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LETTER: Province, York Region need to be held to account to save Lake Simcoe

York Region council is poised, dangerously, to encourage development of a new sewage treatment plant, says Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition
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Upper York Sewage Solutions serves massive growth, contrary to Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.

This Thursday at 9 a.m., York Region council could endorse its water and wastewater master plan, part of its official plan/municipal comprehensive review for growth to 2051. There are negative implications for Lake Simcoe. The problems start at the provincial level, but are being supported by York Region council.

The Lake Simcoe watershed is subject to the strongest environmental policies, meant to protect its water for all its inhabitants, human and non, and to protect the sensitive cold-water fishery, an economic driver in the area.

Naturally this industry and its spin-offs rely on clean water. But despite the review consultations being complete, the province has been silent on the review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan for more than a year. Why not release its findings? I worry it is because the province plans to weaken protection in favour of development. In effect, that is what the province is already doing.

York Region council is poised, dangerously, to encourage the development of a new sewage treatment plant (STP) in northern York Region, the Upper York Sewage Solutions (UYSS). The UYSS will add phosphorus, a fertilizer and pollutant that will affect fisheries to Lake Simcoe.

York Region recommends that phosphorus offsets should be used to accommodate new phosphorus loads from STPs, and recommends focusing on agricultural and stormwater infrastructure improvements. There is little evidence, however, that offsets from agricultural projects can be relied on as long-term phosphorus offsets.

And the reduction in family farms, and the related increase in corporate-owned farms (mainly land speculators), also means that there are fewer farmers who are land stewards, and fewer farmers willing to undertake remediation on their farms at the scale required to offset the UYSS.

Despite there being clear ecological limits to growth in the Lake Simcoe watershed, York Region has been tagged by the province with the greatest percentage growth of any Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area municipality. This despite the fact that York Region has not met previous, less aggressive population targets assigned by the province in many years.

Staff reports say that the lack of affordable housing is one of the main explanations for failing to attract the targeted population. So, recommending the most sprawling, expensive, infrastructure-intensive new development plan of any regional government to date in the Municipal Comprehensive Review process reveals the will of the majority of council: to stand by their friends, the developers, rather than ensure our region is livable for the next generation.

If we are to save Lake Simcoe, precaution is needed. Both the province and York Region need to be held to account.

Claire Malcolmson
Executive director, Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition