The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan is now up for its required 10-year review. The question is whether the provincial government will take this opportunity to strengthen or weaken the plan – or do anything at all.
The Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks has not revealed its intentions. Rather than proposing specific amendments for consideration, it is consulting through an online survey, asking Ontarians to help it assess whether changes to the plan are even necessary.
The door is thereby open to defining what is needed to improve the plan and its implementation. To this end, the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition has prepared a detailed assessment and set of recommendations that Ontario Nature and many other organizations have endorsed. With a focus on reducing phosphorus and protecting the watershed’s forests and wetlands, the coalition has identified six priorities that must be addressed:
Improve water quality by reducing phosphorus loads to the lake to 44 tonnes per year;
Protect 40 percent of the watershed’s forests and wetlands;
Enable First Nations and the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority to participate meaningfully in the plan’s governance;
Increase public engagement in restoration and invasive species control; and
Incorporate and implement the Lake Simcoe Climate Change Adaptation Strategy policies into the plan to reduce phosphorus loads, mitigate the impacts of climate change, and increase natural cover.
According to Claire Malcolmson, executive director of Rescue Lake Simcoe, “what happens at Lake Simcoe is a bellwether for our ability to protect water quality in urbanizing areas.” So far, this is proving to be a challenge for Lake Simcoe, despite the strengths of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. Progress has been undermined by provincial funding cuts, policy changes enabling more sprawling development and a general lack of implementation.
Meanwhile, threats to Lake Simcoe continue to mount. “The watershed is under intense development pressure, with its population projected to double by 2051,” says Malcolmson. “Changes to growth planning rules in Ontario, a proposed highway across a sensitive wetland and wildlife area of the Holland Marsh, and the Minister’s Zoning Order requested for the gigantic Orbit development in Innisfil all highlight the challenges of accommodating growth while protecting the environment.”
Malcolmson does well to remind us that interest in protecting and improving the health of Lake Simcoe crosses party lines: “It’s practically impossible to imagine today that the Lake Simcoe Protection Act received UNANIMOUS ALL PARTY SUPPORT a short thirteen years ago at Queen’s Park. The largely Conservative voter base around the lake cares about protecting our water and a quality natural environment. Protecting the environment is not a partisan issue at the local level.”
With this shared interest in the health of Lake Simcoe comes a shared responsibility. It is therefore encouraging that many local councils are supporting the coalition’s call for action to reduce phosphorus loading and strengthen policies to protect the watershed’s forests and wetlands. Let’s all do our part to help ensure that the provincial government takes meaningful steps to improve and implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.
What You Can Do
Voice your support for upholding and strengthening the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. Ask the provincial government to identify and pursue ways to achieve its science-based objectives and targets for phosphorus reduction and the protection of natural heritage.