Minister’s Annual Report on Lake Simcoe, 2019-2020
Read a summary of the actions taken during 2019 and 2020 to protect and restore Lake Simcoe.
On this page Skip this page navigation
Lake Simcoe is a gem of Ontario. In addition to supporting a strong economy for 450,000 residents who call its shores home, the lake and its watershed are the foundation of healthy local ecosystems, safe drinking water, and unparalleled recreational opportunities for a thriving tourism sector.
For more than a decade, the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan has guided actions taken by the province and its partners, including municipalities, conservation authorities, Indigenous communities and the general public, to restore and protect Lake Simcoe for future generations.
As Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, I am pleased to release my first annual report on the implementation of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. Alongside this annual report, my office is conducting an extensive review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan and currently reviewing feedback from the public.
The annual report at hand speaks to the many actions taken by my ministry and our partners in 2019 and 2020 to safeguard Lake Simcoe and its watershed. During this period, we devoted considerable resources and expertise, including:
- monitoring the health of warm and cold-water fish communities in Lake Simcoe
- ongoing monitoring of key water quality parameters, and encouraging actions to reduce phosphorus, chloride and microplastics by, for example, promoting and implementing best management practices
- minimizing stormwater runoff by promoting the use of green infrastructure, such as low impact development features
- working to restore more than 139 acres of wetlands in the Lake Simcoe watershed as part of the Eastern Habitat Joint Venture
- preventing, controlling and reducing the spread of invasive species like the water soldier aquatic plant in the Lake Simcoe watershed through programs such as the Invading Species Awareness Program
Thanks to our actions, we have seen improvements like increases in dissolved oxygen and decreases in the amount of algae in Lake Simcoe over the long term, which improve water quality, as highlighted in the 2020 Minister’s 10-Year Report on Lake Simcoe.
The governments, organizations and citizens working together to implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan share a love of the lake and recognize the central role it plays in the life of our communities. We are pleased to reflect on the progress made in 2019 and 2020 and look forward to continuous improvement in the years to come.
I hope that everyone reading this report will be inspired to renew their efforts to protect Lake Simcoe and create a cleaner, healthier and more prosperous region for all those that call it home.
The Honourable David Piccini
Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
The Lake Simcoe watershed contains key natural, urban and agricultural systems vital to the region and Ontario. Over time, changes to the natural landscape from urbanization and intensive land use, combined with stressors such as climate change and invasive species, have caused significant impairment to the lake.
The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (the plan) launched in 2009 with a suite of measures designed to improve the health of the lake and address many of the challenges facing the watershed. Coupled with the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008 (the act), the plan provides a framework for the province and its partners to work together on initiatives that create positive outcomes for the lake environment.
To guide implementation of the plan, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) coordinates a multi-ministry partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), who lead many policies under the plan.
On an ongoing basis, the government of Ontario invests in provincial programs and partner-led projects that support priority environmental actions in the watershed. We partner with local conservation authorities, watershed municipalities, Indigenous communities, non-government organizations and universities, and many others to deliver on the shared commitments under the plan.
This report describes the collaborative efforts we took to implement the plan in 2019 and 2020 and addresses annual reporting requirements as outlined in Section 12 (1) of the act. This report also summarizes measures taken under the following key priority areas to address the issues most critical to the health of Lake Simcoe:
- restoring the health of aquatic life within the Lake Simcoe watershed
- improving water quality, including reducing loadings of phosphorus to the lake
- maintaining water quantity and understanding variability in a changing climate
- protecting and enhancing natural heritage
- addressing invasive species
Plan implementation during the COVID‑19 pandemic
The global COVID‑19 pandemic continues to impact our collective capacity to implement actions on the ground in support of the plan. Throughout the pandemic, Ontario and its partners have worked hard to adapt approaches to ensure the safety of staff and adherence to public health guidelines, and to minimize the impact to plan related programs and projects. This included efforts throughout 2020 to support ongoing monitoring of key plan indicators, encourage research to better understand the stressors facing the lake, and to work with local partners to identify innovative solutions and encourage their adoption.
