Four Priorities for Lake Simcoe going into the Spring election
By the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition
April 6, 2022 -- The protection of Lake Simcoe is more than an “environmental” issue.
The lake and its challenges epitomize the broader societal need for holistic solutions that support people, the environment, and the economy. Unchecked sprawling greenfield development and highway building adds pollutants to the lake, decreases permeable land surface area (which can contribute to more flooding), increases greenhouse gas emissions, and promotes unhealthy driving habits. Greenfield growth, the most desired by the building industry, is the least affordable for residents, and the most environmentally damaging to the lake. We ignore the interrelatedness of these factors at our peril.
In the upcoming provincial election, we challenge all candidates to imagine a future Lake Simcoe watershed that is sustainable and thriving. One that increases convenience and affordability for its residents. One that boasts a healthy fishing, tourism, and recreation sector. Following the points below, we CAN achieve this vision.
1. Reduce phosphorus loads.
· Lake Simcoe’s highest P level was 131 tonnes P/year in 2017. The 10-year average is 90 tonnes/year.
· The $420-million/year recreation sector relies on healthy water and fish.
→ Develop and fund a plan to reduce phosphorus (P) pollution reaching Lake Simcoe to 44 tonnes per year by 2030.
→ Do not approve the Upper York Sewage “Solution.” There is a prohibition on building new STPs in the watershed due to high P loads.
→ Fund the balance of the Holland River Phosphorus reclamation plant for approximately $25 million, and build it. This would remove up to 7 tonnes per year of phosphorus from entering the lake each year.
2. Protect Natural Heritage.
The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan targets 40% “high quality natural cover,” but no policy supports achieving this target. There is an opportunity to increase Natural Heritage protection through policy implementation and/or development.
→ Add the North Gwillimbury Forest to the Greenbelt.
→ Do not put new highways through green spaces and the Greenbelt.
→ The Municipal Comprehensive Review (MCR) exercise, which includes the application of the provincial Natural Heritage System (NHS) map, is an opportunity for there to finally be a policy applied to the Lake Simcoe watershed to achieve the 40% “high quality natural cover” goal.
We have 28% “high quality natural cover” today but only half of that is well protected by provincial policy.
We have about 35% total natural cover in the watershed.
3. Stop Sprawl.
Stop planning for sprawl by dropping inflated population growth targets, requiring
growth to be accommodated through existing settlement areas, and developing better policies for accommodating growth in healthy communities with good access to transit, walking, and cycling infrastructure.
Sprawl is unsustainable on many levels. Make life more affordable and
convenient for existing residents by building more affordable housing, as well
as attainable housing; build for transit-supportive densities.
The benchmark price for single-family homes in the Barrie area was $986,000,
up 37.5% on a year-over-year basis in February. (BDAR, Feb 2022)
The development projected for the Lake Simcoe watershed will increase
phosphorus loads by at least 15 tonnes per year, extrapolating from
government estimates for development planned from 2008-2031.
Re development to 2031: “Under the Plan all new developments are required to have enhanced storm water management controls in place, subject to limited exceptions. Accounting for these controls, analysis indicates the phosphorus load from these new developments would be 15.3 T/yr.
Additional analysis indicates that combining “Enhanced” storm water management controls with LID practices would reduce the phosphorus load from new development to 9.2 T/yr. While the Strategy and the Plan strongly encourage that effective measures are taken to mitigate and reduce phosphorus contributions from new development wherever possible, significant phosphorus loadings from development will occur and should be offset in some way.” (Lake Simcoe Phosphorus Reduction Strategy p. 30)
4. Cancel the Bradford Bypass and future 400 series highways in the Lake Simcoe watershed and the Greenbelt.
We simply need to do things differently, and the Bradford Bypass is a white elephant of epic proportions. If built as proposed, we do not know what the impacts to Lake Simcoe would be because they have not been studied, despite many municipal requests. And yet MTO claims “Lake Simcoe will not be directly
That is simply not true.
Another highway has been announced on the south-eastern edge of the lake. Combined with the Bradford Bypass, these plans could bring 70 km of new 400 series highways right through Lake Simcoe’s most sensitive wetlands and the Greenbelt, using a newly weakened Environmental Assessment (EA) process.
Salt contamination of the Maskinonge River pre and post Highway 404
Pre-highway: 12% of water samples exceeded the chloride guideline
Post-highway: 84% of samples exceeded the guideline
We should expect the same from future highways including the Bradford Bypass.
Re the Bradford Bypass:
· Lake Simcoe is on a trajectory to exceed the guideline level for chronic salinity in 37 years. Highways create chloride hotspots in our rivers. It is virtually impossible to remediate chloride pollution.
· MTO studies show the highway will be congested shortly after construction and make congestion on 400 and 404 worse.
· Ontario Society of Professional Engineers says a new full EA is needed.
· Polling: Only 29% of 900 poll respondents in three Lake Simcoe ridings support the Bradford Bypass, while 48% are opposed, and 23% are unsure.
· The highway has received all environmental approvals (outside of permitting) due to an exemption from the Environmental Assessment Act, despite studies not
· Original EA was from 1997, and approved with conditions in 2002.
· Eight Lake Simcoe watershed municipalities passed resolutions regarding the Bradford Bypass that express concern for Lake Simcoe and a desire for a more thorough Environmental Assessment process.
· Cost estimates for the Bypass have ranged from $800 million to $2.2 billion dollars. This money could be spent on activities that improve public health, wellness, and sustainability.
Transportation accounted for 54% of total emissions in the watershed in 2016. The “Business As Usual” scenario where population growth proceeds as projected, and no specific action is taken on emissions reduction, predicted an increase of 57% in net emissions from the 2016 baseline.”*
The Bypass is an example of “Business As Usual” scenario that supports further car-dependent commuting.
*Source: The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority’s Climate Change
Mitigation Strategy (2020)
Lake Simcoe’s watershed communities are primarily car dependent. More highways lock in a style of development that is costly, destructive, and incompatible with climate action.
· The project would have 28 water crossings, including the East and West Holland Rivers.
· Wildlife surveys are old, pre-dating federal and provincial species at risk protections and listings/recovery strategies.
· In 24 years, no mitigation for severe storm water and groundwater impacts have been proposed or identified.
· Would remove 32.7 hectares of significant wildlife habitat; 9.5 hectares of the Provincially Significant Wetland, including some fen wetlands. Will result in fragmentation overall by bisecting the area.
To provincial election candidates, hank you for considering these four priorities for Lake Simcoe as part of your candidacy for the provincial election.
Please let us know if you have questions or want further information.
Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition Executive Director, Claire Malcolmson
Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition Executive Director, Margaret Prophet