The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP) is a comprehensive plan to protect and restore the ecological health of Lake Simcoe and its watershed, comprised of all the land that drains into Lake Simcoe directly or via rivers and streams, by addressing long-term environmental issues;
Prohibits development and site alteration within a key natural heritage feature (wetlands, significant woodlands, significant valleylands, and natural areas abutting Lake Simcoe), a key hydrologic feature (wetlands, permanent and intermittent streams, and lakes other than Lake Simcoe) and within a related vegetation protection zone;
Establishes tough phosphorus pollution caps on sewage treatment plants’ effluent;
Prohibits new sewage treatment plants to be built unless they are replacing an old one;
Requires new development applications to use an enhanced stormwater management plan;
Requires development decisions to conform to the designated (having legal effect) policies of the LSPP;
Makes clear that Official Plans and zoning bylaws must conform to the designated policies of the LSPP;
Where a conflict between policies occurs, such as between the Growth Plan and the LSPP, the provision that provides the greatest protection to the ecological health of the Lake Simcoe watershed prevails.
There are 118 policies in the LSPP; this is a short list.
It was the end of 2020, an awful year of isolation and disaster all over the world. My contract job was coming to an end and I was having nightmares of not finding another gig. I decided to apply for a Master’s degree. I felt that I had so much more to learn about what sustainability means, and also thought going back to school might put a pause on the whole “becoming an adult” thing I was supposed to be doing.
So here I am, finishing my first year of a Master’s in Environmental Studies, lucky enough to have gotten a summer internship with the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition; a charity I never heard of before April of this year. I thought it would be an experience in skills I was already pretty “good” at: communication, outreach, social media. I was hit with a steep learning curve when faced with the challenges that came with working for a grassroots, activist organization.
RLSC is a small organization that runs on volunteer work which meant that I was left to problem solve, and was trusted with the solutions I proposed. Despite the challenges, it was extremely rewarding being responsible for the tasks I’d undertaken, coming up with creative solutions and given freedom to follow through with my ideas.
RLSC should be the first thing that comes up when you google search “small but mighty.” Despite limited funding and resources, RLSC seems to be the loudest in the room when speaking about environmental issues, especially those that impact the watershed.
The Lake Simcoe Protection Act, for those who don’t know, is the strongest watershed-based legislation in Canada! And little RLSC was involved in passing this act and developing its plan. The act was passed in 2008. The act was followed by the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan to implement the protection legislated in the act. The RLSC is still fighting for the Plan to be reviewed and improved. It is important for the health of the lake for communities throughout the watershed to understand the LSPP so that the legislation is upheld and collective pressure is put on the provincial government to review and strengthen the plan.
RLSC is working on expanding and sharing their mission with people who live around the watershed; that includes some of York Region, Durham Region, and Simcoe County. RLSC is improving their reach to new and existing audiences to strengthen their goals of improving Lake Simcoe. That’s where I’ve come in to research innovative ways to engage audiences in our work.
If you’re familiar with the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition at all, then you probably know Claire, the Executive Director of RLSC, a quick, dedicated woman who’s last breath will probably be “WE NEED TO RESCUE LAKE SIMCOE!!!” Claire has been running the coalition, going to council meetings, speaking to politicians, leading protests, and unapologetically calling out leaders for their lack of concern about the health of the lake. Claire has also mobilized a force of volunteers who similarly seem to eat, sleep and breathe all things Lake Simcoe.
During several community events, I worked with many volunteers who had a distinct energy to educate and inspire anyone who looked our way. I witnessed Wilma (a long-time volunteer), and Mary Jane, gracefully take on several residents who visited our booth at a community fair to share their “beef” with the coalition. I cowardly watched from the sidelines and listened to their encyclopedia of facts about irresponsible development and water pollution. Wilma and MJ were seriously fulfilling their roles as water defenders. They showed me the importance of knowing your facts and sources and not running away when someone disagrees with you.
It has become clear to me that if I want to pursue a career in environmental outreach, I need to get more comfortable with talking to people who don’t think of the environment the same way I do. This also opened my eyes to what it means to be an activist organization, being center stage at community events and having tough conversations with people who make decisions, whether through their position on council, boards, or through their vote for government.
As an environmental student, it is hard not to feel hopeless at times, constantly discussing the impending impacts of the climate emergency. However, being a part of an activist organization has allowed me to channel my fears and worries into manageable action that can be seen at the local level.
