The passage of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act in the provincial legislature needs to be followed up with funding commitments, says Innisfil deputy mayor Gord Wauchope.
“All members of this council realize that the lake is one of the jewels of the area,” he said. “The lake has to be preserved. This Act will certainly help, I’m just hoping the provincial government is going to put some funding forward for all organizations around the lake, to help it be kept clean and preserved. I’m hoping the finances follow along with this.”
Wauchope made the statement during a presentation from Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition representative Mary Jane Brinkos, at a town council meeting last week. Brinkos presented council with an overview of the Act, which was passed in the provincial legislature last week.
The legislation builds on the work of the Lake Simcoe Science Advisory Committee, and aims to address emerging problems that affect the lake, such as climate change and invasive species. It will use an innovative, science-based, watershed approach to ensure that development and activities around the lake are environmentally sustainable, according to Environment Minister John Gerretsen.
As part of the Act, about $20-million in funding will be provided for investment, targeting protection measures, scientific research and on-farm stewardship activities.
“The lake has faced ongoing and growing ecological threats. Now, we are well on our way to developing a gold standard of sustainability that will restore and protect the lake, not only for our benefit and enjoyment but for future generations,” said Gerretsen.
Over 350,000 people live within the lake’s watershed. The lake provides drinking water for eight municipalities, and contributes $300 million in agricultural production and $200 million in recreational activities each year.
Balancing growth and the environmental concerns of the lake will be tricky, said councillor Lynn Dollin.
“Sometimes it’s like walking a bit of a tightrope, in one hand we’ve got the Act, in the other we’ve got Places to Grow,” she said. “(The province) is telling us 40 per cent (population) intensification. The only way we can do that is by tearing down houses and putting up 10-storey high buildings. That’s impervious.”
“We’ve got to meet these growth targets and intensify development,” said Dollin.
Brinkos is pleased with the direction of the Act, but stresses the need for more scientific research and analysis on the lake.
“I’m here to stress the importance of supporting this Act … for the people of the lake, the economic stability of the area and the natural ecosystem,” she said. “It’s an Act to restore the ecological health of the lake Council may have legitimate concerns over funding responsibilities, enforcement and timelines, and so do we. The problems and challenges are piling up faster than the solutions.
“The province must establish firm, clear and consistent rules around the lake. We need a framework that puts the ecological health of the lake first, ahead of growth and short term prosperity.”
The Act is expected to receive royal assent later this month, while a lake protection plan should be released by the province in January. The plan will specifically detail government initiatives for protecting wetlands, watercourses and shorelines throughout the lake’s watershed.
Rick Smith, the executive director of Environmental Defence, hopes a 100-metre buffer around the lake shoreline will be included in the plan.
“We’re delighted to see this citizen-led initiative supported unanimously; the lake deserves no less,” he said. “Future growth in this watershed cannot be sustained at the status quo, we need the plan to be a world-class expression of protection for the natural heritage features that insulate the lake from the worst of human activities.”
The Act was unanimously supported in the legislature, which demonstrates the concern for the lake, said Ladies of the Lake founder Annabel Slaight.
“We are getting to the protection of this great lake and beautiful watershed,” she said.
“But the province, the federal government, the municipalities and the people must come together around a plan that demonstrates to everyone that if we all give a little and we all work together, everyone, as well as the lake, will ultimately benefit.”
With files from the Canadian News Wire