For example, the government and many of our implementing partners were required to close their offices and shift to a work-from-home model in early 2020. As a result, field work was paused until COVID‑19 safety measures and protocols could be put in place. When the ministry’s routine monitoring of the lake was able to resume in July 2020, safety measures and protocols resulted in fewer stations and indicators being monitored in the lake for the rest of 2020. For some monitoring programs, more than one sensor was implemented so that data could continue to be collected if field visits were not possible, which reduced data loss. When fieldwork was not possible, increased effort was directed towards data management and analysis, sharing of preliminary results, and future project planning.
Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to liaise with partners to mitigate or prevent interruptions to critical data collection. This strategic and flexible approach allowed the continued implementation of the actions under the plan and will inform future plan implementation as Ontario recovers from the broader impacts of the pandemic.
The province and its partners share responsibility for protecting and improving the water quality of Lake Simcoe and its watershed rivers and streams by supporting an adaptive approach to identifying and addressing water quality impairments. Municipalities and the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) work to ensure that stormwater management, on-site septic systems and site alteration activities use best management practices for activities associated with rural and urban communities in the watershed. MECP and LSRCA share responsibility for ongoing monitoring of key water quality parameters while promoting, conducting and supporting research in key areas to inform decision making and address knowledge gaps.
In 2019 and 2020, we continued to support ongoing monitoring of key water quality parameters, such as dissolved oxygen, phosphorus, phytoplankton and chloride, to better understand the issues facing the watershed and assess progress over time.
As high levels of phosphorus can deplete dissolved oxygen, the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan encourages actions to reduce phosphorus loadings. The plan identifies dissolved oxygen in the deep water of the lake as a key indicator of water quality, and sets a target of seven milligrams per litre. This target was estimated through previous research as the level necessary to support a self-sustaining coldwater fish community in Lake Simcoe. The dissolved oxygen level in the deep water (18 metres to the lake bottom) varies year-over-year, and has increased over the long term. However, the levels are still below the plan target of seven milligrams per litre.
Since the plan’s dissolved oxygen target was established over a decade ago, Lake Simcoe has seen significant changes that appear to have affected the relationships connecting dissolved oxygen to phosphorus loading. It is therefore important to revisit these relationships to understand what has changed and what is required to ensure continued progress towards the dissolved oxygen target. The ministry provided funding to the LSRCA in 2019 to conduct a literature review and jurisdictional scan to investigate probable explanations for the observed disconnect between phosphorus loads and phosphorus concentration in the lake. This early work suggested that changes in the climate and invasive species have likely altered the delivery to and cycling of phosphorus in Lake Simcoe. These early findings guided the development of the next phase of research to be conducted by the LSRCA with support from the province.
Through a partnership with the LSRCA, we committed to monitoring, measuring, and reporting on phosphorus loads to Lake Simcoe since the 1990s. Phosphorus loads are an estimate of all phosphorus entering the lake each year. Loads are typically calculated every three hydrological years, where a hydrological year is from June 1 to May 31 of the following year. The most recent phosphorus loads (2015 to 2017 hydrological years) were released in January 2020 and can be found on the LSRCA's website. The LSRCA is currently in the process of calculating the loads from the 2018 to 2020 hydrological years.
While phosphorus loads have remained high in recent years, phosphorus concentrations in the lake (the amount of phosphorus in a unit of water, expressed as micrograms per litre (µg/L)) have improved over time, as indicated in the 2020 Minister’s 10-Year Report on Lake Simcoe (July 2020).
Phosphorus remains the primary focus of nutrient reduction efforts in Lake Simcoe. We continue to support actions to better understand the sources and movement of phosphorus in rural and urbanized landscapes. For example, the following projects received provincial funding and continued over the course of 2019 and 2020:
- A University of Guelph project investigating the link between channel stability and phosphorus movement in urban river systems. Researchers explored the effects of urbanization on the flow regime and the resulting effect on suspended sediment load, in several watercourses in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Lake Simcoe Watershed. Sediment and phosphorus loads from rural watersheds were compared with those from urban watersheds during pre- and post- urbanization periods. The results of this study will inform land use and mitigation planning to protect waterways and to manage sediment and associated phosphorus loading.
- Another project with the University of Guelph wrapped up in the summer of 2020. This research focused on the contribution of non-agricultural sources of phosphorus, such as dust from construction sites transported by wind and deposited into Lake Simcoe. The research identified the potential negative impacts of dust emissions from construction sites, the complexities of effectively mitigating these emissions, and cost-optimized best management practices for dust suppression on construction sites.
