Watershed protection this amazing needs to stand

Ontario’s Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Plan represents the best watershed policy in Canada. It’s a model so good it’s been replicated in Ontario’s Great Lakes Protection Act. The Lake Simcoe experience is leading the way for reducing stormwater impacts in a high urban growth context, using low impact development techniques, and adaptive watershed management. As global climate change impacts grow, algae blooms and flooding will get worse in many waterbodies; Lake Simcoe’s Protection Plan offers a model for reducing nutrients and contaminants and protecting and restoring the watershed’s flood-absorbing wetlands and forests. It’s a hard-fought model worthy of protection.

But the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition is concerned that the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP) could be weakened in 2021, and that’s why we are asking water protectors across Ontario and Canada to help us Protect Our Plan.

The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan is up for statutory review by the Province of Ontario; the public consultation period ends March 3rd, 2021, and the province says that by the summer, amendments to the Plan will be made.

The Coalition and its 26 member groups are campaigning to Protect Our Plan, urging the Province to leave the Plan’s targets and objectives alone, and focus on the Plan’s implementation.

Protect Our Plan Priorities in brief:

  1. Improve water quality by reducing Phosphorus loads to the lake, to 44 tonnes per year, as soon as possible, from urban and agricultural areas, and from aggregate and construction sites;
  2. Support a healthy environment around the lake and reduce flooding impacts by protecting 40% of the watershed area’s forests and wetlands;

If enough people support excellent watershed protection, it will be possible to raise the bar for watershed health in Ontario. Groups and organisations can support strong watershed protection by signing onto our Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review priorities, and individuals can sign our petition and / or use our template to send a letter to their MPP here: https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/take-action-2/

Lake Simcoe is an hour’s drive north of Toronto, and its watershed population of nearly 500,000 includes Barrie, Orillia, Bradford, Newmarket, Orillia, Sutton and Beaverton. The watershed / drainage basin is 3,400 square kilometres, about five times the size of the lake itself, and is between the GTA’s Oak Ridges Moraine and Greenbelt, and “cottage country” to the north. The watershed is under intense development pressure, with its population is projected to double by 2051. See maps here.

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. That’s why we are reaching out to people of all stripes to join us in Protecting Our Plan.

Ice fishermen and women love Lake Simcoe too. They need it to stay healthy and clean to support the watershed’s $420 million sustainable recreation sector.
Conservative MPP Garfield Dunlop, Simcoe North, at Queen’s Park in 2006, introducing Lake Simcoe Protection Act as a Private Members Bill, with heads of Environmental Defence, Ontario Nature, and Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition.

The Lake Simcoe Protection Act was the brainchild of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s founding Chair (and Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature Board member), progressive developer Bobby Eisenberg; and environmental lawyer David Donnelly, who was working for citizens protecting the environment in Oro-Medonte (Simcoe County) at the time. Supporting his constituents, Conservative MPP Garfield Dunlop (Simcoe North) introduced what became the Lake Simcoe Protection Act as a private member’s bill as a member of the opposition at Queen’s Park. Two years later, Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government introduced and passed the legislation, but Dunlop’s lead made protecting Lake Simcoe a non-partisan issue. Will it remain so?

But while both the Province of Ontario and the Government of Canada pledge to protect Lake Simcoe, the threats keep coming. 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, (MZO) requested for the gigantic Orbit development in Innisfil all highlight the challenges of accommodating growth while protecting the environment.

What happens at Lake Simcoe is a bellweather for our ability to protect water quality in urbanizing areas. Let’s keep the protections at Lake Simcoe strong so other areas can catch up. Take action before April 2021 to defend best-in-class environmental watershed policy.

Lake Simcoe seen from the site of the proposed Bradford Bypass / Holland Marsh Highway, looking north east towards Cooks Bay and Georgina. Photo Credit Jeff Laidlaw.

Explainer video: What is the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan? https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/

More on the history of the LSPP https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/2018/12/08/history-of-the-lake-simcoe-protection-plan-vision-leadership-and-listening/

Most Shoreline Municipalities Support Strong Protections for Lake Simcoe

January 19, 2021

Responding to a pre-election survey conducted by our friends at Lake Simcoe Watch, the Mayors of Aurora, Barrie, Bradford-West Gwillimbury, Brock, Georgina and Oro-Medonte have all called for the development and implementation of a plan to achieve the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan’s phosphorus eduction target by 2026. The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan’s phosphorus reduction target is reducing current phosphorus loading from 90 tonnes per year (10-year average) down to 44 tonnes per year, so these Mayors’ responses are heartening. We are hopeful these political statements will help tip the scales towards a responsible, serious approach to bringing down phosphorus loads through a revised Lake Simcoe Phosphorus Reduction Strategy.

