Lake Simcoe has benefitted from five-year program: officials
Officials were on hand in Barrie at the Southshore Centre to discuss the five-year historical significance of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. On hand were, from left, Innisfil Coun. Doug Lougheed, chairman of the Nottawasaga Conservation Authority, Gayle Wood, head of the Lake Simcoe co-ordinating committee, Barrie MPP Ann Hoggarth, Mayor Jeff Lehman, Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray and Aurora Mayor Geoffrey Dawe, chairman of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority. Cheryl Browne/Barrie Examiner
Lake Simcoe has become the high-water mark other cities will attempt to emulate as environmentalists push climate change to the forefront.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray spoke at the Southshore Centre on Friday about the five-year-long program that has seen phosphorus levels drop and fish stocks return to the lake.
“Two weeks ago, we passed the Great Lakes Protection Act,” Murray told the assembled dignitaries, including Barrie MPP Ann Hoggarth, Aurora Mayor Geoffrey Dawe, chairman of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, Gayle Wood, chairwoman of the Lake Simcoe co-ordinating committee and Innisfil Coun. Doug Lougheed, chairman of the Nottawasaga Conservation Authority.
“It's really legislation based on Lake Simcoe Protection Plan legislation. What we've done is we've taken this five-year experience of Barrie, Orillia, and Innisfil and the communities here because this has worked so well, it became the approach which we're taking with all of the Great Lakes, with the entire Great Lake watershed.
“It's one thing to do something well, it's another thing doing it so well the government advances it as the new normal for policy in regional water management,” he said.
The initial Lake Simcoe Protection Act created in Dec. 2008 lead to the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan which was designed in June 2009 to “protect and restore the ecological health of Lake Simcoe”.
The legislation, the first of its kind in Canada, brought together three levels of government, citizen groups, scientists, as well as the municipalities along the 10,000 metres of shoreline to address the effects of urbanization and climate change on the lake.
The plan brought immediate attention to the alarming rates of phosphorus in the ecosystem, including the lake and its 2,899 square-kilometres of tributaries that drain into it.
At the five year mark, the latest report shows that long-term spring phosphorus concentrations – that cause blue-green algae – have declined and that some native fish, including wild lake whitefish and cisco are returning to levels not seen for decades.
Partners in the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan have completed more than 1,500 environmental-based stewardship projects and planted more than 181,000 trees to help stabilize the shoreline/stream bank ecosystem.
Five years ago, Mayor Jeff Lehman said he was a member of the advisory committee for the protection plan.
“I remember at the time talking about phosphorus, the chemistry of the lake, shoreline protection, forest cover and all of the factors that will ultimately help in restoring the health of Lake Simcoe,” Lehman said. “So here we stand, five years later, with some progress to show. As the mayor of the city of Barrie, I can tell you that Lake Simcoe is intrinsic to our identity, it's intrinsic to our economy, but much more important than that, it is our environment. It shapes it in every way, from our micro-climates to our weather patterns, our visual environment, our built environment.”
But Lehman added he keeps a chart in his briefcase to remind himself that the work is not done.
“Those challenges of climate change are not in the future, they're here today. We had a climate change conference earlier this year here in Barrie and the lake featured very prominently in it. It was 2012, when for the very first time in recorded history, there were no ice huts, because the ice never froze solid. That had never happened before.”
Lehman's briefcase chart shows 150 years of a slow but steady decline of the number of days from freeze up to break up, which he calls the canary in the coal mine.
“So the evidence is incontrovertible, that the challenges we face are not only those of urbanization and growth we have begun to tackle, but those that we are only beginning to tackle and those are the challenges of climate change on top of the urbanization and the other factors that affect our watershed.”