What one department of the Ontario Government giveth the other taketh away. The Ontario Government’s enlightened leadership has raised expectations among those for whom Lake Simcoe is a precious resource, but many are now concerned that those expectations are unfounded. The Ministry of the Environment’s recently released Lake Simcoe Phosphorus Reduction Strategy acknowledges that environmental impacts of population growth currently planned in the Lake Simcoe watershed will make the achievement of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan’s goals difficult, if not impossible.
The Phosphorus Reduction Strategy identifies specific Phosphorus reduction goals and potential reduction opportunities that will work towards achieving the whole-lake goal of 44 tonnes per year of phosphorus loading, down from today’s 72 tonnes per year. Included are many necessary and forward-looking practices that will help reduce phosphorus loads. But significantly, the Strategy fails to lay out a plan for reaching the goal of 44 tonnes per year by 2045.
After careful review, the members of Campaign Lake Simcoe have come to the conclusion that the provincial Growth Plan’s current population targets for the Lake Simcoe watershed are the primary reason the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan will fail. The Ministries of Energy and Infrastructure, and Municipal Affairs and Housing have undermined the Ministry of the Environment’s plans. Coordination is urgently needed if we are to succeed in saving the Lake.
The Lake Simcoe watershed population is projected to increase from 150,000 today to serving 500,000 people on the Lake’s Sewage Treatment Plants by 2031. In that time growth in the Lake Simcoe watershed will consume about 17,000 hectares, almost 5% of the watershed. The Strategy anticipates that the additional Phosphorus load from these new developments in the Lake Simcoe watershed will be 15.3 tonnes per year, or at best 9.2 tonnes per year with enhanced stormwater management controls, representing respectively an addition of 21% or 13% to today’s Phosphorus load. No other sector shows an anticipated increase in Phosphorus loads. Additional loads of Phosphorus should simply not be acceptable, from any sector, post Lake Simcoe Protection Act.
If the Province follows its current population growth plan in this area, we will only achieve the 44 tonne per year goal if major changes are made now to development practices, and if local indicators of good environmental practices and health are used to trigger the approval of new development. There are opportunities for the province to make the approval of Sewage Treatment Plant expansions or new development areas contingent on municipalities demonstrating that they have implemented recommendations from the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan and that the municipalities’ environmental initiatives are resulting in improvements to the health of the Lake. Approval of new development must be tied to environmental performance, with no exceptions. Call it a reward for good behaviour.
Some ideas for criteria include:
sustainability or water conservation plans; subwatershed (local) land use plans that help us achieve the recommended 40% average natural cover target for the watershed; the completion of all possible stormwater retrofit activities; a demonstration that biodiversity has been measured and has not declined since 2009, and where it has, that species recovery plans have been implemented, and of course healthy streams flowing into the lake
Such criteria might incentivize municipalities to quickly implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, in order to obtain approval to develop new areas. Of course, the most effective solution is to stop putting urban sprawl in the watershed.
This is the most ambitious provincial plan for protecting an urbanized watershed attempted in Ontario and we applaud the province and all those working to save the lake for undertaking this difficult task. But if the effort is to be worth it, we must not allow death by a thousand cuts, and unfortunately, the Strategy allows for thousands of new cuts.
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By Claire Malcolmson, Campaign Lake Simcoe Advisor at Environmental Defence, and President of the Board of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition
You can download the Phosphorus Reduction Strategy, the province’s press release and backgrounder at: