Lake Simcoe will not recover from years of degradation unless phosphorous levels are cut in half, says a water quality expert.
Dr. Peter Dillon, a professor at Trent University, recently testified at the Ontario Municipal Board hearing into a 2,000-unit waterfront project proposed for Big Bay Point.
Dillon told the OMB the lake’s recovery is far from complete and that its overall health is not good.
In 1990, the province created the Lake Simcoe Environmental Management Strategy (LSEMS) and reducing phosphorous levels has long been part of this initiative.
Currently, the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, the lead agency implementing the LSEMS, is aiming to reduce phosphorous levels by 25 per cent.
But Dillon is proposing a far more aggressive approach.
Annabel Slaight, founder of Ladies of the Lake and a board member of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, welcomes a tougher approach.
“On the face of it, 50 per cent reduction of phosphorous is a radical recommendation,” said Slaight.
But with a co-ordinated effort involving the public, backed by strict land-use and development restrictions, it would be possible to hit the 50-per-cent reduction target, she said.
“We’d need farms to use the best management practices, residents to stop using fertilizer on their lawns, golf courses changing their designs and developers limiting development to urban areas, not forests and fields.”
Phosphorous is a nutrient that promotes plant growth in the lake. When these plants die in the fall, their decomposition consumes the oxygen fish need to live.This chemical enters the lake from agricultural run-off, storm sewers, sewage and airborne particles.
There’s no question reducing phosphorous must be part of any strategy to restore lake Simcoe, said Slaight. Already there are “dead zones” in the lake where fish and other aquatic life cannot survive, she said. “It’s frightening.”
Jim Woodford, founder of Science for Lake Simcoe, also supports a more aggressive attack on phosphorous. But that is only part of the problem, Woodford said. Elevated nitrogen levels also play a role in throwing off the ecological balance of the lake, said Woodford.
The impact of invasive species, such as zebra mussels and the 240,000 trout and whitefish the Ministry of Natural Resources releases from hatcheries every year, also need to be studied, said Woodford.
As part of protecting and cleaning up Lake Simcoe, the province must also apply strict control to development in the watershed, Slaight and Woodford agree.
Both would like to see the Greenbelt between Toronto and Lake Simcoe enlarged to girdle the lake.
“We need to make the entire watershed a protected area,” said Slaight.
Right now, the lower portion of the lake shore is protected on the east side.
“The west side is totally exposed,” said Slaight.
The Oro Moraine should also receive the same protection as the Oak Ridges Moraine, said Woodford.
As part of the long-term strategy, growth should be confined to urban nodes, said Slaight.
“The countryside and forests are the best filters the lake has. They’re like the lungs. If you chop them up into roofs and driveways and parking lots, you lose the natural benefit.”
The provincial Liberal government has an opportunity with the proposed Lake Simcoe Act to lay down some clear rules to make the improvement of water quality in the lake a priority.
The federal government has pledged $12 million to help clean up Lake Simcoe.
The provincial contribution has not yet been determined.