But it’s not all about phosphorus. Watershed health relies on a broader healthy ecosystem including flourishing natural areas and wetlands. The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s Executive Director, along with Coalition member group leaders, made delegations to Council across the watershed requesting Councils to pass a resolution like this:

WHEREAS a healthy environment provides the foundation for healthy communities, healthy people, and a healthy economy; and WHEREAS the passage of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act received unanimous, all party support in the Ontario legislature in 2008; THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, THAT the Town of X calls on the Ontario Government to demonstrate its commitment to clean water and protecting what matters most in the provincial statutory review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, by ensuring that provisions in the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan that protect water quality are not weakened and that policies protecting natural heritage be strengthened, in order to meet the targets of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan; and THAT the Ontario Government be requested to work collaboratively with affected Provincial Ministries and all levels of government, including First Nations and Métis, to achieve the goals and targets of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan and to resource the programs that improve Lake Simcoe’s water quality during the provincial statutory review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan; and THAT copies of this resolution be provided to …

Almost all shoreline municipalities, including: Aurora, Barrie, Brock, Georgina, Georgina Island First Nation Band Council, and Orillia Councils passed this resolution. Municipal Council resolutions can be viewed in detail here. Additionally, Newmarket, Oro-Medonte, and Whitchurch Stouffville passed supportive resolutions. The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition is pleased with this result, and hopes that these municipalities will remember this as they make their comments on the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan for the province.

I speculate that one of the reasons for the show of support for our resolution is that municipalities have a lot of work to implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan and need the province to come to the table if collectively, we are to succeed in protecting the health of Lake Simcoe and its watershed.

At first, I was concerned that municipalities would not pass our resolution, and instead capitalize on the province’s pro-growth agenda. It would appear that some already are. For example, Innisfil, which did not pass our resolution, is currently asking the Province to issue a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) for the inconceivably large Orbit development which would accommodate 150,000 residents. This is a Town of 36,000 today. Despite Town officials’ reassurances, there is no guarantee that Lake Simcoe Protection Plan policies would apply through an MZO.

Additionally, the rapidly growing Towns of Bradford West Gwillimbury and East Gwillimbury, who also received our delegation, deferred taking a stand until the province started the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review, which is now on until March 3 rd, 2021.

The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP) is the best watershed-based legislation in Canada, and its policies are up for review. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks has released a public survey, while offering presentations, townhalls, and a science forum to municipalities in advance of the March 3rd deadline. However, we are now almost one month into the review process and no further details have been provided by the Province.

Municipalities are being asked to provide comments on potential changes to the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, so it’s a good time to ensure that they remember their public commitments.

In the absence of data that supports changes, the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and its member groups have asked the province to “Protect Our Plan”; not change it, but rather focus on its effective implementation. To date, 2,800 people have signed petitions in support of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and Lake Simcoe Watch’s position and priorities.

For more information and for Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition priorities for the review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan see https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/

With thanks to intern Shannon Pittock and Board member Kira Cooper for their help.

Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition guidance on the province’s Lake Simcoe Protection Plan Review survey

Hello Lake Lovers,

The Province released a public survey about the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan on Friday December 18th:

Public survey: Lake Simcoe Protection Plan 10-year review

If you really want to do the province’s survey we have suggested answers for some of the questions, here: 

Q. 2. What do you think about the current policies in the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan?

Choose OTHER and add: I think the policies of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan need to be implemented and financially resourced. 

Q. 5. Which of the following policy areas do you think need improvement to better protect the health of the Lake Simcoe watershed? Rank them in order of importance, with 1 being the most important to improve and 10 being the least important to improve.

1. Protecting natural areas or features such as wetlands and forest cover

2. Improving development practices (such as site alteration or resource extraction)

3. Improving municipal infrastructure (such as stormwater ponds and sewage plants)

4. Encouraging agricultural stewardship of the environment

Choose Other and add: Reduce Phosphorus loading. 

Q. 6. Please share any details on the policy areas you identified as most important.   

  1. Reach Phosphorus reduction target: Consult widely then revise the Lake Simcoe Phosphorus Reduction Strategy to make it actionable, with interim targets and funding solutions for each sector. Maintain the prohibition on new Sewage Treatment Plants discharging to Lake Simcoe. 
  2. Strengthen Natural Heritage policy: The LSPP has a target of 40% high quality natural cover (HQNC) but there are no policies to achieve the target. 28% of the watershed is “high quality natural cover” but only half of that is well protected by provincial policies. Achieving natural heritage targets can be improved by focusing research and analysis on the land around the areas that qualify as high quality natural cover but are not well protected by policy.  

Increase policy protections, prohibiting site alteration and development, for these unprotected or somewhat protected areas, to protect all of the High Quality Natural Cover that we have.

Focus Traditional Ecological Knowledge study, restoration, and land trust property acquisition efforts around those areas that are HQNC but not protected and areas that are almost big enough to qualify as HQNC (25 hectares plus).

The Province must review Official Plans for conformity to the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, and specifically to the technical Natural Heritage guidelines for the Lake Simcoe watershed.

