James Rusk
 The Ontario government moved yesterday to minimize the impact of rapid development on Lake Simcoe by introducing a law that will impose tough environmental rules on the lake and its watershed. 
But unlike provincial laws protecting the Oak Ridges Moraine or the Greenbelt, which give the province power over urban development in the Greater Toronto Area, the Lake Simcoe Protection Act is an environmental measure, designed to limit ecological damage to an important body of water.
“It was always intended to be that way. We’re talking about protecting the water of the lake. But it also protects, which is equally important, the watershed going into the lake,” Environment Minister John Gerretsen said.
The legislation introduced yesterday calls for the development of a plan for the lake that will be the fundamental instrument for protecting it and become an integral part of all land-use planning in a watershed where 350,000 people live, Mr. Gerretsen said.
He added that the province is primarily interested in lowering the level of phosphorus in the lake, and so the plan will address issues such as storm sewer- water runoff, agricultural techniques and development practices.
Environmental groups have been pressing the province to introduce legislation that was promised by Premier Dalton McGuinty last summer.
Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, said in an interview that the act “opens the doors to some very good things happening.”
The crucial details will be in the protection plan but he said that it will be certain to affect land use around the lake.
“If this act is going to do the job, it is going to have to affect what people are doing in and around the lake, and that means that water and the land, ” Dr. Smith said.
He said the act will apply to all new development projects on the watershed, including the controversial Big Bay Point resort, which was approved by the Ontario Municipal Board last year.
Mr. Gerretsen said that “the Premier never promised to stop the Big Bay Point development, but today, all development plans have to conform to new provisions of the act and the plan that comes into place.”
Jim Maclean, spokesman for Kimvar Enterprises Inc., the builder of Big Bay Point, said in a statement that “the Big Bay Point resort has been designed from the start to be environmentally responsible and it will have no trouble meeting or exceeding the conditions of the plan.”
Mr. Maclean added that “most importantly, the resort will reduce phosphorous loadings on Lake Simcoe, and about one-third of the project is environmentally protected land.”