Why the math on de-funding Experimental Lakes makes no sense - Macleans.ca

Why the math on de-funding Experimental Lakes makes no sense

As in healthcare, prevention is a cost-saving measure



Here’s an interesting story:

In the mid 1970s a group of scientists decided to see what happens to a lake when water acidity levels rise. The researchers were fortunate enough to live in a country with one of the world’s highest rates of renewable freshwater per capita. There was enough water, and enough of it far away from human developments, that they they could treat entire lakes as their real-life laboratory.

They picked one such lake and, from 1976 to the early 1980s, poured measured amounts of sulfuric acid into it. The transformation was stunning: “Several key species, including Mysis shrimp, crayfish, and fathead minnows, disappeared entirely from the lake. The lake trout and white sucker populations began to experience reproductive failure.” By 1981 most adult trouts in the lake were so undernourished they looked more like sardines.

In 1984, the scientists began scaling back their dumping activity to allow the acidity levels in the lake to return to their original level. Again, they watched and took notes: “Almost immediately, the lake ecosystem began to respond… The white suckers successfully reproduced and the adult trout were able to feed on the young suckers. The condition of the trout improved markedly… Soon, the trout as well were successfully reproducing.”

The experiment, as many of you surely figured out, took place at the Experimental Lakes research area, in northwestern Ontario. In 2012 the Harper government decided to de-fund this 58-lake facility as part of a series of budget cuts to Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Funding, which Premier Kathleen Wynne announced today will now come from Ontario, amounted to $2 million per year.

Now, here’s another interesting story:

Concerned about water shortages due to persistent dry weather, in 2007 Australians decided to build a desalination plant in Sydney. The $1.9 billion project took years to complete, but while workers were labouring away at it, drought conditions eased. By the time it was finished, there was no need for the facility. The government announced last year it would mothball it — but Australian taxpayers are still paying $15 million a month to cover construction costs.

This latter story is referenced new OECD study on water management. The first building block in devising sound water policies, the report argues, is knowledge: Having a pretty good idea of how human activity affects your water resources is essential to being able to devising the most cost-efficient management policies. Sydney, of course, is an example of what happens when the government doesn’t have a clue. “In Sydney, Australia, for example,” notes the OECD, “analysis shows that if scarcity pricing had been introduced at an appropriate time it could have reduced water demand to a level which no longer required the development of a costly new desalination plant.”

And that’s why axing funding for the Experimental Lakes as a budget-slashing measure makes as much as eliminating preventive care in order to reduce public health costs.


Why the math on de-funding Experimental Lakes makes no sense

  1. Good catch Erica. This is ideally how evidenced based policy ought to work. Another good case in point is the trashing of the LF census; i wonder what idiocies are yet in store for us because of that decision?

  2. Yeah, cuz there will never be another drought in Oz.

  3. It was never about the money.

    It was another attempt, like the census, to limit the amount of knowledge and information Canadians have access to.

  4. Incorrect reasoning by Alini. If the costs of preventative care are higher than the damage from what it prevents, funding should be eliminated.

    Similarly, if the ELA does not provide a net benefit to Canada, it should be eliminated. There is also a lot of junk science done by those involved in the ELA, causing rational minds to doubt whether continuing to fund Canada’s highly politicized environmental science community is in our best net interests as a nation.

    • Thanks for your weak and unfounded comment. I already knew that the work at the ELA was important because it is one of the few places where entire ecosystems can be explored. However, your comment caused me to go to their site and look at the wealth of information being developed, ranging from best practice to avoid agricultural runoff, to the impact of improper disposal of human medicines.

      You claim to have a rational mind. Odd that. While in principle your mind may be rational, it is certainly ignorant wrt the activities at ELA. In a few moments, I found that the information was readily available and relatively accessible even for someone such as yourself. I am forced to conclude that the origins of your ignorance is a decision rather than a lack of opportunity. Not really rational behaviour.

    • re: “a lot of junk science” — I have researched the ELA before and do not believe you — Please provide links to sources for these ridiculous claims.

      re: “Canada’s highly politicized environmental science community” — scientists study FACTS. Politicians politicize the facts they don’t like.

  5. The Experimental Lakes are costly to run. They have to be returned to a pristine conditions. Now here’s the thing. About the only major development coming out of the ELA is understanding acidification. I could have figured that one out adding sulfuric acid to a fish tank at a lot lower price. Did they add the amount of supposed sulfuric acid found in the rain that they were complaining about? No. They added it to a lake. What did it prove? The ecosystem could be destroyed by adding sulfuric acid. No kidding. Not one major academic institution offered to pick up the cost nor did the provincial governments. What does that tell you. ELA was a vanity project.

    • Wow! What utter tripe…is that you in there minister Goodyear?

    • Yup, total waste.

      “Acid rain”. Heh. Everyone knows it was just Gawd punishing bad fish.
      And anyhow, that’s money that could be used to increase the Economic Action Plan budget by, like 10%.

  6. Yet another example of Reform/Tea Party mentality – penny wise, pound foolish.

    • Absolutely agree

  7. It is game theory in action. The other players in the game aren’t going to change their budgetary priorities if you never change your own, or credibly bluff them into believing that you are going to change to budgetary priorities.

    The people benefiting from the ELA aren’t going to come up with the funding if you don’t credibly threaten to take your funding away.

    Is a mother going to keep doing her son’s laundry when he is a grown adult, or is she eventually going to say do your own laundry?

    • So now ‘Mother Harper’ is going to be defunding federal science on this homey theory?

      • Yes; Engineers working with rainfall and temperature data know we’re loosing Meteorological stations in Canada (5-10% per year). To be fair, it has been going on for over a decade. The private sector cannot fill this gap; the data needs to be collected before the project starts.

        • I had no idea we have so many backward people in Canada cheering on this kind of thing.

    • “The people benefiting from the funding…”

      You mean like er, ordinary Canadians who want to be able to drink our water, eat our fish, swim safely in our lakes? What is it about environmental protection that is underwritten by the govt’s they elect that gives you guys the Heebie jeebies?

    • So the role of the federal government is to try to avoid responsibility for Canada’s well-being; any apparent irresponsibility is just game-theory-based efforts to get other people to do that annoying “governing” thing. Nice to know.

  8. From the sound of some of the comments, I think the ELA should look into the best way to drain fever swamps.

  9. I find it difficult to draw the connection between research at Experimental Lakes and a five year drought in Sydney Australia that lead to an investment in a desalination plant, thought to be a permanent condition as a result of climate change.