  1. Development practices: The results of the Phosphorus Offset Program must be analyzed to determine how well the remediation actions (AKA Best Management Practices) are working, and to determine how long the offsets last. Consider strengthening development offsets to achieve Phosphorus reduction targets.
  2. Improving municipal infrastructure: Financially support the improvement of ineffective or absent municipal stormwater facilities. 
  3. Give the LSRCA all the powers it had before December 2020. Deny the use of Minister’s Zoning Orders in the Lake Simcoe watershed, particularly if Natural Heritage is affected. Disable the ability of the Minister to override science based decisions of the Conservation Authority in the Lake Simcoe watershed. 
  4. Agriculture: Pay farmers for agricultural riparian / shoreline areas planting and rehabilitation. Maintain / fund programs that assist in reducing fertilizer application, and no-till practices. 

Q. 7. Are there new policy areas that we should consider?

Choose Yes. Please provide details: 

Determine cost of achieving the phosphorus reduction target, and allow development cost charges for new developments in the Lake Simcoe watershed to pay for the remediation of the lake. Amend  the Development Charges Act to allow municipalities to recover 100% of their additional infrastructure costs to service new residential and commercial projects from their developers. 

Q. 8. Do you have any ideas to share with us about how the province along with its partners can implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan more consistently and effectively?

Review all OPs for conformity to LSPP, and make the results and recommendations public.

Develop subwatershed targets and aggressive timelines for achieving Natural Heritage targets. Work with municipalities, Conservation Authorities and land trusts to achieve them.

Protect wetlands and wetland complexes of all sizes in all situations.

Have the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) review all development permit applications, as per their pre-December 2020 powers. Make Ramara a member of the LSRCA.

Only permit new development where municipal water and sewer servicing allocation exists, where an assessment of cumulative impacts determines that there will be a net benefit to water quality, and where the development will reduce phosphorus loads to the lake, from both sewage and stormwater.

Do a 360 review of Innisfil’s Our Shore policy (with affected members of the public); Develop a shoreline policy for all municipalities.

Determine cost of achieving the phosphorus reduction target, and assign an increased development cost charge for new developments in the Lake Simcoe watershed to pay for the remediation of the lake. 

Communicate with the public about action taken, costs, rationale.

Q. 10. How can the government improve the way we report on the health of Lake Simcoe?

Systematically track and report progress against the targets of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. 

Identify costs per Kg of phosphorus reduced of all actions taken, and the source of revenue for that action or Best Management Practice (BMP).

Take the next step with subwatershed plans by developing targets and action plans and report on the achievement of those in that subwatershed.

In Praise of Wild Places

An essay by Nari Hwang, Grade 8 student from Shanty Bay Public School.

 The author

A map of Lake Simcoe made from pictures taken on a trip around the Lake

“To many a city person there comes a time when the great town wearies them. They hate its sights and smells and clangor. Every duty is a task, and every caller is a bore. There come visions of green fields and far rolling hills, of tall forests and cool, swift flowing streams.”

This excerpt from “Camping and Woodcraft” by Horace Kephart,  a book first published in 1917 and given by my grandfather to his father, still speaks to me over the years. It is still true for many of us.  It explains that sometimes we need to go out into the wild places and do whatever we wish; to be free and to breathe in the clear wilderness air. 

Wild places have the power to make us feel alive and free, they are vital to the health of the environment, and they have been a source of inspiration over the centuries for countless artists, scientists, free spirits and even office bound bankers like my great grandpa. 

Feeling a little pull to the outdoors? Let’s go on a little journey and explore the importance of wild places…

Like so many adventures, ours starts… on the couch! Boredom rules! Someone suggests a walk and everyone sluggishly puts on their boots, squints into the sun and heads off to countless possibilities.

The cool air tingles our cheeks and our hearts start beating a little faster. In a moment, I am climbing a tree with my brother and sister. We are pirates! Hey, you grab a stick sword too and join in! With no laundry to do, or calls to make, the grown-ups loosen up too and we run and laugh and seek and look at teeny tiny inch worms, and feel the soft poofiness of mossy fairy places. Other times, we can just sit quietly and soak in the green earthiness. Experts in mental health even recommend that kids have the chance to get bored, get outside, and get creative.  Whether to try new things, bond with those you love or enjoy some solitude and time to think, wild places, big or small are just the place to do it.

Let’s turn onto a new path, because wild places aren’t only good for encouraging that feeling of awesomeness! They are also a source of creative inspiration. Without the wild places, where would the wild things be? This is a question answered in Maurice Sendak’s children’s story, Where the Wild Things Are. Here, a boy travels to a fantasy land full of weird beasts, becomes king and then heads home in time for dinner. Wild places have been the source of creative inspiration in many books for young people — The Call of the Wild, Lost in the Barrens, and The Jungle Book are a few that I have read with my family. You can probably think of others too.

Think also of the music, dance, theatre and poetry that was inspired by singing birds, rolling hills or dancing leaves. Canadian visual artists like Tom Thomson, Emily Carr, the Group of Seven, Bill Reid and Kenojuak Ashevak have shown us the rough beauty of our landscape and have inspired many to pack lightly, put on some good hiking shoes, or slide into a tippy canoe to go see more of Canada. Each of these creative works asks us, to hear the call, to come along, to join in the adventure and experience a little wild — even if only in our imaginations.