An example of this is helping to campaign against the Bradford Bypass project. Having conversations with community members, working with RLSC’s member groups or other organizations, and intentionally reviewing jargon-filled public reports of the project has actually given me some feeling of hope. I have felt a fulfilling sense of belonging, and being an important part of a large community fighting against this destructive project.
Being a steward to nature does not only mean changing your own behaviours and signing petitions. It also means having difficult, and sometimes scary conversations, to educate and defend the environment that in many ways cannot defend itself. Maybe my individual work has not put a stop to urban sprawl, or reduced phosphorus pollution in the lake, but the feeling that I might have educated a few people on these topics has encouraged me to keep fighting for change.
Summary: The Bradford Bypass is a proposed 16.2 km, 4 – 8 lane highway that would connect Highways 400 and 404 just below Lake Simcoe’s Cooks Bay. The proposed route is just north of Bradford, approximately 100 – 200 m from existing neighbourhoods and parks. It bisects the Holland Marsh Provincially Significant Wetland, proposing to use piers to hold up the bridge across this area. As of September 2022, there is no budget, no technical design drawings, and the studies are incomplete. But the province of Ontario changed its Environmental Assessment regulations and then exempted the Bradford Bypass from the Environmental Assessment process, substituting a streamlined process that identifies the route and allows construction to begin this fall regardless of the outcomes of environmental and traffic studies in progress. Minor changes to the route could occur depending on archaeological studies.
Bradford Bypass highway Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) Proposal was written. Substantially rewritten in 1994 and became legal terms of reference for the current EA Study to this day.
EA finished. Did not consider cumulative effects, climate change, or detail impacts on natural heritage, migratory birds, fisheries, First Nations, or discuss air pollution.
EA approved with conditions including requirements for upgraded studies on archaeological resources, stormwater management, groundwater protection plan, noise, and compliance monitoring.
This EA anticipated severe stormwater and groundwater impacts and adverse effects on fish habitat.
The project didn’t go ahead after the completion of the EA. Reasons include a change in provincial government that enacted major planning and environmental protection legislation: Greenbelt Act & Places to Grow Act. Together they laid the foundation for planning that was aimed at building more compact communities and transit over highways and sprawl.
Lake Simcoe Protection Act passed. Allows for major infrastructure if there is no alternative.
Ontario Liberals decided not to pursue the Bradford Bypass and then did an about-face and included it in the Growth Plan. Still, nothing happened.
Project was revived by the new Progressive Conservative government of Ontario, after nearly 20 years of inactivity on the file, with conditions of the 2002 EA approval not met. Updates to the understanding of the site conditions were supposed to be made every 5 years, and were not.
July 8, 2020
The Government of Ontario proposes to exempt the Bradford Bypass from the conditions of the original EA. The Ministry of Transportation (MTO) and the project consultant team, AECOM, present information about the Bypass to municipalities throughout this time, not mentioning the proposed exemptions or changes to the EA Act. They do not produce side-by-side comparisons of the old and the new process for an EA, so municipalities are led to believe that the studies that will be undertaken will mean something. They don’t. Read the exemption here – Environmental Registry of Ontario posting.
February 3, 2021
First attempt at a Federal Impact Assessment. Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, being represented by Ecojustice, request a Federal Impact Assessment of the project. The request raises the Project’s potential to cause adverse effects on areas of federal jurisdiction and public concerns related to those effects. It also raises concerns that the adequacy of the provincial environmental assessment process to address those issues, particularly in light of Ontario’s proposed exemption to the Environmental Assessment Act. This request is supported by a coalition of 21 environmental groups, including Ontario Nature, Wilderness Committee, Environmental Defence and many local groups.
May 3, 2021
Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Jonathan Wilkinson decides not to designate the Project for a Federal Impact Assessment. Minister’s response available here.
It also means they exempted this project from completing the conditions in the conditional approval from 2002. They will proceed without evaluating health impacts, climate change, and the impact on Lake Simcoe. Nothing in the studies they are doing will affect the route location, except for some minor adjustments in the route to avoid archaeological sites and a golf course.
