By Bob Bruton and Ian McInroy
The sky’s not the limit for phosphorous loading levels in Lake Simcoe.
Ontario’s Environment Ministry has moved toward interim regulations to protect the lake which is so important to so many Innisfil residents.
A proposed interim regulation would cap phosphorus loadings from existing municipal and industrial sewage treatment facilities, stop new ones that would discharge phosphorus and require new stormwater facilities to meet the highest design standards to increase phosphorus removal.
The interim regulations will be implemented ahead of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, which could be law by year’s end.
“It’s going to be a tremendous challenge,” said Environment Minister John Gerretsen on Thursday.
“But this is going to be powerful, enabling legislation.”
The interim regulations will be in place from April 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009.
Phosphorus levels have been recognized as a long-term problem in Lake Simcoe, with about 67 tonnes per year being discharged from a variety of sources, primarily municipal and agricultural.
Phosphorus leads to excessive plant growth and decay in the lake, reducing oxygen which fish need to survive.
It enters the lake from sewage plants, storm sewers, septic systems, urban and agricultural runoff, and is deposited into the lake in rain and snow, as well as winds that carry dust.
York-Simcoe Tory MPP Julia Munro said she supports plans to improve the protection of Lake Simcoe’s water quality, but asked who will be required to pay the bill.
“If the province is going to institute special requirements on Lake Simcoe watershed municipalities to improve their sewer systems, it must provide them with special funding,” she said.
“Cutting phosphorous limits is a good first step, but the government has so far failed to provide any substantial funding to clean up the lake.”
Munro said infrastructure funding is regularly available, but if Lake Simcoe municipalities are required to use their funding entirely on projects to help the lake they are likely to lose out on other infrastructure needs.
“The Ontario Liberals should be providing specific funding for Lake Simcoe cleanup, but their record so far shows little hope,” she said.
The interim regulations would impose an annual phosphorous loading limit on each of the 14 existing municipal sewage treatment facilities and the one industrial sewage treatment plant located in the Lake Simcoe basin.
Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, said the interim phosphorus limits are only important in that they will help slow down or stop the pace of development in the area, which he called ill-considered.
“I’m not going to get too upset about these interim regulations,” Smith said.
It’s supposed to be a time-out, a bit of a break on some of these, huge, ill-thought-out development proposals that are galloping forward.”
The proposed Big Bay Point resort in Innisfil and other developments in Bond Head were among the plans Smith singled out.
All the indicators are there that this lake is in real serious trouble and needs the most aggressive, immediate action if it’s going to be saved,” Smith said.
“It is absolutely the case that the test of whether this legislation will be worth it or not it whether it curtails development in South Simcoe County.”
Collectively, the 15 existing sewage treatments plants within the Lake Simcoe Basin are legally permitted to discharge up to 12.5 tonnes of phosphorus each year.
The new limits would reduce this total permitted loading to the basin to 7.3 tonnes a year. In 2006, the plants discharged a total of 5.9 tonnes of phosphorus.
“The capacities of these plants is much more than they are currently putting into the system,” said Gerretsen.
But the interim limits would also apply to future phosphorous levels as well.
The regulations will prevent a new sewage treatment facility within the Lake Simcoe basin if the discharge will result in the addition of phosphorous loadings.
New facilities designed to manage stormwater from a new development within the Lake Simcoe basin would have to be built to the highest protection level specified in the MOE’s stormwater management planning and design manual.
This provision would not apply to the construction of new stormwater facilities that service existing development, or a new small infill development.
The MOE has worked with the individual municipalities to set limits for each of their facilities.
How the provincial plan will work with a $30-million, five-year federal initiative to ensure Lake Simcoe remains healthy remains to be seen.
It includes the creation of the Protect and Preserve the Environment of Lake Simcoe (PROPEL) committee. Its members will provide advice to Federal Environment Minister John Baird on how to distribute the funding.
The Lake Simcoe Clean-Up Fund is designed to support projects by all three levels of government.
“Ideally, from our perspective it would be best to work together (with Ottawa),” said Barrie MPP Aileen Carroll. “But, to be honest, the federal government isn’t exactly cosying up to us.
“I haven’t seen any roll-out (of funding), projects, etc. So we can’t wait for that.”
But Peter Van Loan, Conservative York-Simcoe MP, said the province should stop studying Lake Simcoe’s problems and take action.
“I call upon the provincial government to match the $30 million in federal funding the federal government announced last month to preserve and protect Lake Simcoe,” he said.
Last week, residents, community groups, stakeholders, and others made application for the first round of federal funding. Money will start flowing this year.
The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority has already studied the Lake extensively, and identified dozens of physical remediation projects to improve the Lake Simcoe environment, requiring an investment of more than $100 million.
Other recent actions by Ottawa to protect Lake Simcoe’s environment include mandatory rules to protect the ecosystem from the threat of invasive species, a ban of dumping waste and sewage from watercraft, and a move to virtually ban phosphates in detergents.
The provincial initiative has been posted on the Environmental Registry for a 60-day period, during which the MOE will be consulting with communities in the basin to get their feedback and to ensure the final regulation appropriately limits discharges of phosphorus to the lake.
The Bill of Rights registry is at: www.ontario.ca/environmentalregistry. The registry number is 010-2246.
Run-off from urban, rural and agricultural uses in the Lake Simcoe watershed and airborne dust from sources inside and outside the basin are significant sources of phosphorus to the lake. The province will spend $850,000 for information and research to support reducing phosphorus loadings from other urban and agricultural sources, and to promote awareness of what people can do around their homes and workplaces to reduce their phosphorus footprint. The investments are:
• $500,000 to the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority and academia to monitor, increase sampling coverage and frequency, assist in setting ecological targets, consolidate data and to identify the impacts of sources both inside and outside the Simcoe basin.
• $250,000 for a pilot study on the use of Phoslock, a product designed to remove phosphorus from waterways, in the inner drainage canal in the Holland Marsh, to limit loadings from the marsh.
• $100,000 for local environment groups to educate and encourage people in the Lake Simcoe basin to do the things that they can do to help reduce phosphorus loading such as using less fertilizer, picking up pet waste and disconnecting downspouts.