Origins and Establishment

The scientific origins of the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) can be traced to events in the St. Lawrence Great Lakes, particularly in Lake Erie, during the 1960's. Because of human development (domestic sewage systems, agricultural fertilization) in the basins of the lower Great Lakes, excessive quantities of plant nutrients were being flushed into these lakes. Lake Erie, being relatively shallow and thoroughly mixed, was experiencing serious nuisance blooms of blue green algae. Subsequent bacterial decomposition of these blooms led to dissolved oxygen depletion which severely stressed the populations of many commercial and sport fish species. The Lake Erie ecosystem had changed for the worse and the public demanded action.

The Fisheries Research Board of Canada (FRB) had established the Freshwater Institute (FWI) in Winnipeg in 1966. One of the priorities for this research facility was to investigate the eutrophication process, the very problem that was plaguing Lake Erie. W.E. (Wally) Johnson, the first director of the FWI, had assembled an international team of research scientists, under the leadership of J.R. (Jack) Vallentyne, to address this problem. Johnson, having studied under Arthur Hasler at Wisconsin, was familiar with experimental whole-lake studies conducted there over a number of years. He, in concert with F.R. Hayes, then Chairman of the FRB, convinced the Governments of Canada and Ontario that this approach could prove invaluable in addressing the controversial issues relating to eutrophication. Permission was given to establish an experimental lakes study area.

During 1966 and 1967, extensive surveys were conducted to select a suitable site for the proposed Experimental Lakes Area. Several criteria were important (Johnson and Vallentyne 1971): the area had to be unpopulated and undeveloped to minimize uncontrollable human effects on the watersheds; there had to be a high density of small lakes (1 to 50 ha), many of which would have sufficient depth (>8 m) to possess thermal stratification typical of larger deep lakes; there had to be minimal groundwater influences that might complicate the interpretation of results from experimental chemical additions. Perhaps most important, the lakes and their drainage basins had to be available for designation and long-term protection as research watersheds. By mid 1967, a candidate area, located on the Precambrian Shield of northwestern Ontario, east of Lake of the Woods and south of the Trans Canada Highway (Ontario No. 17), was selected.

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Water is life's matter and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water."
Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Hungarian biochemist and Nobel Prize Winner for Medicine.

"In an age when man has forgotten his origins and is blind even to his most essential needs for survival, water along with other resources has become the victim of his indifference."
Rachel Carson