- The University of Guelph also completed a one-year project in 2019 to mitigate the risk of phosphorus discharges from septic systems in vulnerable areas of the Lake Simcoe watershed. Recognizing that there is a wide range of inspection approaches across the watershed, this project aimed to improve the management capacity of public bodies that are responsible for reinspection programs. Project staff analyzed the current septic inspection programs and identified opportunities to assist municipalities in tracking the number of septic systems and reporting of inspection results. A compliance management conceptual framework was constructed and shared at two workshops in 2019 with industry professionals (including conservation authorities, septic design and excavating industry representatives, municipalities, provincial ministries, and private consultants).
- An LSRCA project to map change over time in natural cover types in the Lake Simcoe watershed continued in 2020. The project team was able to adapt to pandemic restrictions that impacted delivery in 2020 and continued data analysis remotely. The project focuses on the impervious layer, a general land cover class that includes roads, parking lots, and buildings. As the watershed’s population has increased, so have impervious surfaces, which can lead to an increase in contaminated run-off that can affect water quality. This project will develop a time-series of land cover maps, and an analysis of changes in impervious cover to support more focused delivery of programs related to urban stormwater management and salt reduction.
- A project with the St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences (River Institute) has been exploring the use of multispectral satellite imagery (remote sensing) to identify nutrient hotspots in the watershed, which are potential non-point sources of phosphorus. Combined with the use of predictive modelling, multispectral data can provide fine-scale soil phosphorus estimates. The project started in the Pefferlaw/Uxbridge and Beaver sub-watersheds and was extended in 2019 to test its adaptability to the remainder of the Lake Simcoe watershed. The project built a web-based map viewer, incorporating phosphorus predictions, topographical information, local-scale crop management decisions, and soil loss predictions to highlight and map areas of highest nutrient loss priority. When complete, the tool could be used by watershed managers, planners, and other stakeholders to identify stewardship opportunities.
- A project with the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority worked to raise awareness of the benefits of rural stormwater restoration plans. With the assistance of the restoration team at LSRCA, a runoff-reduction study was completed for Goodyear Farms in Beaverton in 2019. The LSRCA and the farm, with support from the province, made some major improvements in 2020. Grassed waterways, sediment control basins, buffers, windbreaks, and new ditches, are all among the many new features installed to reduce the amount of phosphorus, sediment, and other contaminants that could reach Lake Simcoe.
Sewage treatment plant owners and operators continue to optimize treatment processes to get the best possible reductions in phosphorus loads and continued to demonstrate compliance with phosphorus limits established in Environmental Compliance Approvals throughout 2019 and 2020. They continued to operate well below the aggregate load permitted for all sewage treatment plants (7.2 tonnes per year), as set out in the Phosphorus Reduction Strategy.
Agriculture, soil health and water quality
The Lake Simcoe watershed has one of the most diverse types of agriculture and food processing in Ontario. Over half of the watershed is agricultural land and agriculture production generates over $450 million annually. Farmers are changing the way they manage their soils to improve soil health and reduce nutrient losses to protect water quality. Vegetable packing plants are using water management practices to reduce the amount of water and energy used. We support the agricultural sector that is developing new technologies to improve efficiencies while reducing environmental impacts, including reducing nutrients going into Lake Simcoe.
OMAFRA encourages innovation and supports farmers and processors with the adoption of new technology through various programs, including:
- The Lake Simcoe Program, which provides dedicated provincial funding to address strategic actions outlined in the plan.
- The Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP), a five-year (2018–2023) federal-provincial-territorial initiative that provides cost-share assistance, training, and planning to the agriculture and food sectors.
- The Great Lakes Program, which supports innovative projects, demonstration, and targeted outreach, with benefits that are transferable to Lake Simcoe.
- The Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance and open research programming. These projects support the development of knowledge and technology to reduce nutrient loss from fields and improve soil health, which helps to improve water quality in streams and groundwater.
