The IISD-Experimental Lakes Area just west of Kenora is relishing following a $9.5 million provincial investment made last week.

The funds will go towards supporting much-needed vital research and having secure and stable funding to help the ELA become more financially self-sufficient.

“The real piece of the announcement was the $180,000 that we committed for the design of a building there that will ultimately serve young children,” says Greg Rickford, Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources, and Forestry.

“Folks from schools in the region, across Northern Ontario and beyond can come in there and understand some of the extraordinary work that they do around everything from oil spills to different kinds of micro-contaminants that can harm our waters,” added Rickford.

The investment that was funded through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC), will go towards producing drawings and cost estimates for a potential new building at the site.

The IISD-ELA also got some help from Ottawa in the recently announced federal budget. Ottawa earmarked $25 million for the IISD-ELA in the 2022 budget. 

"IISD is incredibly thankful to the federal government for committing to this meaningful investment that will support and grow the operations of IISD-ELA—truly the world’s freshwater laboratory," said Richard Florizone, president and CEO of IISD.  

"This multi-year funding is critical for the research needed to tackle increasingly serious threats to our fresh water like climate change and microplastics."

This great relationship between the ELA and the federal and provincial governments was never always so smooth.

Back in 2012, the federal government cut funding for the ELA. Just a year later in 2013 when Rickford was the Kenora MP for the riding, he wanted to close it down for good.

In saying that though, Rickford notes in 2014 he worked to transfer the ELA to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

“A world-class organization that does science at the behest and in cooperation with schools and scientific groups around the world, it was an incredible asset.”

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), which was founded in 1988, is an award-winning independent think tank working to fulfill a bold commitment: to create a world where people and the planet thrive.

Since the transfer, the ELA-IISD has worked to gather funding for freshwater research and new and existing research facilities and to continue the vital research needed.

In 2019, Ottawa pledged $40,500 to expand their freshwater research, along with a $30,000 provincial investment to prepare designs to guide a new Water Science Education and Training Centre. The centre allows high school and university students to participate in the ELA’s field biology program.

These recent investments are on top of the Province of Manitoba’s $6 million over six years to support the facility, announced in 2016, along with Ontario’s $2 million in funding annually.

This new federal funding will allow IISD-ELA to pursue its ambitious research agenda that includes, among many initiatives:

  • New groundbreaking research exploring emerging threats to fresh water, from microplastics to oil spills 
  • Working with Indigenous communities to empower them and share knowledge and approaches to science 
  • Ensuring its research helps to improve the health of the African Great Lakes and the tens of millions of people who depend on them through collaboration with the African Center for Aquatic Research and Education. 

The now Kenora-Rainy River MPP, Rickford says he had a lot of time to reflect upon following his time in the federal government.

“A – It was a great facility that we envisioned, and B – I had taken my political hits, that comes with this business. I can tell you that since 2018 we’ve made significant investments in this [the IISD-ELA].”

The International Institute for Sustainable Development - ELA is the only place on earth where researchers can experiment on over 50 real lakes and watersheds to discover the long-term impact of human activities within the natural environment.

For the last 53 years, those lakes and researchers have taught us what causes algal blooms; the effects of acid rain, mercury, dams, and oil spills on fresh water, and much more, including tracking a roughly half-degree increase in northwestern Ontario’s temperatures each decade.