However, we need wild places, not just because they are inspiring, but also for environmental reasons. Forests are good for filtering ground and surface water as it moves through toward bodies of water. They also absorb unwanted carbon dioxide and provide safe habitats and food for native animals and plants. Wetlands and marshes also provide important biodiverse ecosystems and form the main filtration systems in nature! Other places like wild fields or meadows are good for native pollinators, and a whole different ecosystem of creatures and native weeds that are vital to our earth.

Each wild place is a unique ecosystem that produces its own unique cycle and flow of nutrients. Plants and animals live, and serve a special purpose, then once they die and decompose, they turn once again into soil. New plants use that soil to grow, and whatever eats that plant will have new energy and the cycle will continue. It is miraculous and inspiring! 

According to the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Canada is home to more than 70 000 wild species and 43 national parks and reserves that cover nearly a quarter million square kilometres. It’s also home to 30 percent of the world’s boreal forests and 25 percent of the world’s wetlands. 

But, our wild places are in danger because of us. We need to take action against things like climate change and pollution. 

David Attenborough’s new film  called “David Attenborough: A life on our Planet” talks about how our earth is changing because we take more than the earth can afford to give. He says, “The true tragedy of our time is still unfolding across the globe, barely noticeable from day to day. I’m talking about the loss of our planet’s wild places, its biodiversity… We cut down over 15 billion trees each year. We reduced freshwater populations by over 80% replacing the wild, with the tame… We must restore the biodiversity; the very thing that we’ve removed, it’s the only way out of this crisis we have created. We must re-wild the world.”

So, how do we do that? Most of us don’t own a big area of untouched land so how can we create our own little backyard wild place? Think about leaving an area in your yard un-mowed and plant some native wildflowers there. Leave the ditch near your home alone and let the native weeds grow for pollinators. Live near water? Consider a natural shoreline. If you need to remove an old tree, leave about ten feet of it behind and you will be supporting an insect and fungi high-rise condominium!

Wild places have the power to encourage adventure and fun, to improve mental health, to inspire great works of creativity and to sustain and strengthen biodiverse environments.

Remember I began with talking about my great grandpa’s book that has been passed down to my family? It also says that “this instinct for a free life in the open is as natural and wholesome as the gratification of hunger and thirst and love.”  I can imagine him reading these words that also make me excited about wild places and thankful that we still have so many to enjoy. But with that comes a responsibility to protect those places and the species that live there. Let’s leave the wild places wild and ensure that generations to come can know their glory and wonder!

What’s wrong with Innisfil’s Orbit Ministers Zoning Order request?

Innisfil Council has approved a draft Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) for the Orbit, a massive development planned for the location of a GO train stop, the 6th line, between the 20th sideroad and Lake Simcoe.

 

It’s off to Simcoe County Council to approve on November 24th.

 

County Council is made up of the Mayors from all around the County. For the sake of sane regional planning, we are asking Simcoe County residents to tell their Mayor and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing not to approve the Orbit MZO proposal. 

 

We hear there are some chinks in the armor and that some Simcoe County Mayors / Deputy Mayors are opposed.

Proposed site of the Orbit: See Lake Simcoe in the background!?
Proposed site of the Orbit: See Lake Simcoe in the background!?

An explanation and points to make are below.

 

But first of all, in the context of an alarming loss of farmland and natural areas in Southern Ontario, this does not represent environmental planning. This is a new city in greenfields, which is the opposite of Smart Growth. The Orbit plan looks like this:

Orbit proposal and natural features: Image by Adam Ballah, Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.
Orbit proposal and natural features: Image by Adam Ballah, Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.

The proposed site now looks like this:

Why oppose the Orbit MZO proposal?

  1. Using an MZO is totally inappropriate for a proposal that would facilitate the development of a new city of 150,000 people way outside Innisfil’s current settlement boundaries. Innisfil’s population is 36,000. A proposal of this scale must go through democratic planning channels like an Official Plan Amendment.

 

  1. Innisfil Council and staff are lying about public support for the proposed use of an MZO. While there is some community support for the Orbit, based on the claims that it would get a GO station in place by 2022, preserve other farmlands (ironic to the 9th degree) and protect the environment by putting what would have to be all future growth around the Orbit, Innisfil Council has not addressed the public’s concerns about using an MZO and has mischaracterized a frenzy of interest (actually alarm) as public support. There are worrying irregularities in the introduction of the motion that Council approved (just 7 days after the first MZO draft was made public), to use an MZO. Cynically, Council voted to use an MZO immediately after they had voted to extend the public input period, ignoring the fact that most public comments were objecting to the use of an MZO.

 

  1. This proposal sets in motion developers’ dreams of developing Innisfil 6th line all the way to Hwy 400, where they want to build up new employment areas (like what we see on the 400 north of the 8th line where employers / businesses can locate ) for which there is no market research.

 

  1. An MZO is a blunt planning tool that leaves no opportunity for public input or public or Town appeal. If the Minister approves this concept, the Zoning Order will be written by the Minister. Based on how MZOs have been used so far by the Ford Government, it does not have to include conditions requested by the Town or County Council.