Public opinion poll regarding the Bradford Bypass highway reveals reversal of earlier apparent public support for the Bypass from a poll conducted by Bradford West Gwillimbury. The 2021 OraclePoll, commissioned by Lake Simcoe Watch, says: Opposition to the highway is 48%; 29% it and 23% are unsure. This after the following truthful statement was presented to those polled: “The government of Ontario is planning to build a 16 km, four lane Holland Marsh Highway to link Highways 400 and 404. The proposed highway would increase phosphorous and road salt pollution to Lake Simcoe, endanger fish spawning habitat, eliminate 23 acres of provincially significant wetland, and eliminate 81 acres of wildlife habitat. Do you support construction of this highway?”
November 9, 2021
East Gwillimbury-based Forbid Roads Over Green Spaces (FROGS) makes a second Impact Assessment designation request to the Federal Minister of Environment, now Hon. Steven Guilbeault, with two other community groups, Concerned Citizens of King Township and Stop the Bradford Bypass. The second request provided information about the way in which the exemption regulation changed the regulatory environment for the Project, and detailed increases in public concerns. It also provided additional information about the Project’s potential adverse effects within federal jurisdiction, including on fish habitat and greenhouse gas emissions.
Nov 13, 2021
Day of Action protest against the Bypass in front of Minister of Transportation and York Simcoe MPP Hon. Caroline Mulroney’s office.
May – December 2021
Seven Lake Simcoe watershed municipalities pass resolutions asking for better oversight of Bradford Bypass highway, an Impact Assessment, or impacts to Lake Simcoe studied. Read details in the December 9, 2021 update letter to Minister Guilbeault.
December 8, 2021
63 environmental groups representing tens of thousands of Ontarians write to the Minister to support the Second Request.
AECOM (consultant for MTO on this project) identifies that over 80 square metres of fish habitat would have to be permanently removed as a result of “early works” near Yonge street and Bradford’s 8th Line that would impact an un-named tributary containing direct warmwater fish habitat to the east of Yonge street. They suggest that MTO ask the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) if authorizations were required for the Bradford Bypass “early works” under the Fisheries Act.
Coalition of environmental groups write to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to request that they do their job of protecting fish, and provide or deny, as appropriate, the permits needed for the work. Earlier, DFO staff said they needed to evaluate the impact of the entire project, but in the case of the Bradford Bypass, the provincial exemption regulation allows the project to be carved into smaller pieces, therefore allowing the project to proceed piecemeal, without an evaluation of the entire project. Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters also wrote to the MTO / AECOM team to suggest that DFO oversight of this was appropriate.
March 14, 2022
Lawsuit launched against Minister of Environment and Climate Change Hon. Steven Guilbeault, questioning whether he followed the Impact Assessment Act in his decision to not reconsider the request for a Federal Impact Assessment. Appellants are Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, Forbid Roads Over Green Spaces (FROGS), Ontario Nature, Wildlands League, Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Environmental Defence, and Earthtroots. “There are errors of fact in the Minister’s decision that cannot be allowed to go unchallenged” says Tim Gray of Environmental Defence. “For the sake of Canada’s environment and the communities dependent on it, we must make sure that destructive projects, such as bulldozing a super-highway through one of Ontario’s largest wetlands, receive a proper and thorough review.” National Observer article: Environmental groups file lawsuit against federal minister over Bradford Bypass.
March 23, 2022
DFO provides a “letter of advice” to the MTO Bypass team allowing for the removal of 80 square metres of fish habitat for the “early works” portion of the Bradford Bypass without a permit. It says effectively, (paraphrasing) ‘Go ahead. Use the following techniques to avoid harming or destroying fish habitat. It’s a self assessment system. Notify the DFO if you are in violation of the rules and if you are destroying fish habitat.’ (The request from the Bypass team clearly indicated that they were removing 80 sq meters of fish habitat.) This is a real head-scratcher.
April 23, 2022
Yours To Protect Earth Day protest against the Bradford Bypass.
DFO responds to a formal petition, sent by a member of the Stop the Bradford Bypass team, which asked many specific questions. The response indicated that there were never any instances between 2001 and 2022 where a Fisheries Act authorization or Species At Risk Act (SARA) permit was formally denied, or where a letter of advice was refused. The response also confirms that MTO never applied to DFO for any authorizations for any of the water crossings associated with the 404 extension from Green Lane to Ravenshoe road and had been permitted to self-assess any impacts on fish and fish habitat under a memorandum of understanding.
