  • View of Lake 239 from the ELA Communication Tower.
  • ELA Ice-Off 2009
  • Experimental Lakes
  • "Experimental Lakes Area research station officially saved".  

External links

  • Hayes, F.R. (1973), The Chaining of Prometheus: Evolution of a Power Structure for Canadian Science', Toronto 
  • Johnstone, Kenneth (1977), The Aquatic Explorers: A History of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada' xv, Toronto and Buffalo, pp. 342 publisher=University of Toronto Press 
  • Planas, Dolors (2008), "John R. Vallentyne, in memoriam" (PDF), Limnetica (Madrid, Spain: Asociacion Iberica de Limnologia) 27 (1) 
  • Schindler, David W.; Vallentyne, John Reubec (2008), The Algal Bowl: Overfertilization of the World's Freshwaters and Estuaries, Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta Press 
  • Schindler, David William (2009a). "A personal history of the Experimental Lakes Project" (PDF). Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 66 (11): 1837–1847.  

Further reading

  • "AB. Members Profile David W. Schindler", Alberta Order of Excellence, nd 
  • Babbage, Maria (24 April 2013), The Canadian Press, ed., ELA Saved: Ontario To Keep Experimental Lakes Area Open, Toronto, Ontario: Huffington Post 
  • Scientific Societies protest Canadian government’s decision to close Experimental Lakes Area, Consortium of Aquatic Science Societies (CASS), 13 June 2012, retrieved 16 March 2013 
  • "Budget cuts claim famed freshwater research facility", CBC, 17 May 2012a, retrieved 18 August 2012 
  • Cowan (June 21, 2012), Senator Cowan at the 1st Session, 41st Parliament, Save Experimental Lakes Area, retrieved March 15, 2013 
  • De Souza, Mike (15 March 2013). "Fisheries Department dismantling summer cabins of scientists at water research facility". Postmedia News. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  • "Publications" (PDF), Experimental Lakes Area, n.d. 
  • "Experimental Lakes Area Official Website", ELA, n.d. 
  • Galloway, Gloria (15 November 2012), Ottawa set to transfer unique freshwater research lab to UN group, Ottawa, Ontario: Globe and Mail 
  • Galloway, Gloria (31 July 2013), Long-term funding from province confirmed for Experimental Lakes Area, Toronto, Ontario: Globe and Mail 
  • Galloway, Gloria (16 March 2013), As dismantling begins, shuttering of research station called a 'travesty', The Globe and Mail, retrieved 16 March 2013 
  • "Bill C-38 Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act" (PDF), Government of Canada, June 2012a, retrieved March 15, 2013 
  • Government of Canada (2012b), "C-38: Status of the Bill", Government of Canada (LEGISinfo), retrieved 15 March 2013 
  • "First Session, Forty-first Parliament, 60-61 Elizabeth II, 2011-2012 Statutes of Canada 2012 Chapter 19: An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures", Government of Canada, June 2012c, retrieved March 15, 2013 
  • Government of Canada (2012d), "C-38:Legislative Summary", Government of Canada, LEGISinfo, retrieved March 15, 2013 
  • "41st Parliament, 1st Session Edited Hansard", Government of Canada (174), 1 November 2012, retrieved March 15, 2013 
  • "May Clarifies Deliberately Confusing Bill C-38", Green Party of Canada, May 10, 2012, retrieved March 15, 2013 
  • Hoag, Hannah (21 May 2012), Canada's renowned freshwater research site to close: Budget fall-out hits environmental research stations, Toronto, Ontario,  
  • IISD (2014), Global Research Possibilities Expand as IISD Assumes Operation of Canada’s Renowned Experimental Lakes Area 
  • Johnson, W.E.; Vallentyne,, J.R. (1971), "Rationale, background and development of experimental lakes studies in northwestern Ontario", Journal Fisheries Research Board Canada 28: 123–128CITEREFJohnsonVallentyne1971,  
  • "Bill C-45: What's In Omnibus Budget Bill 2?", HuffPost Politics (Huffington Post), October 18, 2012, retrieved 2013-01-18 
  • Levitz, Stephanie (June 11, 2012), Bill C-38: Elizabeth May And Green Party Throw The Book At Tories' Omnibus Budget Bill, Ottawa, Ontario: Huffington Post, Canadian Press, retrieved March 15, 2013 
  • MacIntyre, Linden (January 10, 2014). Hicks, Loretta, ed. "The Silence of the Labs". CBC. Retrieved January 11, 2014. 
  • May, Elizabeth (24 April 2013), ELA: Greens Congratulates Wynne for her Leadership, Green Party of Canada 
  • "Profile of David W. Schindler", McGill University Water, 2010 
  • "Death of Evidence", Nature 487, 19 July 2012: 271–272,  
  • "2001 Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal for Science and Engineering: David Schindler", NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada), 2001 
  • Orihel, Diane (17 May 2012), Coalition to Save ELA (PDF), Edmonton, Alberta 
  • Orihel, Diane (16 November 2012a), ELA to be sold off to "client-friendly" buyer with no scientific expertise? 
  • Paris, Max (18 Oct 2012), "Experimental Lakes allies say poll a wakeup call for Tories",  
  • Podemski, Cheryl, Introduction to the ELA Aquaculture Experiment (PDF) 
  • Redman, Hanah (July 6, 2012), "'"University of Ottawa group plans July 10 rally mourning 'death of evidence, The Tyee, retrieved 11 January 2014 
  • "Senator Cowan at the 1st Session, 41st Parliament". Save Experimental Lakes Area. 21 June 2012. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  • Sosiak, Al (25 May 2012), Closure of Experimental Lakes Area, Madison, Wisconsin: North American Lake Management Society 
  • Schindler, David W.; Vallentyne, John Reubec (2008), The Algal Bowl: Overfertilization of the World's Freshwaters and Estuaries, Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta Press 
  • Schindler, David William (1974), Science 184: 897–899,  
  • Schindler, David William (2009a). "A personal history of the Experimental Lakes Project" (PDF). Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 66 (11): 1837–1847.  
  • Shearer, John (November 2012), "ELA Alumni Make a Splash: Many graduate students have used the one-of-a-kind research facility as a springboard to success as professional scientists", Alternatives 
  • "Profile David W. Schindler", Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), n.d. 
  • Stokstad, Erik (28 November 2008), Canada's Experimental Lakes 322 (5906), Science, pp. 1316–1319,  
  • "Trent University Announces David Schindler Endowed Professorship in Aquatic Science", Trent University, Trent University News Release, 21 May 2008 
  • "2006 Tyler Laureates: David W. Schindler and Igor A. Shiklomanov", Tyler, 2006 
  • "Profile of David W. Schindler", University of Alberta (Department of Biological Sciences), n.d. 
  • Vallentyne, John R. (27–29 November 2000), The Canadian Experimental Lakes Area, Symposium on Restoration of Lakes and Wetlands, Keynote Address. Lake, Bangalore, India: Centre for Scientific and Industrial Consultancy (CSIC). Indian Institute of Science 
  • Zagorski, Nick (05 09 2006), Profile of David W. Schindler 103 (19), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 