Starting in 2019 and 2020, OMAFRA initiated several projects where livestock and vegetable growers could contribute to improvements in the Lake Simcoe watershed. These projects help improve soil health and water quality with a focus on demonstrations to help educate and inform growers and vegetable packers in the watershed. Some examples include:
- A University of Guelph project at the Ontario Crops Research Centre in Bradford that tested and demonstrated the use of various cover crops that protect the soil surface over the winter and reduce pesticide applications. Trials of various cover crop plant mixtures were grown after carrots and onions to assess the effectiveness of “natural” pest management as well assessing the impacts on phosphorus loss reductions.
- Kawartha Conservation worked with several farmers to improve surface water quality through riparian zone naturalization and farmyard water runoff controls. The project uses factsheets, videos, and field demonstration days to inform, educate and promote projects within the region.
In addition to these projects, CAP programming offers farmers, processors and other agri-businesses in the watershed the opportunity to participate in education and risk assessment programming, or apply for other cost-share funding to implement projects that strengthen their competitiveness and sustainability. Under CAP, the Environmental Farm Plan program helps farmers complete a voluntary assessment to increase their environmental awareness in up to 23 different areas on their farm. Cost-share funding is available across the province to support on-farm implementation of environmental stewardship projects under 13 different categories. Examples include modifying equipment to improve nutrient placement and to reduce soil tillage and compaction. Numerous farmers in the Lake Simcoe watershed are participating in these CAP-funded opportunities and are improving the sustainability of their operations, while reducing environmental impacts from agricultural production.
Chloride from road salt is a primary stressor impacting drinking water resources, ecosystems, public infrastructure and agricultural crops in the watershed. The most common road salt, sodium chloride, is inexpensive, readily available and easy to use. Managing chloride from road salt is challenging as it can be retained in watersheds from months to years. Current monitoring shows that chloride concentrations in Lake Simcoe continued to increase, as indicated in the 2020 Minister’s 10-Year Report on Lake Simcoe (July 2020).
Throughout 2019 and 2020, MECP participated in a multi-sector Freshwater Roundtable working towards reducing excess road salt use, promoting winter maintenance best practices and protecting freshwater ecosystems. Lessons learned from implementing road salt reduction projects in the Lake Simcoe watershed supported the Freshwater Roundtable efforts to manage road salt impacts. The roundtable made four recommendations in 2020 that focused on:
- Encouraging best management practices
- Training and certification
- Liability protection
- Education and outreach
Over these two years, MECP continued to work with municipalities, conservation authorities, private sector and other partners to promote salt application best management practices, certification and alternatives.
In 2020, several projects focussed on road salt were started in the Lake Simcoe watershed, including:
- The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority worked to develop Ontario-focused best management practices for snow and ice management and encourage their adoption, while improving understanding of the impacts of road salt on water quality and aquatic ecosystem health.
- Ryerson University conducted research to better understand how stormwater management control measures affect the timing and magnitude of chloride transport to receiving streams.
- Queen’s University conducted research to address the effects of changes in natural water chemistry on chloride toxicity to aquatic life to better understand where the Canadian water quality guideline for chloride may be under or overprotective.
- The LSRCA encouraged best practices for salt alternatives, monitored application rates and chloride levels, considering costs to infrastructure. This work built on the Smart About Salt contractor training program by encouraging contractors to adopt liquid brines and road salt alternatives that could significantly reduce chloride loadings.
Other water quality contaminants
The act requires the province to support monitoring of other key water quality parameters, such as emerging contaminants like microplastics and pharmaceuticals. Some examples include:
- The University of Toronto completed a study in March 2020 measuring the amounts and types of microplastics present in Lake Simcoe waters, lake-bottom sediments and fish. There is growing concern that ingestion of microplastics may have the potential to affect human health. This study examined whether microplastics are bioaccumulating to greater concentrations in larger and top predator fish in the food chain, with the intent to understand the potential for human ingestion of microplastics via the consumption of fish. The contents of microplastics found in the stomachs of fish in Lake Simcoe were similar to ranges found elsewhere in the world, and generally lower, compared to fish from the Great Lakes.
- MECP is addressing plastic pollution in many ways that benefit Lake Simcoe, including working with industry partners to encourage best practices at industrial sites. The ministry is undertaking a review of existing policy and legislative frameworks and making improvements to respond to discharges of plastic and microplastics to water to ensure strong enforcement for repeat polluters.
