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Freshwater fact-finding: experimental lakes area continues research.

Last year, aquatic researchers in Northern Ontario dodged a bullet when the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) saved the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) from closure. This year, the focus is returning to what's most important: research.

"We're pleased to say that since we took over on April 1, all the research is going on schedule and is going very smoothly," said Matt McCandless, executive director of IISD-ELA. "Of course, it was a lot of work to get to this point, but all the ELA research is completely up and running now."

The ELA--a collection of 58 lakes in Northwestern Ontario established in the 1960s as an aquatic research area--was in danger of closing in 2013 after the federal government announced budget cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. But thanks to a trio of agreements between the province, the federal government, and the IISD, it will remain operational.

Ontario has agreed to provide up to $2 million for up to four years, while Manitoba is contributing $150,000 per year. The federal government is providing $1 million over four years.

In June, the ELA tan a successful In-diegogo crowdfunding campaign. raising $28,595 from 300 contributors to fund summer intern work. The campaign was significantly boosted by support from pre-eminent Canadian author Margaret Atwood, who contributed to the campaign and voiced her support for the ELA via social media. "It was really just an experiment," McCandless said. "We tried to see what level of public support there was out there and it surpassed our goal."

Having secured funding puts the ELA in a good position. McCandless said, because it allows the organization to comfortably operate at a basic level for the next four Years rather than scrambling to keep the facility going. "That gives us about four years to actually diversify that funding base, so we can decrease our reliance on these federal and provincial contributions and become self-sufficient," he said. "The objective now is to make sure that we can run ELA as a self-sustaining, non-profit business through other activities and through fundraising."

The priority for this year, however, is to continue the world-class research for which the ELA is known. In addition to lake monitoring, which continued uninterrupted through the transition, researchers are turning their attention to three main projects.

Founded in 1967, the ongoing eutrophica-tion project looks at the effects of phosphorus on water bodies; in particular, excess phosphorus from sewage, wastewater and agriculture that creates algal blooms. 'Already this research project has had a profound effect on how we treat wastewater, how we treat sewage, and how we manage farmland to reduce runoff, and it's led to the development of new technologies for improving water quality in the environment," McCandless said.

A second project examines the effects of reduced inflow on a small lake in relation to climate change. Researchers have diverted a creek from its regular course, so the lake is receiving less water, to see what impact this chahge will have on lake trout, a top cold-water predator and popular sport fish.

Lake trout thrive at a certain depth where the water is cooler and there's an abundance of dissolved oxygen, McCandless said. Researchers hypothesize that, with less water coming in, the layer at which lake trout survive will become thinner.

Nanosilvers, or small particles of elemental silver that repel bacterial growth, are the subject of the third study, being done in conjunction with researchers at Trent University. Commonly incorporated as an antibacterial agent into clothing, socks, underwear, washing machines and toothpaste, nanosilvers eventually get washed out and end up in the sewage system. Most sewage plants aren't capable of removing nanosilvers before the water is released back into the environment, McCandless said, and there is little understanding of how they impact the environment.

"The project with Trent involves treating a small lake with nanosilver and monitoring it to see what the effect is on ecology and on the lake," he said. "We hope it will lead to a better understanding of the environmental impacts of nanosilver, so we can develop new technologies and policies for treating it."

Potential future research topics include studying the impacts of increased pipeline development, new technologies for treating oil spills, and the effects of chromium with relation to mining development; for example, how to manage chromium as the Ring of Fire is developed in Northern Ontario.

Part of the ELAs mandate is to ensure all research is done in the public interest and findings are made available to the.

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Author:Kelly, Lindsay
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Sep 1, 2014
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