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Scientists set up a micro-meterological station on a raft in this undated photo from the Experimental Lakes Area research station in Northwestern Ontario.Handout/The Canadian Press

Two provincial environment ministers are pleading with the Conservative government to continue its funding of a research station in Northwestern Ontario that has studied the ecology of freshwater lakes for more than 50 years.

Gord Mackintosh, Manitoba's Minister of Conservation and Water Stewardship, and Ontario Environment Minister Jim Bradley say the work conducted at the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) is relied upon by all Canadian bodies that are responsible for managing freshwater resources and many of their international counterparts.

"As you know, the Experimental Lakes Area is a unique, world-renowned freshwater research facility that has been a global leader in understanding human impacts on fish and the freshwater they live in," the provincial politicians say in their letter to federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield and Environment Minister Peter Kent.

"Today, we are recommending that the decision to close the Experimental lakes Area be deferred," they say in their letter, "and that you explore the possibility of a new operating regime."

The massive budget bill that is expected to pass in the House of Commons as early as Monday cuts about $2-million in annual funding to the research station and the ELA will be closed unless a new operator can be found.

Scientists say the decision was politically motivated, arguing Ottawa is ending its support of the ELA because it was producing data the Conservatives did not want to take into account as they promote the development of Alberta's oil sands.

Mr. Mackintosh and Mr. Bradley suggest that five different federal departments – agriculture, fisheries, environment, health, and natural resources – chip in to keep the centre running. The provincial ministers also urge the federal government to invite universities, provinces and territories to develop a joint research agenda.

Among other things, the station has studied the effects of acid rain, mercury deposits, greenhouse gas emissions, hydroelectric development, climate change and chemical pollution. In their letter, Mr. Mackintosh and Mr. Bradley describe it as a "gem."

The Conservative government says it understands the importance of the work that has been done at the facility but it is now focussing its funding on fisheries and habitat management.

Scientists believe it will be very difficult to find another organization to operate the centre because universities are strapped for cash and the province of Ontario has its own fiscal problems.

And, although the government would save about $2-million a year if the ELA was shut down, some estimates suggest it will cost as much as $50-million to close the site and remediate the lakes that have been part of the experiments scientists at the facility have been conducting.

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