- MECP continues to research, monitor and collaborate on how pharmaceuticals and other chemicals used in everyday products, such as insect repellant, sunscreen, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners, affect our waterways. These chemicals enter our waters as they are not completely removed during wastewater treatment. For this reason, we have been monitoring for these chemicals in Lake Simcoe, as well as the Great Lakes. Our results indicate that these compounds can be detected at low levels. The ministry will continue to study the presence of these compounds as new science becomes available.
Water quantity and climate change
Changes in water levels and flows in the watershed’s tributaries can affect other elements of the watershed, such as the health of key natural heritage features and the water quality in the lake. Many of the designated policies in the plan work to ensure new urban development and redevelopment protect recharge functions and minimize overall loadings and stormwater volumes to the Lake Simcoe watershed. Ontario also supports green infrastructure and activities that encourage onsite infiltration and minimize stormwater runoff.
In 2019 and 2020, MECP provided funding and technical support for the following projects:
- The Sustainable Technologies Evaluation Program (STEP), a multi-agency program led by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, improved access to information on low impact development solutions through the development of a Low Impact Development (LID) Stormwater Management Planning and Design “LID Wiki” page. All wiki content is created, reviewed, edited and curated by STEP subject matter experts, and the site includes a feedback mechanism for users, such as stormwater professionals, academics and other experts to review and comment on wiki content. This type of collaboration will ensure that as our collective understanding of best practices evolves, so will the capacity of practitioners in the field.
- Also in partnership with STEP, the LSRCA developed and delivered a best practices training program on stormwater infrastructure inspections and assisted local municipalities in the watershed with managing information on stormwater infrastructure. Improving inspection and maintenance activities will improve the function of stormwater ponds to ensure they are providing the intended flood protection and pollutant capture.
- The LSRCA developed a Low Impact Development Treatment Train Tool to help developers, consultants, municipalities, and landowners understand and implement more sustainable stormwater management planning and design practices in the watershed. They promoted the broader adoption of lot-level low impact development techniques to reduce the impact of urban stormwater on Lake Simcoe through technical support and training with developers and municipalities.
- The LSRCA also conducted research on the factors that influence sedimentation and turbidity in stormwater ponds in the Holland River sub-watershed, as these factors are believed to influence phosphorus and nutrient load to Lake Simcoe. The research has helped owners of stormwater ponds better understand factors affecting stormwater pond performance (for example, salinity from winter salt and/or persistent turbidity) and maintenance requirements, thus enabling better planning and management of stormwater infrastructure.
- The LSRCA also completed its research in 2019 on how groundwater moves in the East Holland River sub-watershed to help municipal planners and stormwater engineers plan infrastructure options in this stressed sub-watershed. This work will help municipalities develop policies that protect the quality and quantity of groundwater in ecologically sensitive groundwater recharge areas, which is a requirement of the plan. More information on this work is available on the LSRCA website.
Natural heritage features, such as woodlands, wetlands and streams and their functions (for example, wildlife habitat and shoreline stabilization) are vital components of a resilient, adaptable and sustainable watershed. Healthy natural heritage features help to regulate water quality and quantity by preventing erosion, stabilizing shorelines, filtering contaminants, and retaining carbon, nutrients and sediments. The plan builds on the protections for the Lake. Simcoe watershed that are provided by provincial plans that apply in all or part of the watershed, including the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, the Greenbelt Plan, and the “A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe”.
There are tools available to support natural heritage planning and research. For example, the Make a Map - Natural Heritage Areas application, provides information that could serve as a screening tool for planning or research. This application allows users to create a custom map of some of Ontario’s natural heritage information, such as wetlands, woodlands, provincial parks, areas of natural and scientific interest, conservation reserves and natural heritage systems associated with the Oak Ridges Moraine, Greenbelt and Greater Golden Horseshoe plans. The tool also shows topographic information such as roads, rivers and municipal boundaries
On the ground, we continue to support actions to restore and protect the ecological health of the Lake Simcoe watershed’s key natural heritage features, as described below.
The Eastern Habitat Joint Venture is a collaborative partnership of government and non-government organizations working together across eastern Canada to conserve wetlands and other habitats that are important for waterfowl and other migratory birds. MNRF has been a member of the Eastern Habitat Joint Venture (EHJV) Management Board since 1989.
