Everyone Should Learn About the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan

The recent Celebration of Lake Simcoe at Innisfil Beach Park drew my attention to the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. This is a significant regulatory initiative that, as far as I know, the local press has only reported in generalities.  The Lake Simcoe watershed occupies about 2,800 square kilometres and 47% of that is currently agricultural.

The defined Lake Simcoe watershed overlaps other planning areas such as the Greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Morraine. The mention of a target of 40% “high quality vegetative cover” in the watershed is what made my ears perk up. About 35% of the Lake Simcoe watershed is under ‘natural cover’, that is, woodlands and wetlands. The desired target would be achieved by defining vegetation protection zones around the shore of the lake and along stream banks that drain into the lake. Nor would most development or site alteration be permitted outside of “existing settlement areas”.

The minimum vegetation protection zones are:

– In a built-up shoreline area: 30 metres from the shoreline

– Outside existing settlement areas / outside shoreline built-up areas: 100 metres

A proposal for development or site alteration may be restricted if it is within 120 metres of the shore in a built-up area or within 240 metres of the shore outside existing settlement areas.  Although most of the shoreline is already developed, the aim is to prevent any further loss of the natural shoreline on Lake Simcoe.

An essential part of this plan is the definition of “existing settlement areas”. They are defined as “settlement areas that are designated in an official plan on the date the Plan comes into effect”.

I was also told that the success of this plan will rely heavily on the cooperation and commitment of participating municipalities including Innisfil. This is another important issue for voters to consider before voting for Mayor and Council this fall.


Innisfil as a Leading Edge Innovator in Sustainability

I know. Hard to imagine! My last posting talked about the Celebration of Lake Simcoe. The event highlighted our responsibility to be stewards of Lake Simcoe because of our proximity to it as residents and as the primary beneficiaries of its waters. Let’s hope that we will do a better job protecting this watershed  than the millions who surround Lake Ontario.

I was reminded of the time I encountered  a group of touring cyclists one summer who had traveled from Newmarket  and had stopped in Innisfil Beach Park for a rest. One of them approached me and asked if it was safe to drink from the water fountain. I assured them it was but I was thinking, incredulously, that these people normally drink water from Lake Ontario … and they’re concerned  about Lake Simcoe’s water?!

A Toronto paper just featured a story about an ‘Eco Home’ that will be built by a developer in Richmond Hill, not coincidentally, near the Oak Ridges Morraine. (Eco Home Serves as Experiment) The house is intended to be a demonstration of ‘green’ technologies. Data will be collected from the house for a period of two years to measure energy consumption and efficiency. It will be compared with two other houses – built to Energy Star standard and one at current building code standard. The eco home is described as “living laboratory for the latest green techniques, technologies and products”. Among the water-related  features mentioned are dual-flush toilets, low-flow shower heads, rain barrels and xeriscaping.

I was surprised not to see any mention of solar water heating. It’s hardly experimental after all (On Rooftops Worldwide, a Solar Water Heating Revolution, Celsias.com):

“China, for example, is now home to 27 million rooftop solar water heaters. .. In Austria, 15 percent of all households now rely on them for hot water…  Europe’s solar collectors are concentrated in Germany, Austria, and Greece, with France and Spain also beginning to mobilize. Spain’s initiative was boosted by a March 2006 mandate requiring installation of collectors on all new or renovated buildings. Portugal followed quickly with its own mandate… The U.S. rooftop solar water heating industry … was poised to mass-market residential solar water and space heating systems when federal tax credits were introduced in 2006. Led by Hawaii, California, and Florida, U.S. installation of these systems tripled in 2006 and has continued at a rapid pace since then.”

And Europe has moved way beyond rain barrels. In the UK, a Code for Sustainable Homes requires that “minimum mandatory levels” now apply to both the public and private housing sectors. Their current technology is called rainwater harvesting and uses a cistern to collect rain water and recirculate it for household use. A press release from a UK company (WPL Ltd.) says “Rainwater harvesting can achieve great savings on water consumption, by up to 50%, reducing the mains water consumption in the home to approximately 80 litres per person, per day.” (For comparison, in 1999, the average Canadian used 343 litres a day for domestic water use according to watergovernance.ca)  The company’s product range includes “a Premium system for home or garden including a specifically designed tank for areas in a high water table, and comes in a wide range of sizes from 2,700 litres to 13,000 litres.”

In Innisfil, hundreds of new households are in the planning stages. None of them will likely be built to the “leading edge” standards of the Richmond Hill eco home and won’t come close to the higher standards being adopted overseas.  Rather than wait and watch while developers control the pace of innovations over the next 3 years, could Innisfil become a Canadian innovation leader by adopting its own more stringent zoning and code for sustainable homes? What are the implications? Innisfil is anxious for new industrial development. Could it become a hub for suppliers of sustainable technologies potentially supplying all of Central Ontario and the GTA? What’s the harm in trying?

How Will Innisfil Move Into the 21st Century?

I rode my bike over to Innisfil Beach Park on the weekend to check out the Celebration of Lake Simcoe sponsored by the Ladies of the Lake, Windfall Ecology Centre and other organizations. Links to some of the participants appear in the side bar of this blog.

The message is that, essentially, saving Lake Simcoe will involve changing the way we do a lot of things. This is not so much a matter of doing with less but rather using resources more wisely instead of wastefully. The good news is that we would be improving our enjoyment and quality of life at the same time.

Displays presented information on waterfront restoration, water conservation, invasive species, energy conservation, county history and architectural conservancy. I picked up a set of Lake Simcoe Action Cards. The set of 16 cards is an attractive and creative tool that discusses problems, suggests alternatives and inspires action. I recommend having a look if you haven’t seen them. One of the cards contains this message:

“To generate real and lasting change we all need to wake up, shake off the fog, stretch our minds and take in the warmth of a new way to live.”

Absolutely, which is one reason for this blog. Real and lasting change has to begin with individual commitment and action. This blog is an opportunity for Innisfil residents to become more aware of the issues, discover alternatives, find links to local resources and have your say 7 days a week.

There was an earnest volunteer conducting a survey with visitors to assess the impact of the event. Annual attendance in future years will be an interesting indicator of how seriously Innisfil residents view this resource and how successful the Ladies of the Lake are in achieving community engagement. Did you attend this event? What were your impressions?

The Ladies of the Lake have been very successful in rallying several organizations to work together and secure funding for their diverse projects.  (See www.our30million.ca) Now we need to wake up our municipal council. We need to know where this year’s candidates stand on the issues spotlighted at this event. What priorities and projects will our municipal candidates adopt as a platform to sustain Lake Simcoe and the communities around it?

In Britain, concerned citizens in some towns developed a detailed “Energy Descent Plan” to prepare for a day when oil is unaffordable or unavailable at any price. In Germany, citizens are so committed to sustainable practices that a new town was built without any automobile access. (Creating a ‘Car-Free’ Community – Green Blog – NYTimes.com) And in the Ruhr Valley, a 60 km. stretch of the A40 Autobahn was closed for a day to host a “Still Life” party attended by more than 2 million people.

How will Innisfil move into the 21st century?  That’s the question.