On January 16, 2014, the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) posted a regulatory proposal to create a mechanism to authorize experiments at the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) under provincial environmental protection legislation. A decision has been made to proceed with the proposed regulations under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) and Ontario Water Resources Act (OWRA).
ELA is the only whole ecosystem freshwater research facility in the world. It encompasses 58 freshwater lakes and basins designated for research. In Canada and around the world, it has been a powerful resource for understanding the impact of human activities and industrial development on freshwater ecosystems, based on whole-lake experiments and manipulations.
Research conducted at the ELA has informed freshwater management for over 40 years, including significant discoveries relating to mercury, acid rain and phosphorus. The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) has come forward as a potential operator of the ELA, and the province is currently negotiating an agreement with IISD to allow them to operate the site over the long term.
Regulations under the EPA and OWRA were proposed, as both Acts regulate discharges of contaminants into the natural environment. In order for an experiment to receive authorization, it must be approved on scientific merit by an expert panel established by the ELA operator. The Director issuing the authorization must also be satisfied that the experiment will not cause irreparable harm to the environment or adverse effects beyond the catchment area of the lake where the experiment will be conducted, and that an appropriate monitoring plan is in place to ensure that the experiment does not result in these adverse impacts. Appropriate plans must also be in place to manage and remediate any adverse effects, prevent and manage spills or other accidents, and to notify persons who may be affected by the conduct of an experiment, including potentially impacted First Nations and Métis communities.
Once a Statement of Authorization is issued, the regulations provide that certain specified provisions of the EPA and OWRA do not apply to the experiment (please consult the regulations for specific provisions). The regulations only apply to designated lakes within the geographic boundaries of the ELA, and only to authorized experimental activities. The lakes designated in these regulations are the same lakes that have been set aside for manipulation since the ELA’s inception.
If the Director becomes aware that an experiment is resulting in an adverse effect beyond the catchment area of the experimental lake, if irreparable harm to the environment was likely to occur, or if there was a failure to monitor for these impacts over the life of the experiment, the regulations require the Director to issue a Statement of Non-Authorization. The issuance of a Statement of Non-Authorization would result in the experiment losing its exemption status, and conduct of the experiment would have to be terminated.
Technical guidance on the process and criteria for obtaining an authorization is under development.
The regulations were filed with the Registrar of Regulations on March 13, 2014 and took effect on filing.