August 16, 2022
Environmental Conditions Report released and public comments are due one month later. Some studies that one would expect to be in an environmental conditions report are missing. Some still have not been updated in the field. There is no discussion of climate change or induced demand. The report only references greenhouse gas emissions in the context of an upcoming air quality assessment. There is no assessment of chloride (salt) or phosphorus impacts, or impacts to Lake Simcoe. The province requires the project proponents to complete a stormwater management plan, but there appears to be no requirement to follow it.
Traffic impacts: The MTO itself identifies the “Adequacy of facility to accommodate future travel demand” as an issue. The response is: “No commitments are identified by the proponent; however, traffic studies involving traffic modeling and analysis is being undertaken through Preliminary Design.” The modeling is not publicly available. Claims that the highway will improve local traffic are unsubstantiated because the highway will fill up with traffic quickly. This is “induced demand”. The ECR indicates that the project is being planned for 2 lanes each way but anticipates it expanding to 4 lanes each way (p. 315).
Human health impacts: The ECR identifies twenty “sensitive receptors” already in the Air Quality study area: 5 retirement homes, 6 daycares, 9 schools.
There are also nine planned “possible” sensitive receptors in Bradford West Gwillimbury within the Air Quality study area, including a new Simcoe County District School Board school. Henderson municipal park with soccer fields is also in the study area. (P. 195)
November 2, 2022
Hearing regarding the lawsuit / Judicial Review of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada not addressing the second request for a Federal Impact Assessment for this case.
Anticipated next steps:
Final Environmental Conditions Report (ECR) for Bradford Bypass Project will be released on the project website. No date given.
The Preliminary Design refinements, alternatives, and the evaluation, will be presented at Public Information Centre #2 in the fall of 2022.
Plan to start construction on bridge at Yonge St. (County Road 4) just north of Bradford. There are no detailed engineered drawings, no budget and the route details are not complete. While the timing is meant to coordinate construction with the widening of Yonge St at this location, critics argue that building the ‘early works’ bridge at this stage in the process is premature and establishes the route, regardless of the outcomes of studies underway.
End of 2022, early 2023
Draft Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR)will be available for review.
Selection of Preferred Alternative for the Bradford Bypass Project (minor route changes.)
Final Environmental Impact Assessment Report
Preliminary design complete
The Bradford Bypass’ consultant team’s schedule can be found here.
Thanks to the Lake Simcoe Protection Act (2008) and Plan (2009) the Lake Simcoe watershed is subject to some of Ontario’s strongest environmental policies, meant to protect its water for all its inhabitants, human and non, and the sensitive cold-water fishery, an economic driver in the area. All of the province’s 2018 – 2022 communications about Lake Simcoe have been rather rosy.  This is not unique to this government, but it is greenwashing, and it worries us.
Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review
The Lake Simcoe Protection Act requires the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks to review the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan every ten years to determine if its targets are being met, and whether its policies need to change.
Although it should have started in 2019, the province launched the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review in late December 2020 and had finished consultation by mid-2021.  Despite the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review being complete, the province has been silent on the results of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review for more than a year while it “sits on the Minister’s desk” for a decision.
Why not release its findings? We worry it is because the province plans to weaken protection in favour of development. In effect, by being silent on the coordination of sewage treatment plant allocations that would flow from the watershed’s population explosion outlined in A Place to Grow, 2020, that is what the province is already doing.
The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition has been sounding the alarm about the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan’s 40% “High Quality Natural Cover” target, which is a target without any implementation policies.
In addition to years of letters, research, mapping, reporting, policy analysis and briefs,  the we suggested that the province could use the Municipal Comprehensive Review’s provincial Natural Heritage System mapping process to bring us closer to this target.  They said, no thanks, and cc’d the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing on their reply to the Coalition.
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 municipalpressure,  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.
Until April 19th the Province of Ontario is listening to ideas about growing the Greenbelt, and I want to encourage people to share at least some basic thoughts about it with the government. Did you know that the campaign that resulted in getting the Lake Simcoe Protection Act started with an unsuccessful bid to have Simcoe County included in the Greenbelt? Way back in 2005 we were worried about the impacts of heavy development pressures on Simcoe County, and that has not changed. How can Greenbelt policy help alleviate some of those impacts?
The Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008, and Plan apply to the watershed area, outlined in the map above. Within that area, where the Greenbelt applies today in York and Durham Regions, the “countryside” is protected. In Simcoe County, where there is no Greenbelt, not so much. These farm land areas are facing intense development pressure.