In 2019-2020, MNRF partnered with Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) to support several wetland restoration projects through the EHJV partnership, including two wetland restoration projects in the Lake Simcoe watershed:
- In the Holland Marsh, West Gwillimbury, 103.7 acres of wetland area was restored.
- In Eldon Ontario, 35.9 acres of wetland area was restored, and an additional 61.8 acres of upland was protected.
The LSRCA continued to implement their Natural Heritage System and Restoration Strategy through 2019 and 2020. Working with municipal partners and the extended community, this strategy aims to create a sustainable and resilient natural heritage system that supports natural heritage features and functions while providing services vital to human well-being.
The health of the coldwater fish community, specifically lake trout, is a good indicator of environmental quality and the overall health of Lake Simcoe’s aquatic ecosystem. The health of its warm-water and tributary fish communities are also important in determining how well the aquatic ecosystem is functioning.
The cross-ministry Lake Simcoe Aquatic Monitoring Program provides important information that is necessary for evidence-based management of the Lake Simcoe fish community. In 2019 and 2020:
- MNRF continued offshore benthic index netting through 2019, however this work was paused in 2020 due to COVID‑19 pandemic restrictions that limited fieldwork. This netting provides data on the coldwater species of Lake Simcoe, including lake trout, lake whitefish and cisco (lake herring). MNRF also used fisheries sonar (hydroacoustics) and targeted netting from 2011 to 2019 to monitor cisco and other prey fish.
- MNRF conducted analysis (which is currently ongoing) comparing the results of traditional offshore benthic index netting on Lake Simcoe to a provincial standard netting method (which is used throughout Ontario). This analysis will facilitate a comparison of catch rates on Lake Simcoe to other lakes in Ontario, as well as leverage new provincial tools to convert netting catch rates into estimates of actual fish density.
- Lake trout and lake whitefish eggs were collected from fish captured on spawning shoals in 2019 and 2020 to support rehabilitative stocking efforts for these species.
- Annual warmwater fish community netting targeting species such as smallmouth bass, perch, northern pike, and panfish, continued in 2019 and 2020, and showed that there was long-term stability in this fish community, despite year-to-year variability observed in the catches of some species, as reported in the 2020 Minister’s 10-Year Report on Lake Simcoe.
- Small fish biodiversity monitoring tracks trends in small prey fish and juvenile sport fish inhabiting shallow areas of Lake Simcoe. Species captured include the invasive round goby. Catches of round goby were increasing in several parts of the lake by 2019.
- Winter and summer recreational fishery monitoring results were published in a MNRF technical report in 2020, The Lake Simcoe Recreational Fishery 2011-2018. Results of this monitoring showed that winter fishing effort was about three times greater than summer fishing effort. It also showed that fishing effort and catch in the winter increased over time. Fishing effort and catch became more variable during this period due to inconsistent ice conditions. Yellow perch were the most frequently captured fish in any season.
- Efforts in 2019-2020 focussed on modernizing Lake Simcoe winter recreational fishery monitoring. Traditional methods of interviewing anglers while on the ice are labour intensive and have been hampered in recent years by unsafe ice conditions. Newer methods being tested include interviewing anglers at access points on shore and counting anglers from aircraft.
MNRF continues to support research on the aquatic communities of Lake Simcoe and its tributaries, as required under the plan. The focus of the research is on filling knowledge gaps associated with the aquatic communities in the watershed, building on existing knowledge, and identifying innovative solutions to support the sustainable management of the coldwater fisheries. In 2019 and 2020, this included the following actions:
- A new research project that started in 2020 using acoustic telemetry to increase our knowledge of the coldwater fish populations of Lake Simcoe. In the fall of 2020, acoustic tags that “ping” their location were inserted into 21 lake trout and 12 lake whitefish. Some of these tags can also measure depth and temperature. An array of 30 underwater listening posts were deployed in the lake to record the information. More fish will be tagged, and more listening posts deployed in the coming years. This project will provide data on habitat preferences, interactions and behavioural differences between stocked and wild fish, mortality, and spawning behaviour. This information will assist in managing the lake trout and lake whitefish populations of Lake Simcoe and help us to better understand factors that are limiting their recovery.
