Ontario is taking a major step to address the effects more than 200 years of human activity have had on Lake Simcoe’s water quality and ecosystem.
Legislation introduced June 17, 2008, would, if passed by the Legislature, require the province to develop a comprehensive plan to protect and restore the lake’s watershed and address the issue of phosphorus discharge.
The plan would:
— take an innovative, science-based, watershed approach to ensure that development and activities around the lake are environmentally sustainable;
— address emerging problems that affect the lake, such as climate change and invasive species;
— be supported by a $20-million investment, targeting protection measures, scientific research and on-farm stewardship activities.
The Lake Simcoe area is home to more than 350,000 people and provides drinking water to eight communities. It also receives treated discharges from 15 sewage treatment plants.
Human activities, including urban, rural, recreational and agricultural activities, have affected the landscape, vegetation, wildlife and ecological function of the watershed. The amount of sediment, phosphorous and other nutrients, and chlorides entering the lake has increased, harming its water quality. Changes in aquatic habitats in the lake and its tributaries have changed the composition, diversity and abundance of aquatic communities, threatening some species and degrading the overall ecosystem. Also, invasive species, such as zebra mussels, have profoundly affected the lake’s ecosystem.
In the 1990s, more than 100 tonnes of phosphorus entered Lake Simcoe each year. Environmental efforts saw those levels drop to 67 tonnes by 2004.
Four decades of scientific studies show that impacts from human activities have impaired the health of the Lake Simcoe watershed ecosystem. The Lake Simcoe Science Advisory Committee recommends that Ontario needs to act immediately to protect the lake. Otherwise, the impact of current activities, future growth and other major stressors, notably climate change and new invasive species, will be too much for the health of the lake.
Lake Simcoe Protection Plan
The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan would use a mix of mandatory and voluntary measures to achieve the targets. It would integrate and build upon Ontario’s existing frameworks for environmental protection and land use planning. This would provide protection for the lake where it most needs it without duplicating existing protections, says a Ministry of the Environment (MOE) backgrounder.
The MOE will draft the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan over the summer. The science and stakeholder advisory committees and Aboriginal communities will be involved as the government develops this long-term protection plan. The ministry expects to start public consultation late this year.
To avoid adding to the problems already facing the lake, the proposed Lake Simcoe Protection Act could apply transition rules to projects that have some but not all approvals at the time the plan comes into effect. The transition rules would be contained in regulations. These transition rules cannot revisit approvals received before the time the plan comes into effect.
The rules may affect an application for an approval that was started before the plan comes into effect but has not yet been decided. In addition, such transition rules would apply the new protection policies to proposed development and other proposed project applications likely to have an adverse effect on the health of the lake at the time the plan comes into effect. For example, they would apply to proposed developments that would affect shorelines, wetlands and aquatic habitat, or increase phosphorus loadings to the lake.