Simcoe County must plan for a population of 555,000 and 198,000 jobs by 2051 up from a population of 307,050 today. Despite there being a projected oversupply of 75,000 homes permitted to be built in Simcoe County to 2031, planning and permitting will go on because that’s what the province has ordered. The problem is that both construction and development negatively affect Lake Simcoe’s phosphorus loads, which in turn worsens water quality. In it’s 2010 Phosphorus Reduction Strategy, the province analyzed the impacts of development on phosphorus loads, and concluded that there would be additional phosphorus loads, even with the development impact mitigation policies of the LSPP. This is a problem since we are supposed to be cutting phosphorus loads in half to protect Lake Simcoe and its ecosystem.
Municipalities may be welcoming policy alignment between provincial plans, as they have expressed in their comments to the province about the LSPP review. (See my blog on this topic here.) The Greenbelt expansion exercise and the LSPP review, which are happening simultaneously, are both good opportunities for the province to investigate and analyze the effect of some of possible policy choices. They will need to address the issue of having no plan to achieve the LSPP’s 40% “high quality natural cover” target.
The ideal solution could be applying the Greenbelt to the whole watershed, maintaining the LSPP’s shoreline policies, and adding a new designation for the watershed’s “high quality natural cover”. For a more fulsome overview of the “high quality natural cover issue see our report here and the map below.
The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s intern and planner Mallory Nievas analyzed the strength of policies of the Greenbelt, Growth Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine, Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, and found that the policies of the LSPP are the strongest of the bunch at protecting the shoreline. The policies of the LSPP, Greenbelt and ORMCP are similar when it comes to natural feature protection (forests, wetlands).
Where the Greenbelt differs in a way that would help Simcoe County and Lake Simcoe, is its unique “Protected Countryside” designation, which is meant to protect agricultural land. Non-agricultural uses of land in the Greenbelt’s “Protected Countryside” are allowed “to support a range of recreation and tourism uses such as trails, parks, golf courses, bed and breakfasts and other tourism-based accommodation, serviced playing fields and campgrounds, ski hills and resorts.” Within the Protected Countryside, Town and City boundaries are firm, which reduces the tendency towards expensive to service, low-density, land gobbling, lake polluting, suburban urban form, and promotes denser community building.
Based on analyses outlined above, it’s expected that the watershed’s population will more than double and likely add 20 tonnes of phosphorus to the lake by 2051. The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan target is to lower phosphorus loads from an average of 90 tonnes to 44 tonnes per year by 2045. We are concerned that the province is approving development without any public discussion or consideration of the long term damage it causes to Lake Simcoe. That should concern everyone.
The public has until April 19th to contact the province and encourage them to expand the Greenbelt to Simcoe County.
The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition’s full comments and submission to the province on Greenbelt expansion can be found here for people’s use in their own submissions.
These features are subject to policies that prevent or tightly restrict development or other land cover change on them. Permitted activities include aggregate extraction, infrastructure development, and stewardship related work.
These features are subject to policies that prevent or tightly restrict development or other land cover change on them. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required to demonstrate environmental impacts of permitted activities are minimal and can be mitigated. Level 1 includes mostly features protected by provincial policies: – significant woodlands; – significant valleylands; – Provincially Significant Wetlands (PSWs); – Areas of Natural Scientific Interest (ANSI’s); – Lake Simcoe shoreline; – natural areas abutting Lake Simcoe; – Significant Wildlife Habitat; – Provincial Parks – Natural Areas (Niagara Escarpment Plan); – Core Areas (Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan).
– new aggregate operations, with restoration and environmental impact requirements, low footprint infrastructure that has been proven to have no alternative, non-intrusive recreation, maintenance of existing infrastructure, fish, forest, wildlife management, stewardship and conservation activities, flood or erosion control, retrofits to stormwater facilities.
2. MODERATE POLICY PROTECT- ION
These features are subject to policies that allow some site alterations or land cover change, having met criteria and conditions. Permitted activities include aggregate extraction, infrastructure development, and stewardship related work. Development and site alteration may be allowed, having met criteria and conditions.
These features are subject to policies that allow some site alterations or land cover change, having met criteria and conditions. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required to demonstrate that environmental impacts are minimal and can be mitigated. Level 2 includes: Setbacks and vegetation protection zones around protected features such as ANSIs, PSWs, permanent and intermittent streams and lakes; – significant groundwater recharge areas and highly vulnerable aquifers; – linkage areas (Oak Ridges Moraine); – Simcoe County Greenlands linkage areas; – features adjacent to level 1 features.
