Photo Op at Willow Beach Wharf, Nov 12

By: Mike Anderson

York-Simcoe is not often the recipient of federal largesse, but that all changed on November 12 when Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna announced $16 million in funding to help build a new stormwater treatment plant that will significantly reduce phosphorus levels in Lake Simcoe.

The minister made the official announcement at a press conference held at Willow Beach Wharf in Georgina, with King-Vaughan MP Deb Schulte, Markham-Stouffville MP Helena Jaczek, and York Region Chairman and CEO Wayne Emmerson also making remarks.

“This project alone will reduce phosphorus runoff into Lake Simcoe by 40 per cent, cutting algae growth in the lake’s watershed, preserving fish habitat and protecting a major source of drinking water,” Minister McKenna said.

“As I like to say, this is about ensuring the water is safe to swim, drink and fish.”

The state-of-the-art plant will remove and treat six tonnes of phosphorus annually from agricultural runoff emanating from farms around the Holland Marsh, which is currently discharged, mostly untreated, into the Holland River, and eventually into Lake Simcoe.

The $40 million project, a joint partnership between the federal government and York Region, which is contributing $24 million, will see a plant built on Bridge St. in Bradford West Gwillimbury, near the Holland River.

The federal government’s $16 million contribution was made through the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF), a $2 billion fund to help communities build infrastructure projects that protect them from the threat of climate change.

According to Minister McKenna, this project was selected through a competition to find the best projects across the country.

“You’re seeing the impacts of climate change here. You’re seeing extreme weather, which means you have massive runoff and that just causes huge problems. So having a new treatment facility will make a real difference,” Minister Mckenna said.

The announcement was welcome news for the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA), which has been pushing for the project for more than a decade.

“The Holland Marsh is a significant source of phosphorous,” said Mike Walters, LSRCA’s CAO.

“Any option that can remove that input into the lake is going to show significant benefit. We’re looking at the single most important reduction in phosphorus, within the watershed, in the last 30 years. “

According to Mr. Walters, the plant will not only remove phosphorous; it will also recycle nutrients found in the runoff, providing local farmers with fertilizer for their fields.

“The idea here is to actually close the loop on phosphorus with the Holland Marsh,” he said.

“Farmers are going to be able to get some fertilizer back from what they’re spreading, and it’s going to be stopping the export of that phosphorus into the river system. “

Still, with phosphorus levels continuing to exceed targets set by the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP), some worry that the plant, which will take four years to be operational, maybe too little too late to protect Lake Simcoe’s fragile ecosystem.

York-Simcoe MP Scot Davidson, for one, was hoping to hear from Minister McKenna that the Liberal government would make good on its election pledge to restore funding to the Lake Simcoe Clean-Up Fund. However, that was not forthcoming.

“York Simcoe doesn’t get enough federal announcements. We are federally underfunded, and the numbers bear that, but we will take any funding we can in York-Simcoe that goes to help the protection of Lake Simcoe,” Mr. Davidson said.

“This is only one step in a 20 step piece that’s needed. That’s why we’re still calling for the Lake Simcoe Clean-up Fund to be reinstated. That was a commitment made by the sitting government. They made the promise. They still haven’t done it. There was nothing today that I heard that was concrete, that committed them to it.”

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