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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Environmental commissioner champions Lake Simcoe

Environmental commissioner champions Lake Simcoe


Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Gord Miller was the keynote speaker recently as the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) announced the first draft of a strategy that would build a One Voice Action Plan to restore and protect Lake Simcoe and its watershed.

Contributors to the report agreed that urgent help is needed to ensure the long-term health of the lake.

“The landscape is changing, and this brings new challenges,” Miller commented. “We are here today to renew our commitment to the lake and this will require courage and innovation; courage to provide the money and effort that is required, and innovation in new approaches to land use planning.”

LSRCA drafted the report to capture all of the public and stakeholder consultations that have been conducted during the past two and a half years.

“Together, we’ve worked hard to engage everyone in consultation, and this report represents what you’ve told us,” CAO Gayle Wood told attendees. “Now we want our partners and stakeholders to respond to this draft and to help us turn this strategy into action.”

The consultations involved area municipalities, stakeholder groups, provincial and federal government agencies, developers, citizens, First Nations, community organizations, scientific experts, The Conservation Authority, as well as the Lake Simcoe Conservation Foundation. The process included identification of the major issues and challenges, a Lake Simcoe conference, public open houses, focus group workshops, partner and stakeholder workshops, and a study of the best practices of other watershed models.

The draft report highlights signs of gradual improvement in the environmental health of the watershed.

“Phosphorus levels are down, and dissolved oxygen levels are up,” Wood said. “These are encouraging signs that we’re going in the right direction, but there is so much more work to be done.”

She said the effort has been limited by “years of inadequate funding and resources”.

Preliminary estimates indicate that, to accommodate the growth that has already been planned and approved, it could cost $163.5 million to achieve the objectives set out by the Lake Simcoe Environmental Management Strategy. These objectives are to restore a self-sustaining coldwater fishery; improve water quality; reduce phosphorus loads; and protect natural heritage features and functions. The current investment in watershed restoration and protection is about $1.1 million a year.

The report listed a number of critical issues identified throughout the consultative process. They included the importance of effective communications, partnerships, stakeholder engagement, leadership and cooperative action.

York-Simcoe MP Peter Van Loan agreed with the need for action that speaks with one voice.

"Governments have a role to play," he observed. “But real change and improvement to Lake Simcoe's environment requires individuals to take responsibility and act for positive change."

"I am very pleased to see the announcement of the One Voice Action Plan,” said York North MPP Julia Munro. “The Conservation Authority has given us the research and expertise to protect Lake Simcoe, and community groups have increased awareness throughout the area. Working together we will do great work to help the lake."

“It’s important that everyone works together on these environmental issues dealing with the lake and the watershed,” said King Councillor Jack Rupke, who represents York Region on LSRCA. “Now we need to continue the process to develop an action plan, and we need to find the financial support to get this important work done.”

As to why LSRCA issued the report at this time, Wood said, “Under our operating agreement with our environmental management strategy partners, the Conservation Authority was given responsibility to report on what has been achieved over the past six years and what actions are planned for 2007 to 2010. The action plan is due in seven months and there is a great deal of work that remains to be done to get this ready. So we have captured the inputs of all of our stakeholders in this strategic document, and now we’re asking them to work with us to develop an action plan by March next year.”

For further information, refer to the draft document and Wood’s presentation, both of which are posted on the Conservation Authority’s Web site at www.lsrca.on.ca

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