  1. ^ a b c d Stokstad 2008.
  2. ^ Paris 2012.
  3. ^ a b Schindler 2009a.
  4. ^ Schindler & Vallentyne 2008, p. x.
  5. ^ a b IISD 2014.
  6. ^ Johnson & Vallentyne 1971.
  7. ^ a b Vallentyne 2000.
  8. ^ Podemski nd.
  9. ^ Schindler & Vallentyne 2008, pp. 155-6.
  10. ^ Planas 2008.
  11. ^ Zagorski 2006.
  12. ^ Alberta Order of Excellence nd.
  13. ^ McGill University Water 2010.
  14. ^ Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) nd.
  15. ^ Trent University 2008.
  16. ^ University of Alberta nd.
  17. ^ ELA nd.
  18. ^ Schindler 1974.
  19. ^ a b Nature 2012.
  20. ^ a b NSERC 2001.
  21. ^ Tyler 2006.
  22. ^ a b c Orihel 2012.
  23. ^ a b Orihel 2012a.
  24. ^ Shearer 2012.
  25. ^ Experimental Lakes Area nd.
  26. ^ a b Government of Canada 2012.
  27. ^ Government of Canada 2012a.
  28. ^ Government of Canada 2012b.
  29. ^ a b Save Experimental Lakes Area 2012.
  30. ^ HuffPost Politics 2012.
  31. ^ Government of Canada 2012d.
  32. ^ CBC 2012a.
  33. ^ De Souza 2013.
  34. ^ a b c Galloway 2013a.
  35. ^ a b Cowan 2012.
  36. ^ Green Party of Canada 2012.
  37. ^ CASS 2013.
  38. ^ CASS is supported by the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO), the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF), the Society for Freshwater Science (SFS), and the Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS).
  39. ^ Hoag 2012.
  40. ^ a b 2012 Sosiak.
  41. ^ a b Government of Canada 2012e.
  42. ^ In November 2012 Toone argued that "this cutback was one of a series of budget cuts and layoffs in fields relating to research and science at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. For instance, the ocean pollution monitoring program with its 75 scientist positions was eliminated; scientist positions the Maurice Lamontagne Institute related to the program that studies the effect of contaminants on water and aquatic life were eliminated; Fisheries Resource Conservation Council (FRCC) a science-based council which protected the viability of fish stocks over the long term and assessed the total allowable catches every year, was closed."
  43. ^ Babbage 2013.
  44. ^ Galloway 2012.
  45. ^ Galloway 2013.
  46. ^ May 2013.
  47. ^ MacIntyre 2014.