 

  1. Nothing in the draft MZO guarantees that the Orbit would be built as pitched. Because there is no market research supporting the viability of people buying condos in a farm field, we have grave concerns that this is greenwash, and that the ultimate build out will not be dense or environmentally friendly. Despite reassurances from Town staff we remain concerned that provincial policies like the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan could be ignored. For instance, MZOs have already been issued in the past few months to destroy at least 6 Provincially Significant Wetlands in favour of development in other parts of Southern Ontario, overriding provincial policy.

 

  1. Typically, Simcoe County must share new population allocations with all of their 18 municipalities. Innisfil’s MZO request for 20,000 people for the first phase of the Orbit dilutes the marketability of what other municipalities can build. It also means that developers who went through the proper channels and own land within Innisfil’s settlement area boundaries could not see their plans realized for many years; this is totally unfair, rewards cheaters, and punishes those who followed the Planning Act.

 

Frankly, the province is showing their true colours now, and are using COVID-19 as cover for giving gifts to developers (many of whom are PC party donors) all over Southern Ontario. They have done nothing to protect Lake Simcoe except fund a couple of studies.

 

It’s time to get angry and use your democratic rights. Make a call! Looks like it’s up to us to try to protect Ontario’s environment.

 

  1. Find your Mayor here and please call or send them a personalized email. https://www.simcoe.ca/Clerks/Pages/councilmembers.aspx
  2. If you’re emailing, please cc the ultimate decision-maker, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark. minister.mah@ontario.ca
  3. There’s not much point asking Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin or Deputy Mayor Dan Davidson as they are in support. If you’re from Innisfil, call / email the Warden, top of the list in the link above.


For more information please see the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s submission to Innisfil Council on the MZO proposal here: https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/RLSC-Submission-on-MZO-Innisfil-Oct-2020.pdf

 

www.rescuelakesimcoe.org

If municipalities truly want a clean Lake Simcoe they need more than hope

Municipal Response to Protect Our Plan delegations to Council

As the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition prepares for the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan’s statutory review to begin this fall, we’ve been making delegations to Councils around the watershed, with about half complete so far. Along with Coalition member group leaders, we are ensuring that Councils know what the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan does, and about the lake’s stressors. 

We also asked for Council support for a resolution [https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Rescue_Lake_Simcoe_Coalition_Proposed_Resolution.pdf] that calls on the province to implement and resource the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. This blog summarizes Council responses so far, and what that might tell us about municipal priorities. 

Only two of eight municipalities that we approached so far have strongly supported our motion requesting that the province do its job on Lake Simcoe. Why? The most generous possibility is that they want to provide feedback to the province one time when the LSPP review is taking place and the province’s proposals are clear. At the same time, if these Councils were serious about Lake Simcoe’s health they would preemptively ask the province to not touch the LSPP’s targets, as our model resolution outlines.

The conflict is this: municipalities are, to varying degrees, addicted to growth. Limited in their powers of taxation, they seek to cover the costs of building a bigger and better community on the back of new development and the associated Development Cost Charges collected by the municipality. 

Saving Lake Simcoe runs afoul of the growth agenda that drives many municipalities. It requires maintaining today’s tough caps on sewage treatment plants’ phosphorus pollution, building with a lower environmental impact, and offsetting phosphorus pollution generated by construction or the land use change, or both. None of these choices thrill developers or municipalities responsible for paying for sewage treatment. 

But the reality is that the watershed’s population is projected to double by 2041 while the current provincial government is leading an unabashed pro-growth agenda, going so far as to re-brand our license plates for consistency. Development certainly contributes to phosphorus loads, and the change in land use and hardening of surfaces is usually not good for water quality or flow. As it all flows downstream, these impacts will negatively affect Lake Simcoe’s health. 

Knowing what we know, and limited by the technology we have today, doubling down on development impacts is necessary to save Lake Simcoe. It is a “polluter pay” approach, which is being applied already in the Lake Simcoe watershed, and which Ontario’s Conservative government theoretically supports. Ultimately the choice for elected officials and their administrations amounts to admitting that development hurts the lake and recouping costs for remediation and hope it works; or sticking one’s head in the sand while saying that you love Lake Simcoe and hoping that future generations can undo the mess we are making.

We thought it would be pretty easy to get municipal support for this motion, since we are really just asking the province to just do its job. The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s model resolution can be read in full here [https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Rescue_Lake_Simcoe_Coalition_Proposed_Resolution.pdf] , but the substantial parts are these: 

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, THAT the Town of XXXX calls on the Ontario Government to demonstrate its commitment to clean water and protecting what matters most in the provincial statutory review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, by ensuring that provisions in the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan that protect water quality are not weakened and that policies protecting natural heritage be strengthened, in order to meet the targets of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan; and
THAT the Ontario Government be requested to work collaboratively with affected Provincial Ministries and all levels of government, including First Nations and Métis, to achieve the goals and targets of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan and to resource the programs that improve Lake Simcoe’s water quality during the provincial statutory review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan;

So far, only two of the eight Councils we’ve approached have fully endorsed our resolution. Unsurprisingly, the places that aren’t desperate to attract new growth have responded most positively to the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s pro-environment position. Those are the Barrie City Council and Georgina Island First Nation Band Council.

