Ontario is “dipping its toe into the waters of the campaign to save Lake Simcoe,” says Environmental Defence lawyer David Donnelly.
Donnelly was reacting to a Dec. 6 announcement that includes an $850,000 investment to study the sources of phosphorous as well as raise public awareness about how people can reduce their phosphorous footprint.
“It’s a good first step towards synthesizing and coming up with options for a solution to protect Lake Simcoe,” said Donnelly.
“Everybody has agreed on two basic things: we need to reduce the amount of phosphorous going into the lake, and we need to find a way to reduce the intensity of land uses and recreational uses within the watershed, whether agricultural, boating, urban sprawl or new infrastructure.”
According to the Lake Simcoe Environmental Management Strategy, the largest source of phosphorous is run-off from the lake’s tributary rivers and streams, followed by atmospheric sources and thirdly by urban runoff; the lesser sources in descending order are septic tanks, effluent from sewage treatment plans and the Holland Marsh.
The next step the province should take, Donnelly noted, would be to designate a greenbelt – or perhaps more appropriately a natural heritage protection area – in Simcoe County.
“We can designate prime agricultural areas and a natural heritage system and make sure those are permanently protected,” he said, adding 40 per cent of Lake Simcoe’s shoreline is already protected by Ontario’s greenbelt; something needs to be done about the remaining 60 per cent, however.
“That’s bad planning. We have to expand that (greenbelt or protective status).”
A member of Campaign Lake Simcoe Coalition, Environmental Defence also called for an act that outlines a comprehensive plan to protect the lake.
The latest provincial announcement is a follow-up to an announcement made July 6 at the Lake Simcoe Summit, that the province would create a Lake Simcoe Protection Act.
The Ministry of the Environment is proposing tightening sewage treatment standards and setting stricter limits for pollutants, including phosphorous. Phosphorous encourages the growth of plant life in the lake, and reduces the amount of oxygen for fish, particularly cold-water species like lake trout and lake whitefish.
The City of Barrie hailed the $850,000 investment, which the province says will include a variety of stakeholders, as municipalities in the area examine how to manage and better plan for growth.
Barrie is investing $110 million in expanding its sewage treatment plant and bio-solids storage facility as the city grows and intensifies.
“An additional investment in membrane technology for the sewage plant would allow us to manage all of the growth the province has planned for the Barrie area for the foreseeable future and will position Barrie at the forefront of the environment,” said Barrie’s community services commissioner Richard Forward.