In a January 2014 episode of CBC's The Fifth Estate, investigative reporter Linden MacIntyre examined the climate for scientists in Canada. He included a section on the closure of the ELA, and interviewed Dr. Schindler who continued to work on his area of concern for many years, the state of hydrology in the oil sands region.[47]

Silence of the Labs

Elizabeth May, who served on the board of the International Institute for Sustainable Development for nine years prior to entering politics, argues that the "IISD, a think tank, is not necessarily the right organization to take on this mandate. However, keeping the ELA open and functioning, and in a public and transparent context, was paramount."[46]

Dr. John Rudd, former DFO Research Scientist (1977-2002), ELA Chief Scientist (1998-2002), and winner of DFO’s most prestigious award, the Deputy Minister’s Prix d’Excellence (2002) argued that "IISD is not qualified on a scientific basis to run ELA... ELA is a unique facility and its scientific research needs to be directed by scientists who know how to do these experiments, but unfortunately, almost all present and recently retired scientists have been cut out of the transfer process."[23][22]

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has committed support to keep the ELA "operating in the long term after the federal Conservative government walks away from the world-class freshwater research station at the end of August 2013."[45]

The federal government led negotiations with the Ontario government, the Manitoba government and the TransCanada Energy, Enbridge and Manitoba Hydro.[44] On April 1, 2014, IISD announced that three agreements have been signed involving 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.[5]

International Institute for Sustainable Development

Many Canadian MPs called on the Harper Government to reverse its decision on the forced closure of the Experimental Lakes Project.[41] NDP MP Philip Toone argued that the "internationally recognized program with huge spin-offs for Canada will cost more to close and move than the $2 million that the government hopes to save."[41] [42]

Response from opposition parties and Senators

On 25 May 2012 The North American Lake Management Society (NALMS), representing nearly 1,000 members-researchers, scientists, administrators, and citizens-wrote a letter of concern the imminent closure of ELA, arguing that NALMS' work "depends on findings from the ELA."[40] NALMS asked the federal government to reconsider. "The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) is a rare resource not only in Canada but throughout the world, as a dedicated research facility for ecosystem-scale experimental investigations and long-term monitoring of ecosystem processes. Operating for more than 40 years, it continues to study physical, chemical and biological processes and interactions operating on an ecosystem spatial scale and a multi-year time frame. These have led to extremely important discoveries. As an example, the world’s fertilizer industry now recognizes the importance of phosphorus in lakes and reservoirs, 40 years after its importance was demonstrated at ELA. Regulatory actions have been supported by ELA research, and now there is action by the industry as a result of research and activities at ELA over several decades. The experience gained at ELA by many scientists has resulted in the dissemination of environmental expertise and problem solving throughout the world, improving human conditions, protecting the environment, and saving millions of dollars for citizens and government agencies. Furthermore, we consider the work now in progress at ELA very important to the future of lake and reservoir management."[40]

The planned closure of the centre was the subject of an article 21 May 2012 in Nature journal[39][29]

has been formed to pressure the Canadian government to reverse the decision to close the Experimental Lakes Area. [22]

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