- The results of an ecosystem modeling study of Lake Simcoe was published in a scientific journal in 2020. This collaborative study included researchers from MNRF, MECP and the University of Toronto, and used the wealth of monitoring data available for Lake Simcoe to recreate the food web of the lake as a computer-based model. This allowed researchers to test various hypotheses about how different factors affected fish populations. A key finding was that lake trout benefitted from phosphorus reductions and improved water quality. However, the study also found that invasive mussels and spiny water flea decreased the recovery potential of lake trout.
- A detailed study of fisheries data from Lake Simcoe was published in a scientific journal in 2019. Researchers used commercial fishing records dating back to the 1860s and recreational fishing data that began in the 1960s, to apply indicators to Lake Simcoe that were originally developed for marine (salt water) fisheries. Researchers found that, during the commercial fishing period (1860s–1950s), large predatory fish populations were initially depleted, and the fishery transitioned to smaller fish closer to the base of the food web. This pattern switched during the recreational fishing period (1960s–present), with invasive species and fish stocking affecting fishing trends. This study provides an important perspective on how management actions such as fish stocking can affect fishing trends, and how different fishing regimes (commercial versus recreational) impact fish communities in different ways.
- Ongoing research into spring-time larval (newly-hatched) fish densities continued in 2019. This research aims to uncover why large numbers of cisco and lake whitefish are produced in some years and not others. A key finding to date is that larval fish densities, as well as the density of their food source zooplankton, differ between years and across different areas of Lake Simcoe. Furthermore, growth rates of larval fish differ between years and this may affect their survival.
Invasive species are increasing environmental and economic threats in the Lake Simcoe watershed and Ontario. Invasive species are those that are not native to the watershed, are spread by human activity and cause significant environmental, social, or economic impacts. The plan works in conjunction with other provincial policies, regulatory tools and voluntary efforts to prevent new introductions, control the spread, monitor and reduce the impact of invasive species on the health of the watershed.
Invasive species can significantly change the biodiversity and health of the ecosystems they invade. The invasion of Lake Simcoe by the spiny water flea in the mid-1990s coincided with declines in the abundance of some native zooplankton species. Zooplankton are small aquatic animals that are essential in a lake food web, transferring energy from algae to fish, and the spiny water flea is a slightly larger zooplankton that can feed on the smaller ones. With funding from MECP, research out of Queen’s University investigated the vulnerability of Lake Simcoe zooplankton to the spiny water flea. They found that the zooplankton species they studied, especially the smallest ones called the Bosminids, could be readily consumed by the spiny water flea. This supports the idea that spiny water flea could have been responsible for observed changes in the Lake Simcoe zooplankton community in the mid-1990s through predation of smaller zooplankton, which in turn, could have wider ecosystem impacts.
The Invading Species Awareness Program, led by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters with support from MNRF, continues to advance invasive species related education and outreach efforts in the Lake Simcoe watershed. This includes the use of guides, virtual workshops, signage and various media to inform the public of invasive species issues and best management practices, as well as targeted programs including Operation Bait Bucket and Operation Boat Clean. These programs support engagement with anglers and boaters throughout the year during fishing derbies and various other events on Lake Simcoe.
In addition, the Invading Species Awareness Program continues to operate the Ontario Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS) website and telephone Hotline which enable the public to report observations of invasive species and to learn more about various invasive species.
If you think you’ve seen an invader, please call the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters’ Invading Species Hotline at
Water Soldier is an aquatic plant native to Europe that was sold for water gardens prior to its regulation in 2016. Since it’s detection in the Black River sub-watershed in 2015, water soldier surveillance and control efforts by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and volunteers have continued in the Lake Simcoe watershed. At this time, water soldier appears to have been eradicated in the Lake Simcoe watershed.
To ensure the continued prevention and control of the spread of invasive species in the province, MNRF has recently regulated 13 new species and watercraft as a carrier of invasive species, under the Invasive Species Act, 2015. These species include several identified on the Lake Simcoe invasive species watch list (such as Wild Boar, Fanwort, and Tench).
