After the Lake Simcoe Protection Act became law, the long-term priority for saving the lake should be protecting forests and wetlands that surround it.
That’s why the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition launched a campaign, Saving our Forests to Save our Lake, to a packed hall of Lake Simcoe lovers in Shanty Bay last Saturday.
Why should we put forests and wetlands first? Well, the Lake Simcoe Protection Act makes things better in a lot of ways. But it doesn't ensure that the land surrounding the lake is as healthy as it needs to be to maintain or improve water quality.
The protection of forests and wetlands is important for two reasons. For one, natural areas provide habitat for wild animals, and filter pollution from the air and water.
The second is that converting lands from natural to urban uses hurts water quality. The more we put people on places that trees or wetlands used to be, the higher the lake’s phosphorous levels go. In fact, studies
say that new urban and suburban development in the Lake Simcoe watershed
could add 18% to 25% more phosphorus
over the next 20 years, when we ought to lower phosphorus levels by 40% to improve water quality. We need to save natural areas and reduce the impacts of new development.
Yet, amazingly, despite 35% of the watershed currently being “natural cover,” no one has measured how much of it is protected, or how strongly. A government science committee recommended
that 40% of the watershed remain as “high quality natural cover”, but there is no specific policy that will get us to that target.
I don’t want to give the impression that nothing is being done. There’s some good stuff in the regulations behind the Lake Simcoe Protection Act. They just don’t achieve the 40% protection the lake needs.
In a future blog, I’ll go over what still needs to be done. But because my mother taught me to be positive first, here’s a quick recap of what’s already in the Lake Simcoe Protection Act rules to protect trees and shorelines:
- Development within 120 meters of the shoreline needs to be sensitive to the environment, and provide a natural heritage evaluation;
- Outside existing settlement areas, development or site alteration proposals within 240 meters of the shoreline must maintain, enhance, or restore wildlife corridors and ecological function. (The Moon Point, Oro-Medonte, estate lot development, which sparked the cry for the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, could not be developed under the new law);
Significant shoreline alteration is not allowed, except to restore the shoreline. (The proposed Big Bay Point
mega-marina resort could not be developed if the application was submitted today);
- Vegetation within 30 meters of the shoreline is protected in shoreline “built up areas” (like cottage areas);
- Vegetation within 100 meters of the shoreline is protected in even less developed areas;
- In cities one would try to protect what vegetation is feasible.
There is also a lot of good research being conducted as a result of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act. All areas of high quality natural cover that are 25 hectares or larger in the watershed have been mapped. And, all wetlands in the watershed have been identified, and all those that are more than .5 hectares should be protected in municipal Official Plans soon. This is an improvement over the provincial standard of protecting wetlands larger than 2 hectares.
Although these are huge improvements, we need to go beyond what is required by law to save the lake. The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition would like to support people and local governments who want to protect trees, forests, and wetlands. It was citizens’ actions that made the Lake Simcoe Protection Act happen, and it will be citizens like us, and politicians who care about the lake who squeeze everything we can get out of it.