By NATHAN TAYLOR
Like the state of Lake Simcoe itself, a new plan to protect the body of water is subject to change — something politicians and environmental groups see as a positive.
On Tuesday, the province unveiled the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, which sets out goals to improve the health of the lake through measures including reducing phosphorus levels and protecting fish habitat.
“It’s certainly an improvement on what we had before. It’s an excellent indication that the province is listening to citizens’ concerns,” said Claire Malcolmson, co-ordinator of Environmental Defence’s Campaign Lake Simcoe.
The fact it is an adaptive plan means new regulations can be added, which is a good thing, she said.
Seven milligrams per litre of dissolved oxygen in the lake, which is necessary for the health of fish, is the target, Malcolmson said. That will help determine what developments are allowed. However, there’s no freeze on development, and that’s worrisome, she said.
“We’re a bit concerned that the implications of the phosphorus- reduction strategy may be shutting the barn door before the horse is bolted,” she said.
Areas of southern Lake Simcoe, including Aurora and Newmarket, for example, are in worse condition than some more northern spots, she said.
Gayle Wood, CAO of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, was also optimistic about the adaptive plan.
“The environment is a constantly changing ecosystem,” she said, noting adaptation will be important as issues like climate change and invasive species evolve. “Having a provincial focus on protecting the health and quality of Lake Simcoe is extremely positive.”
Malcolmson was also pleased the plan “is stronger on climate change adaptation.”
Seeing the plan finalized was a proud moment for Simcoe North MPP Garfield Dunlop, who first advocated for a legislated protection plan for the lake.
“There’s not a lot of protection plans for lakes anywhere,” he said. “This is leading edge and could be used as a model in the country and in the United States as well.”
With about 100 kilometres of Lake Simcoe shoreline in his riding, Dunlop is “very proud of what’s happened.”
He said the plan strikes a good balance in addressing development issues and protecting and improving lake quality and fish habitat.
“You’re never going to keep everyone happy, 100%, but I think it’s a reasonable balance,” Dunlop said.
The provincial and federal governments will need to cooperatively fund the plan for it to be successful, he said, “because it’s going to take a tremendous amount of money to clean the lake up.”
In a press release, the province highlighted two key areas of the plan: immediate action on things like phosphorus reduction and targeting causes of stress on the lake, including invasive species and climate change.
“That’s what we asked for and that’s what we got,” Malcolmson said, “but we need to test it.”
Some clarification is needed, Wood said.
“We would need to sit down with the province… and have some discussion around specific financial roles and responsibilities of the conservation authority.”
A review of “phosphorus trading” also needs to be done, she said, to determine where the phosphorus is coming from and going.
Such a review would result in an understanding of how to most effectively use the funding.