Orillia’s Environmental Advisory Committee supported our resolution and we are hoping for some action now at the Council level. 

Oro-Medonte’s Council resolution committed the municipality to continue to support the LSPP in its review year.

Whitchurch Stouffville Council’s resolution said the same, and they directed staff to continue to work with the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority to implement best practices in order to minimize the impacts on Lake Simcoe and the surrounding watershed. 

In East Gwillimbury, following a presentation by a well known local naturalist, a staff planner prepared a thoughtful summary for Council, but ultimately the conclusion was: “Staff will report back to Council when the Province issues updates regarding the LSPP, as well as opportunities to provide comment.” This characterizes the responses from Innisfil and BWG too. 

Innisfil: nothing

Bradford West Gwillimbury: nothing 

Looking forward, the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and allies are going to make another eight  delegations to Council this fall about the upcoming review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, in Simcoe County, Durham Region, Newmarket, Aurora, King, Brock, Uxbridge, and Georgina. Residents can support our campaign by calling their Councillor and asking them to support our resolution and protect Lake Simcoe.

We hope it is now clearer to Councils that the environment is a low priority for the province, and that any municipal politician making promises about protecting the environment should take some time to both push the province to implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, and do the same with their own municipal plans and processes. While the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition is doing what it can to push the province to implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, and not weaken it, the lake needs all the municipal help it can get.

Minister’s Ten Year Report on Lake Simcoe Obscures Progress by Mixing Science and Politics

August 7, 2020

On July 17th Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin released the Minister of the Environment’s Ten Year report on Lake Simcoe and made a $581,000 funding announcement for Lake Simcoe research. The Minister was nowhere to be seen. Also missing were a credible science monitoring report and the 2018 and 2019 Ministers reports on Lake Simcoe.

We should take this investment to mean that the province is very aware that there are people like you and me who are going to make them wear the impacts of their decisions and actions on Lake Simcoe. We are a strong constituency, and we need to keep it that way. Public pressure is the Lake’s best defence.

I will focus my questions and comments on Lake Simcoe, but the Lake does not exist in a geographical or policy vacuum. Recent and proposed changes to the Growth Plan are going to perpetuate suburban sprawl until 2051 and beyond. The changes virtually guarantee that the scarce remaining farmland in southern Ontario will be bought by land speculators, threatening the viability of local food production. Recent policy changes and proposals also threaten the protection of more natural areas as aggregate extraction will soon be permitted in habitats of endangered species and other natural features outside the Greenbelt and possibly the Lake Simcoe watershed. The Environmental Assessment process is a shell of what it used to be. I could go on. The point is that the environmental policy regime in Ontario has been shattered. This will naturally affect Lake Simcoe.

Now, to the substance of the Minister’s Ten Year Report on Lake Simcoe. The Ten Year Report is far rosier than it should be. There are more unknowns, strange changes, and looming disasters than the report lets on. While I agree that the remedial actions have been helping the lake, there is an obvious editorial slant towards the bright side. I find this problematic because this report forms the backdrop to the review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. I worry that it will lead readers to think that the Lake is doing well and needs less protection.

Indeed, fishing and swimming is the way most people use the lake, and the Ten Year Report underreports downward trends and / or existing poor conditions at beaches and regarding fish health. People who use Lake Simcoe have a right to know the truth, warts and all.

If I authored the report it would highlight:

  • Phosphorus loads have skyrocketed in recent years; new development and its impacts are increasing pressure on the lake, and the remedial actions are not keeping up with the need to drive down phosphorus loads;
  • The nearshore area is a mess of invasive species, and the nearshore ecology has undergone massive changes in the past ten years; impacts are yet inadequately studied;
  • We don’t know why dissolved oxygen levels have gone up (good) while phosphorus loads have gone up (bad). This result is the opposite of what lake modelling told us to expect. The most likely explanations involve positive changes brought on by invasive species absorbing, consuming and / or moving phosphorus from one part of the lake to another. The long-term consequences of this are unknown;
  • We are not achieving the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan’s natural heritage targets for forests, wetlands and shorelines, which are, essentially, to protect what we have and increase the size and quality of natural heritage features. Instead, we have lost wetland and forest cover across the watershed. The legal mechanisms in place will not achieve the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan’s natural heritage targets;
  • Remedial actions are working but they are not compensating for the impacts of development and climate change. The Lake’s health will not improve without limits to growth, a strong emphasis on restoration, natural heritage protection, and invasive species control.

The most important point, however, is one of transparency. One should not blend science and politics in such an impenetrable way. The Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks is a politician, not a scientist. Yet the Minister’s report says, “This consolidated report, which addresses both five-year and annual reporting requirements under the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008, describes the collaborative efforts taken to implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, as well as results of monitoring programs and progress towards the plan’s objectives.” It reports on the results of monitoring and progress towards objectives inconsistently and inadequately. If the province intended to produce more scientific reports to support the review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, which we now understand they will do, they should have been clear about that when the Minister’s report was released.