– new aggregate operations, with restoration and environmental impact requirements. – Having met criteria to demonstrate limited environmental impact: development and site alteration, wind power facilities. – No Environmental Impact Assessment required for: Low footprint infrastructure that has been proven to have no alternative, non-intrusive recreation, maintenance of existing infrastructure, fish, forest, wildlife management, stewardship and conservation activities, flood or erosion control, retrofits to stormwater facilities.
3. NOT PROTECT- ED BY ENVIRON- MENTAL POLICY
These areas are already developed and / or are not subject to environmental protections.
These areas do not contain features that are protected. Level 3 includes: farmland; roads; settlement areas and built up areas. The Greenbelt Protected Countryside designation is included because it does not protect Natural Heritage Features. It does, however, restrict settlement boundary expansions.
Early in 2021 the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) consulted on the review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP) and made some presentations to municipal Councils. The Ministry will either make, or not make, amendments to the LSPP by this summer.
The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition (RLSC) analysed the five staff reports on the LSPP from York Region, Durham Region, and the lower tier municipalities of Innisfil, Georgina, and King. In three cases, the RLSC wrote to the municipality and Council and made a delegation to request clarification and/or to suggest changes on some staff reports. Both the municipal staff reports on the LSPP and the RLSC comments submitted to municipalities can be accessed here.
Some key themes emerge from our study of the publicly available municipal comments regarding the review of the LSPP:
There is strong municipal support for protecting Lake Simcoe, and for strengthening policies of the LSPP by reflecting on what has been learned in the first 12 years implementation.
The province did not provide adequate information and analysis of the effectiveness of LSPP policies for the policy review. Most municipalities emphasize that the province must continue monitoring and tracking the effectiveness of various remediation actions, and report on the lake’s health against the LSPP’s targets and objectives.
Accommodating the watershed population ordered by the province’s Growth Plan (projected to at least double by 2051) while meeting the phosphorus (P) reduction target of the LSPP (which is to cut phosphorus loads in half by 2045) is a massive challenge.
Municipal responses vary greatly when it comes to accommodating growth. At one end is the Town of Georgina standing strong with Georgina Island First Nation opposing the Upper York Sewage System, and at the other end, Innisfil’s staff report obliquely suggesting that some places be allowed to increase P loads to accommodate growth.
While most municipal responses highlight the importance of reducing phosphorus loads to Lake Simcoe by revising the Phosphorus Reduction Strategy, they also discuss the merits of various ways to reduce P loads. Should we continue to focus on P reductions from sewage treatment plants, or from other remedial actions that reduce erosion and runoff?
Sewage Treatment Plants and phosphorus offsets:
Most municipalities recognize that reducing phosphorus from sewage treatment plants (STPs) is effective but expensive. They suggest how the province can reduce phosphorus loads from other more “cost-effective” sources. The question is, if STP’s P load caps are eased, will the other P reduction techniques adequately mitigate the harm caused by urban growth?
The RLSC has concerns about the feasibility and timing of the offset approaches suggested. First, the Precautionary Principle is a “guiding principle” of the LSPP, and it would be fitting therefore to not assume that agricultural and landowner remediation and Best Management Practices will be successful at the scale required to bring down P loads without substantive evidence. If the province wants to reduce P loads in a cost-effective way, more research and monitoring is needed to demonstrate that other offsets will work over time and not degrade, fail, and add more phosphorus to the lake than presumed. Until such real-world evidence is provided, other sectors should not be allowed to increase their P loads.
Durham Region supports a future focus “…on more significant sources of phosphorus such as, stormwater and agricultural/rural runoff and invasive species, and that the existing phosphorus loading caps for water pollution control plants be maintained.” The RLSC is in support of this kind of approach.
York Region recommends that P offsets should be used to accommodate new P loads from STPs, and recommends focusing on agricultural and stormwater infrastructure improvements. There is little evidence, however, that offsets from agricultural projects can be relied on as long-term P offsets. And the reduction in family farms, and the related increase in corporate owned farms (mainly land speculators) also means that 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 Upper York Sewage System (UYSS), a new STP. If the UYSS discharges into Lake Simcoe, more reliable and enduring offsets will be needed, namely the proposed Government of Canada and York Region – funded stormwater treatment / phosphorus reclamation centre on the East Holland River, which could remove 7 tonnes of P per year.
