By Chris Simon
Environmental groups are praising the introduction of the Lake Simcoe Act in the Ontario Legislature.
If passed, the act will outline specific measures to protect the lake, including phosphorous reduction targets and regulations, and protection of natural heritage areas and shorelines.
Environmental groups also hope the act will cover an area wide enough to fully protect the lake from pollution sources, allows for an independent and transparent governing committee for the lake, and ensures development complies provincial regulations.
“The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition was created specifically to bring people and government together to work on solutions for our ailing lake,” said coalition founding chair Robert Eisenberg. “We have done it, and today I couldn’t be more proud of both the province and the citizens of Lake Simcoe.”
However, York-Simcoe MPP Julia Munro says the act is vague, and fails to provide specific targets for lake clean-up.
“It’s certainly long awaited,” she said from her Toronto office last week. “Some people have some fear over the creation of another bureaucracy. You’ve got four pieces of legislation that all have some kind of controlled role on land use in the watershed, I’m not sure which one of those pieces would have supremacy. There’s a great deal of policy that needs to be developed and understood.”
Currently, the act includes a four-year, $20 million commitment to monitoring. But the lake has already undergone years of monitoring, making future studies repetitive and unnecessary, said Munro.
“(They’ve) included (funding) for what’s described as stewardship and monitoring,” she said. “Frankly, I was a bit disappointed, because the lake has been studied for decades. It would seem to me it would be time to spend that money on action. We aren’t seeing (the funding) directed at specific projects. There’s so many rivers and streams that enter into the lake, it would be nice to see one of them being pushed (for clean-up).”
But the proposed act does adequately balance planning and development with environmental protection, says Lake Simcoe Regional Conservation Authority chair Virginia Hackson.
“Integrated watershed management is a multidisciplinary approach that reflects how the many elements of our environment depend upon one another,” she said. “This will help to integrate the efforts of our many partners, including municipalities, governments, business, agriculture, citizen groups, environmental organizations, First Nations and landowners. By bringing together all the information and experience these partners have to offer, watershed planning will be informed by the best expertise that we all bring to the table.”
Others say the act would help protect the long-term sustainability of the lake.
“The introduction of this act demonstrates the province hears the lake’s cries for help,” said Annabel Slaight, cofounder of the Ladies of the Lake. “Now, we need to come together to help this wonderful lake, the lands that flow into it, and the people who live here to ensure all become in synch environmentally.”
In March, the Ontario government released Protecting Lake Simcoe: Creating Ontario’s Strategy for Action, a strategy for the long-term health and cleanup of the lake. The plan includes the establishment of a scientific advisory committee, and the reduction of phosphorous discharges entering the lake from sewage treatment plants by 7.3 tons per year.
But this act will also ensure the protection of several endangered species living in the area, and protect water quality, said Caroline Schultz, executive director of Ontario Nature.
“This act will address the need to reduce phosphorus levels and nutrient overload in the lake,” she said.
The act is expected to be passed in the legislature by December.