Here’s what is expected: The Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008, which has legal effect, lays out some reporting requirements requiring “the Minister of the Environment to prepare a report that, describes the results of any monitoring programs; and describes the extent to which the objectives of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan are being achieved at least once every five years.” 1 The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan says, less forcefully, that the “Ministry of the Environment in partnership with other ministries will produce a report that describes the results of monitoring programs as well as the extent to which the objectives of the Plan are being achieved.”

The Minister’s combo Science and Politics report of 2020 simply does not provide the analysis needed to evaluate the extent to which the objectives of the Plan are being achieved, and does not meet the reporting requirements of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act.

It is not appropriate to put all of this information into one report with little to no citations, and with no editorial input from the Lake Simcoe Science Committee. There is a totally unscientific catch-all reassuring the reader that, “Each priority area is supported by data and trends collected from several provincial monitoring programs, and supplemented with data from partners such as the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority.” I do not mean to diminish the work of these conservation professionals. But the Minister’s report is not a science report without citations. In the absence of any other public explanation, the reader concludes that the province is trying to take the shortest route possible to meet the reporting requirements of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Plan by jamming it all into one inadequately sourced document.

The last comprehensive monitoring report on Lake Simcoe was released in 2014. It had been discussed and developed by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change in collaboration with the Lake Simcoe Science Committee over many months. The Minister’s 2014 Five Year Report on Lake Simcoe appropriately followed the Five Year Comprehensive Monitoring Report. It highlighted the good news, like the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks in 2020, but at least it referenced an independent science report. The 2014 Comprehensive Monitoring Report has authors, citations, and references listed. It includes standard “science stuff” like clearly identifying progress against targets, which is inconsistent at best and deliberately misleading at worst in the 2020 report.

For instance, although the overall watershed trend is a LOSS of forests and wetlands (1% loss each over a ten year time period) what is highlighted in the press release of July 17 is, “The 10-year report on Lake Simcoe shows the restoration of more than 15 kilometres of degraded shorelines, the planting of more than 55,000 trees and shrubs, and the creation and restoration of 120 hectares of wetlands…” 2. Highlighting successes without context is misleading, and is the reason why blending politics and science in one report is problematic.

Related to the loss of natural heritage is development, the only growing source of phosphorus loading at Lake Simcoe. Ten years ago the province acknowledged that approved development to 2031 in the watershed would ADD up to 15.3 Tonnes per year Phosphorus to the lake. 3 The provincial Lake Simcoe Science and Coordinating Committees’ formal advice to the Minister cautioned that development threatens the Lake’s health, advising, “Ensure that the assimilative capacity and ecosystem health of the watershed are considered prior to any amendments to future growth projections.” 4 In contrast, the province has recently inflated growth projections using market demand and land needs assessment methodologies that have been called speculative and flawed by critics. The province has allowed municipalities to expand their settlement boundaries more easily and more often, and has allowed developers to build fewer homes per acre. This new growth will double the watershed’s population by 2041 and add stress to the lake via phosphorus loads from construction in the watershed, and from land converted to urban uses. Therefore we absolutely need to maintain the development and construction policies, practices and offsets programs that reduce the pollution from development at Lake Simcoe.

This is a relatively minor point but I am truly puzzled by this one. The Minister’s 2020 remarks end with: “I want to thank the local conservation authorities, Indigenous communities, municipalities, agricultural and commercial sectors and residents who have worked tirelessly on implementing actions to protect and restore the ecological health of Lake Simcoe. I also want to thank the Lake Simcoe Coordinating Committee and the Lake Simcoe Science Committee for their advice on where our efforts need to be focused. This ongoing work requires collaboration and I look forward to continuing this important partnership with you.”

I just do not believe this. It’s polite to thank everyone, it’s true, but this is disingenuous considering what has happened under this administration. To date, the Conservation Authorities budgets’ have been slashed and their powers are expected to be severely curtailed in yet unreleased regulations; there is no Indigenous representation on the Lake Simcoe Science and Coordinating committees, and local Indigenous communities are poised to oppose the new Upper York Sewage System going into Lake Simcoe; the Lake Simcoe Science and Coordinating committees have not met since the current provincial government came to power; municipalities have less ability now to collect development cost charges from developers on some growth-related costs; farmers are furious with the province for basically putting housing development ahead of farmland protection; and frankly, to date commercial and residents have not been publicly engaged by the province.

Lake Simcoe is not a political pawn. It’s a living thing that heals when the right conditions are in place. We need to engage experts in determining what the Ten Year monitoring results mean before contemplating any changes to the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.

TAKE ACTION: If you share my concern that the government’s LSPP Ten Year Review this fall will leave the lake more vulnerable, you can take action now through this 1-click letter campaign.

Claire Malcolmson is the Executive Director of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. She has worked and volunteered on Lake Simcoe issues since 2001. Claire sat on provincial committees established to develop and then implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Plan from 2008 – 2018.

