Part 4 of our series Who Will Save Lake Simcoe? Read the full report here.
With the Upper York Sewage Solution (UYSS), York Region Council is poised—dangerously—to encourage the development of a new sewage treatment plant (STP) in Northern York Region. The UYSS will add Phosphorus (P), a fertilizer and pollutant that will harm fisheries, to Lake Simcoe.
York Region recommends that the STP’s Phosphorus pollution be offset by projects that remove Phosphorus from the water, specifically agricultural and stormwater infrastructure improvements. However, there is little evidence that offsets from agricultural projects can be relied on as long-term P offsets. The reduction in family farms and the related increase in corporate-owned farms (mainly land speculators) also means there are fewer farmers who are land stewards and fewer farmers willing to undertake remediation on their farms at the scale required to offset the UYSS.
The problem started in the 1990’s, when development was approved in Northern York Region without water and wastewater servicing. The original plan to send it south to Lake Ontario at Durham region’s Duffins Creek wastewater plant was thwarted in 2010 when the provincial government of the day supported an examination of a Lake Simcoe “solution.” This was odd, given that the same government introduced the Lake Simcoe Protection Act in 2008, with a prohibition on new sewage treatment plants as a way to control the extent and impact of new development in the watershed.
It is possible that both Lake Simcoe and the Lake Ontario Duffins outlets are being considered to accommodate all the growth planned. It is impossible to know exactly what is happening since the province had the affected regions sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (never a good sign) regarding their conversations about the UYSS.
It has been speculated that the province passed legislation to prohibit the approval of the UYSS to shield themselves from legal liability stemming from development hold-ups due to the lack of servicing.
Affected municipalities and developers are understandably tired of this game. We are concerned that the province will approve this at some point.
The one positive piece that came from this is that in response to public and municipal pressure,  the province agreed to pay the balance of the cost of a Phosphorus Recycling Facility on the Holland River, which could remove 2.5 tonnes of P per year from that river as it flows into Lake Simcoe.  This would be the single largest P reduction project completed at Lake Simcoe!
This Phosphorus Recycling Facility was first proposed as a P offset for the UYSS. The federal government promised $16 million toward the facility’s construction in 2020.  York Region wants the UYSS, and they want the Phosphorus Recycling Facility to be one of its offsets. Other Lake Simcoe municipalities want P reduction to come at this scale, regardless of the outcome of the UYSS. Indeed, their municipal motions requested that:
… York Region, the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario work collaboratively to move the Holland Marsh Polder Phosphorous Recycling Facility forward notwithstanding the “paused” status of the broader Upper York Sewage Solutions Project, including proceeding to an Environmental Assessment for the Facility commencing in 2021…
The provincial funding announcement did not include any reference to this facility’s connection to the UYSS. We hope that they will decide against the UYSS; but if they do approve it, the province and York Region must develop more enduring and measurable offsets like the Phosphorus Recycling Facility.
 Broadley, Laura. YorkRegion.com. Sept 15, 2021. Phosphorus recycling facility for Lake Simcoe ‘overdue’: Bradford councillor. https://www.thestar.com/local-bradford/news/2021/09/15/phosphorus-recycling-facility-for-lake-simcoe-overdue-bradford-councillor.html
 Philpot, Natasha. Bradford Today. April 20, 2022. Province commits to $24M in funding for Holland Marsh Phosphorus Recycling Facility project https://www.bradfordtoday.ca/local-news/province-commits-to-24m-in-funding-for-holland-marsh-phosphorus-recycling-facility-project-5281398
 Georgina Post. November 13, 2020. Feds provide $16 million to build facility that reduces Phosphorus levels in Lake Simcoe. https://georginapost.com/2020/11/13/feds-provide-16-million-to-build-facility-that-reduces-Phosphorous-levels-in-lake-simcoe/
 Brock Council meeting Minutes September 27, 2021. https://pub-townshipofbrock.escribemeetings.com/Meeting.aspx?Id=bef78e7b-6eb1-45f6-9ccd-f37352f67f82&Agenda=PostMinutes&lang=English&Item=29&Tab=attachments