By: Mike Anderson

A recent report from the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) states that Lake Simcoe’s phosphorous loads spiked at 131 tonnes in 2017.

That’s up from 73 tonnes in 2016, and significantly higher than the target of 44 tonnes set out in the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP) in 2009.

According to LSRCA, annual phosphorus loads – the amount of phosphorus entering the lake from all sources — are used to help assess the health of the lake and how it’s changing over time. For instance, too much phosphorus can cause serious issues, including excessive plant and algae growth.

Graphic courtesy of LSRCA

LSCRA says 2017 was a wetter than average year, which may account for the high phosphorous loads: “More rain and snow means more flow into the rivers and ultimately the Lake.”

While LSRCA acknowledges the levels are higher than expected, it says the news isn’t all bad.

Oxygen levels are trending higher, which is good for a healthy coldwater fishery – however, LSRCA cannot explain why they remain positive despite an increase in phosphorus loads. It says more research is required.

“Targets set out in the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan identified an annual phosphorus load target of 44 tonnes, but that number was aspirational,” says Mike Walters, LSRCA’s CAO, in a recent media release.

“Forty-four tonnes was chosen because it was understood to be the phosphorus load necessary to achieve another, more critical target of 7 mg/L dissolved oxygen levels.

What we’ve learned is that despite higher phosphorus loads measured, we’ve actually surpassed the dissolved oxygen target. Oxygen is the more important measure because we know how dependent fish are on cold, clean, oxygen-rich water.”

However, not everyone agrees with the LSRCA’s interpretation of the results.

Jack Gibbons, Chair of Lake Simcoe Watch, calls the results “unacceptable.” “We are going backwards, not forwards,” he says.

According to Mr. Gibbons, Lake Simcoe’s average annual phosphorus pollution during the past three years (97 tonnes per year) has risen by 11 per cent relative to the previous three-year average (86 tonnes per year).

Mr. Gibbons is calling on the provincial government and specifically, local MPP Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation, to help find a solution.

“In 2009 the Government of Ontario’s Lake Simcoe Protection Plan called for Lake Simcoe’s phosphorus pollution to be reduced to 44 tonnes per year. Unfortunately, Premier Ford’s Government does not have a plan or a budget to reduce Lake Simcoe’s phosphorus pollution to 44 tonnes per year,” he says.

“It is time for Caroline Mulroney to provide the strong leadership we need to reduce Lake Simcoe’s phosphorus pollution to 44 tonnes per year by 2026.”

Reaction was also swift from MP Scot Davidson, who issued a media release following LSRCA’s report.

Mr. Davidson is calling on the Liberal government to immediately re-start the Lake Simcoe Clean-Up Fund, which the Liberal’s promised to do during the last federal election campaign.

“It’s clear from this report that the heightened levels of phosphorous in Lake Simcoe can be directly attributed to the cancellation of the Lake Simcoe Clean-Up Fund,” says Mr. Davidson in the release.

“Over ten years, the Clean-Up Fund prevented an estimated 27,800 kilograms (roughly 27.8 tonnes) of phosphorus from entering the lake. This was achieved through innovative projects supported by the Clean-Up Fund that specifically targeted phosphorus reduction.”

LSRCA is also calling on the federal government to uphold its commitment to provide $40 million to clean-up Lake Simcoe:

“Access to that level of financial support will enable organizations like ours to continue the much-needed research and on-the-ground projects to address phosphorus and a host of other impacts to the Lake.”

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