The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition represents 26 groups around the Lake Simcoe watershed, and spearheaded the campaign to get the Lake Simcoe Protection Act in 2008. www.rescuelakesimcoe.org

  1. S. 12. 2. Lake Simcoe Protection Act
  2. Ontario newsroom. July 17, 2020. Ontario Taking Action to Further Protect Lake Simcoe. https://news.ontario.ca/ene/en/2020/07/ontario-taking-action-to-further-protect-lake-simcoe.html
  3. Ontario, 2010. Lake Simcoe Phosphorus Reduction Strategy. https://www.ontario.ca/page/lake- simcoe-phosphorus-reduction-strategy
  4. Minister’s Ten Year Report on Lake Simcoe, 2020 https://www.ontario.ca/page/ministers-10-year-report- lake-simcoe

Aggregate extraction in the home of endangered species? What this means for Lake Simcoe

There are over 27,000ha of potential aggregate resources (sand, stone and gravel) in Simcoe County.[i] Last year the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition analysed how well protected from development our natural features are, and found that only 14% of Simcoe County’s landscape is well protected, and of this, 11% sits atop aggregate resources.[ii]

As the province continues to push for more aggregate development, the health of communities and ecosystems are at risk. Increased atmospheric phosphorous, changes to water regimes, complaints of noise and dust due to blasting, traffic related to haulage, and impacts to the watershed’s forests and wetlands (and their wild inhabitants) are just a few concerns relevant to the Simcoe watershed.


The Provincial Policy Statement (2020) (PPS) sets out the ways in which natural features, such as aggregates, are to be managed. Under the PPS aggregate resources are afforded long-term protection in ways that other natural features are not. Particularly concerning is section 2.5.2.1, which states that “[a]s much of the mineral aggregate resources as is realistically possible shall be made available as close to markets as possible” and that demonstration of need or demand/supply analyses are not required. This directive is almost verbatim included in the County of Simcoe Official Plan.[iii] There is clear danger in assuming constant demand for which constant supply must be made available, as it leaves much of the province, especially the GTA, at risk of unfettered extraction.

Working in tandem with the PPS, the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe[iv] guides where and how development activities should take place. The Growth Plan is currently under review. Through Amendment 1 of the Growth Plan, the province is seeking to “make it easier to establish mineral aggregate operations closer to market.” To do so, changes would permit new aggregate operations in Natural Heritage Systems (except the Greenbelt), while removing prohibitions on aggregate operations from the habitat of endangered and threatened species within the Natural Heritage System.[v] Amendment 1 is currently open for comment on the Environmental Registry (ERO-019-1680) until July 31, 2020.

What stands in the way of rampant extraction? The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP)[vi], is a bold policy that limits the impacts of development activities, including aggregate extraction on the Lake Simcoe watershed. What makes the LSPP particularly powerful is that in case of conflict between it and other provincial policies, “the provision that gives the greatest protection to the ecological health of the Lake Simcoe watershed prevails.” In fact, the LSPP is very strict against permitting new aggregate operations in specific key heritage and key hydrologic features.[vii]

The provincial government announced that they would begin a statutory review of the LSPP this fall. We need to ensure that the Plan is strengthened and implemented in ways that will protect the health of Lake Simcoe and its watershed for the long term. 

Dena Farsad, PhD (ABD)

July 24, 2020


[i] In 2013, the Ontario Geological Survey produced the Aggregate Resources Inventory Paper 188 which outlines potential quantity and quality of aggregate resources in the County of Simcoe. AIRP 188 identifies 2404 ha of primary resources (totalling 283.7 million tonnes) and 27,503 ha of possible bedrock-derived aggregates (totalling 10,928 million tonnes) within the boundary of Simcoe County.

[ii] See the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s Pits and Quarries online GIS mapping application to get a sense of the number and location of pits and quarries currently within the Lake Simcoe watershed.

[iii] See for example, section 3.3.1.5 and section 4.4.2 of the Simcoe County OP.

[iv] In Ontario, land-use planning happens under the guidance of the Planning Act, which establishes planning goals and processes, and sets out roles and responsibilities of municipal and regional governments. Section 3 of the Actmandates the establishment of the PPS. All regions and municipalities in Ontario must adhere to the policies set out in the PPS while developing regional and municipal official plans.

[v] In many ways, this is the nail in the coffin for endangered and threatened species as the Endangered Species Act, 2007 has already been significantly weakened under Schedule 5 of Bill 108 (More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019).

[vi] The Plan is given legislative authority via the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008.

[vii] Including significant wetlands, significant habitat of endangered species and threatened species, and significant woodlands.

Take action!

Take action until July 31st, 2020 at https://act.environmentaldefence.ca/page/62895/action/1?ea.tracking.id=action and / or make comments on the province’s Environmental Registry of Ontario site here https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-1680Or email growthplanning@ontario.ca directly. 

Please include something like this in your comments:  Ontario’s proposed changes to growth, planning, and allowing aggregates in habitats of endangered species would be bad for Lake Simcoe’s water quality if enacted. I am very concerned about these and other proposed changes, allowing unfettered, and unneeded greenfield development across southern Ontario at the cost of farmland and natural heritage. 

Re. ERO 019-1679, the proposed changes to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and ERO 019-1680, the Lands Needs Assessment Methodology.