The overland movement of watercraft to new waterbodies is widely understood to be the primary pathway for the spread of aquatic invasive species to inland waters or to lakes that are not connected by navigation canals. To address this risk, as of January 1, 2022, all watercrafts (including boats, canoes, kayaks), watercraft equipment and any vehicle or trailer being transported to a body of water must be free of all aquatic organisms before reaching the launch site for the body of water.
MNRF has also regulated pigs as a restricted invasive species and is working to implement Ontario’s Strategy to Address the Threat of Invasive Wild Pigs. These efforts are based on the significant risk pigs in the wild can pose to the natural environment, agriculture industry and their high potential to spread disease.
These changes enhance efforts and tools available to prevent, control and reduce spread of invasive species in the Lake Simcoe watershed and more broadly across the province.
Legislated 10-year review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan
While evolving pressures like population growth and climate change present an ongoing challenge to lake health, emerging science and new best practices continue to present new solutions. That’s why, guided by the principle of adaptive management, the act requires that the plan be reviewed every 10 years to determine if amendments are needed.
Preparation for the first review began in 2019, and the engagement period was launched in December 2020 with an Information Bulletin posted on the Environmental Registry of Ontario (ERO) and a public survey on Ontario.ca.
Due to restrictions related to the COVID‑19 pandemic, plans for stakeholder consultation and public engagement were adapted to allow for the use of virtual platforms rather than in-person sessions. Outreach through traditional media, social media and direct mailing was carried out in 2020 to invite the public, local partners, Indigenous communities and key sectors in the watershed, to participate in the review. Two virtual engagement sessions were held in early 2021, including a town hall on February 11, 2021, and a science event on January 28, 2021. The Minister’s two advisory committees, the Lake Simcoe Coordinating Committee and the Lake Simcoe Science Committee, were also engaged in October 2020 to seek their input on the approach to the plan review.
We are currently assessing valuable public and stakeholder feedback, and when final, results of the review and the Minister’s decision will be posted on the ERO. Any proposed amendments to the plan would trigger further public consultation.
Restoring Lake Simcoe requires a long-term commitment and a recognition of shared responsibility between the province and its partners. We are committed to continuing to work collaboratively to create positive change across the Lake Simcoe watershed by promoting sustainable land and water uses, and by developing and piloting innovative ways to reduce pollutants and excess nutrients entering the lake. By conducting ongoing scientific research and monitoring, we are tracking changes in the ecosystem and making informed decisions guided by scientific evidence.
We will continue to build on our progress and to adapt our approach over time to address emerging threats and compounding stressors in the watershed to ensure Lake Simcoe can be enjoyed for generations to come.
Appendix – Lake Simcoe Coordinating and Science Committees
The Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks is supported by two advisory committees made up of scientific experts and key stakeholders in the watershed: The Lake Simcoe Science Committee (LSSC) and the Lake Simcoe Coordinating Committee (LSCC). Both were established in 2010 under the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, to facilitate objective scientific advice on ecological threats and provide input on plan implementation representing a range of interests in the watershed.
Sections 18 and 19 of the act stipulate that the Minister may specify practices and procedures for the committees. In early 2019, the Minister, in consultation with the committees’ chairs, initiated a review of the Committee Terms of Reference (TOR) to identify whether changes were needed to the scope and focus of the committees’ activities. In the summer of 2020, the Minister identified several updates to ensure the committees were functioning efficiently and effectively, and to assign new areas for consideration by the committees.
The province also completed a comprehensive review of all provincial agencies in 2019 to identify opportunities to enable efficiencies, ensure agencies use taxpayer dollars appropriately and effectively, align agencies with current government priorities, and ensure agencies have appropriate oversight structures in place. In 2020, to support the broader response to COVID‑19, the province conducted an enhanced agency evaluation to ensure all agencies are customer-focused, digital, data-driven and efficient. The provincial agency review recommended that the LSSC and LSCC be maintained with some operational efficiencies, until a review of the agencies could be conducted as part of the 10-year review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. Since the committees did not meet while these reviews were underway, no formal advice was submitted by either committee during 2019 or 2020 calendar years.
Following these comprehensive reviews, the committees resumed quarterly operations under the revised TORs in October 2020. This first two joint meetings focussed primarily on orienting new members, seeking input on the scope and focus for the 10-year review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, and engaging members on the review of committee functions and operations.