Although their submissions do not mention the UYSS discharging into Lake Simcoe, York and Durham Regions are advocating for it. York Region supports the UYSS, while Georgina, their lower tier municipality on the lake, opposes it, in harmony with Georgina Island First Nation.
Almost all of the staff reports refer in some way to the challenges of accommodating the province’s growth plan population minimums while meeting the requirements of the LSPP.
York Region asks point blank, “Clarify how municipalities can comply with both legislated growth targets and wastewater servicing restrictions under the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.”
Georgina’s report says, “Increased pressure on the watershed ecosystem will materialize given the anticipated, significant future growth in the watershed planned in the next 30 years…. Despite the best of intentions and practices, phosphorus loading targets in the lake have not been met since the adoption of the LSPP in 2009. Clearly, better efforts and measures are required to address this condition in the face of increased population growth in the watershed.”
Innisfil advocates for the LSPP to accommodate growth: “phosphorus targets for Lake Simcoe may not be sufficiently in step with other recently updated Provincial policies. Changes to broader the provincial policy landscape, particularly changes to the growth forecasts and policies of A Place to Grow (“Growth Plan”) to be implemented through the County of Simcoe Municipal Comprehensive Review (“MCR”) process, need to be viewed and considered comprehensively with the LSPP…. The MECP’s 10-year review provides an opportunity to examine the growth pressures in the Lake Simcoe watershed and ensure that provincial plans offer a parallel consideration for sufficient servicing capacity to support growth forecasts.”
Innisfil went on to suggest sub-regional targets, presumably to accommodate local growth impacts. It is no secret that Innisfil and landowners and developers operating there have massive growth ambitions. They suggest that the province consider the following: “Could a sub-regionalized approach to the LSPP better achieve Provincial planning goals? …. The Town welcomes the opportunity to discuss with the MECP the introduction of sub-regionally focused amendments following the MECP’s 10-year review, where they are supported by data and provide specific controls related to the environmental threats, growth pressures, and presence of natural heritage resources within each sub-watershed area. The approach may resemble sub-regional policy variations introduced to the Growth Plan and could be informed by the MCR process.”This approach suggests that one part of the lake can pollute more than others. This is not going to work. Clean streams in Oro-Medonte will not make Innisfil’s frequently closed beaches any cleaner.
Ultimately, the province will have to decide if their growth agenda is more important than Lake Simcoe. We do not have the systems in place to accommodate a doubling of the watershed’s population by 2051. We may never have it all figured out. Until we do, the rate of growth is simply unsustainable, and it seems that Lake Simcoe municipalities are saying that, without saying that exactly.
Harmonizing provincial plans
Three of the five staff reports recommend policy harmonization with other provincial plans, referring to an opportunity to use the Greenbelt (GB) or Oak Ridges Moraine Plan’s (ORMCP) natural heritage feature definitions in the LSPP as one example. This suggestion is appealing for a number of reasons. One, planners and developers would find it easier to implement and to understand the applicable policies if they were the same across the ORMCP, GB and LSPP. Two, if this change could go some way towards achieving the LSPP’s “40% high quality natural cover” target, which so far has been a target without implementing policy.
But staff comments on policy harmonization also point out some of the gaps and mistakes made by the province in their haste to dismantle environmental policy. Municipalities question whether water, wastewater and stormwater policies are meant to accommodate growth, or to protect the quality and quantity of affected waters. Indeed, the Growth Plan says one thing on this topic and the Provincial Policy Statement says another. One assumes that the province will clarify the intent. We sure hope they come down on the side of water protection. If not, their Made in Ontario Environment Plan promises will have been as empty as Dear Henry’s bucket.
The province’s public consultation on the LSPP review has ended, but there are still many concerns and questions they will need to address before landing on solutions that will keep Lake Simcoe healthy. For this to happen, the province must accept that their Covid recovery plan (build build build) will have negative impacts on the places that Ontarians love, and change course.
Both the municipal staff reports on the LSPP and the RLSC comments submitted to municipalities can be accessed here.
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:
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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Improving municipal infrastructure: Financially support the improvement of ineffective or absent municipal stormwater facilities.
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.
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.