When the Lake Simcoe Protection Act was passed in 2008, the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, its member groups, Environmental Defense, and Ontario Nature celebrated the passage of the best watershed-based legislation in Canada. Ten years later, the Province is getting ready to review the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP). It’s time to learn what the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Plan do, and how they are performing.
This article first appeared in the spring 2019 edition of Lake Simcoe Living magazine: https://www.lakesimcoeliving.com/
We will all have an opportunity to voice our support, concerns, and priorities for the LSPP to the Province when they announce their LSPP Review consultation plans. The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition will keep its members up to date on this file.
What does the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan do?
The science-based plan aims to restore Lake Simcoe’s incredible cold-water fishery. To do this, phosphorus levels have to come down significantly in order to increase the oxygen available to fish in the deeper parts of the lake. It’s an all-hands-on deck exercise, since we need to cut phosphorus loads from farms and developments, urban run-off, streams, septic systems and sewage treatment plants, while doing a better job of protecting the watershed’s forests, wetlands, shoreline and stream bank vegetation.
What was strengthened under the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan?
- Better protection of forests, wetlands (and buffer zones around those features), shorelines and stream banks from development and site alteration. The RLSC’s research finds that 26% of the watershed’s land is well protected natural cover, but this falls well short of the LSPP target of 40% “high quality natural cover” in the watershed;
- Tougher Sewage Treatment Plant phosphorus caps. Municipalities are improving the technologies used to remove phosphorus and other nutrients and pollutants from their wastewater plants’ effluent. The greatest reductions in phosphorus loads between 2005 and 2015 came from improved treatment technologies at sewage treatment plants, down 46%;
- The Lake Simcoe Phosphorus Reduction Strategy, 2010, should lay out a plan to achieve the target phosphorus load of 44 tonnes per year by 2045, but doesn’t quite. The annual phosphorus load is not going down enough; 2005 – 2010 and 2010 – 2015 periods both averaged 85 tonnes / year;
- Systems to reduce the growing phosphorus load from new development: Improved stormwater management and development guidelines must be followed in new development applications. If phosphorus still flows off the site, the developer pays $35,000 / kg of phosphorus exported / year. Revenues of the Lake Simcoe Phosphorus Offset Program are used locally for retrofits of existing developments and stormwater management systems that pollute the lake;
- Provincial staff at the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks and $20 million in Provincial funding, for LSPP implementation;
- Mandatory inspections of septic systems within 100 meters of water features, every 5 years;
- Mandatory inclusion of subwatershed plans in municipal Official Plans. Subwatershed plans outline actions to be taken locally, to achieve the objectives of the LSPP;
- Better science, monitoring, and oversight by Lake Simcoe Science Committee and the multi-stakeholder Lake Simcoe Coordinating Committee. These committees meet quarterly to review and comment on scientific research and LSPP implementation actions, and provide yearly advice to the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.
Despite these amazing efforts, particularly by the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, Lake Simcoe’s phosphorus levels are not going down as much as expected. The LSPP review provides an opportunity to say, “more funding, and better implementation plans are needed to achieve key ecological targets in the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.” Let’s do that, together.
Download the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s “Protect Our Plan” priorities and the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan at: https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/resources-2/
Author: Claire Malcolmson is the Executive Director of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition (RLSC). The RLSC is a lake-wide citizens’ umbrella group that provides leadership and motivates people to take action to protect Lake Simcoe. RLSC represents 22 local organizations and clubs in the watershed. For more information, and to join the RLSC email list, see www.RescueLakeSimcoe.org