By Chris Simon
Innisfil municipal staff worry the proposed Lake Simcoe Act is being rushed into completion.
Town council endorsed a letter from municipal staff to the provincial government, which outlines concerns over the Act, during a recent meeting. Once passed, the Act is intended to detail a strategy for the long-term health and clean-up of the lake’s watershed, including the reduction of phosphorous levels and new monitoring systems that target pollutants.
However, some staff suggest the plan may be getting pushed ahead too quickly, something that could eventually lead to significant environmental and strategic problems.
“The process appears to be on a fast track, which we believe would not afford a full and complete consultation of this multi-faceted issue,” said planning and development director Rob McAuley. “While staff support the intent of the discussion, we are concerned with the nature and tone of the public commentary thus far. Staff are concerned that the final documents may be somewhat rushed and lacking, and as a result a balanced document may not be achieved.”
In April, the province released Protecting Lake Simcoe: Creating Ontario’s Strategy for Action, a document that included the establishment of a scientific advisory committee, public consultation, and the reduction of phosphorous discharges entering the lake from sewage treatment plants by 7.3 tons per year. The complete Lake Simcoe Act is expected to be passed by the Ontario Legislature sometime next year.
However, McAuley says the Act may focus too much on stopping new development and municipal water treatment plants from building up along the lake.
“Staff believes a balanced, coordinated strategy is required for long-term protection of the health of (the) lake,” he said. “A mood of moratorium appears to pervade the (public) discussions, which we believe has arisen from an over focus on new development and treatment plants. Municipalities and modern development must adhere to a very high standard of design … and can be demonstrated to have minimal effects on the ecosystem.”
Those sources contribute a relatively low amount of phosphorous into the lake, despite current public perceptions. Municipal sewage plants account for about seven per cent of the phosphorous levels, while urban discharge makes up about 13 per cent, said McAuley.
“These two areas are not the major contributors, so there needs to be a broader focus on the other contributors, in order to achieve the goal of improving lake health,” he said. “A moratorium position is contrary to the province’s direction on matters of growth and not in the best interest of Innisfil or the watershed.”
In the letter to the province, town staff have asked about the direction of the Act, progress so far, and anticipated funding levels. They’ve also outlined proposed goals for the Act.
Councillors say the Act would have an impact on the long-term growth and financial viability of the town.
“People seem to relate the phosphorous in the lake to development,” said councillor Lynn Dollin. “If you look at the numbers, there are 13 or 14 sewage plants that discharge into the lake, yet they create only seven per cent of the phosphorous. Plants have to be brought up to the technology that we can afford, but we have to look at other forms of controlling the phosphorous.”
“(Over) 30 per cent of the phosphates going into the lake are from the atmosphere, yet this area doesn’t seem to be getting looked at as aggressively as what development is getting looked at,” said councillor Dan Davidson. “We need to figure out what’s doing it and get to the bottom of it before picking on everything else.”