Protecting Lake Simcoe
Learn about what Ontario is doing to protect Lake Simcoe and its watershed from emerging challenges, including climate change and invasive species.
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Lake Simcoe — a vital natural resource
The Lake Simcoe watershed contains important natural, urban and agricultural systems that are vital to the region and Ontario, including parts of the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Greenbelt.
A watershed is an area of land that catches water runoff from rain and snow and drains or collects into a common point such as a marsh, stream, river, lake or groundwater.
Watersheds can cross municipal, provincial and international borders. Homes, farms, cottages, forests, small towns, big cities and more exist within watersheds.
The Lake Simcoe watershed is home to more than 500,000 people, crosses 20 municipal boundaries and is fed by 35 major streams and rivers. The lake itself has a surface area of 722 square-kilometres, while the surface area of the watershed is 2,899 square-kilometres.
The watershed provides many vital resources to local residents and visitors, including:
- drinking water
- water for agriculture
- diverse recreation opportunities
Over the years, human activities like urban development, agriculture and recreation have had significant affects on the ecological health of the watershed. To date:
- development in the area has changed the natural landscape
- excessive nutrients like phosphorus have had negative effects on the lake’s water quality, threatening native aquatic life, such as coldwater fish
- road salt in the streams and lake has significantly increased and could also affect aquatic life if it continues to rise
- shorelines have hardened and eroded, destroying habitat
- natural areas are lost and fragmented
- invasive species are changing the ecosystem
- climate change is having adverse effects on the ecosystem
Protecting the watershed
Recognizing the pressures facing this important watershed, the province established the Lake Simcoe Protection Act in 2008 to provide a legislative framework for the protection and restoration of Lake Simcoe.
The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP) outlines a coordinated approach by many partners to protect and restore the lake's ecological health.
This requires collaboration with key partners, including:
- Indigenous communities
- local conservation authorities
- agricultural and commercial sectors
We also fund partners working in the watershed to support priority projects that advance the plan’s objectives. We target this funding to activities that will achieve the best possible outcome for the Lake. For example, we support:
- monitoring and research to identify innovative solutions to environmental challenges
- the development of guidance and other tools to encourage the adoption of best practices that will improve conditions for the lake
Lake Simcoe Protection Plan
The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan is a watershed-based plan designed to:
- improve water quality
- protect natural heritage
- address the impacts of invasive species and climate change
- promote sustainable recreational use for the enjoyment of all Ontarians
We work with federal, provincial and watershed partners to protect and restore Lake Simcoe. We work together to:
- update monitoring and science on water quality, aquatic life and natural heritage
- improve water quality caused by excessive phosphorus and other contaminants
- protect and restore shorelines and wetlands
- restore the aquatic habitat to improve the health of the fish and other aquatic life
- control and prevent invasive species
- improve understanding and adaptation to climate change
Ontario and its partners use many tools to:
- monitor the environment to improve knowledge about the changes observed in the lake and assess progress
- support research to help identify innovative solutions and encourage their adoption
- develop local watershed plans to identify priority projects that will help protect the lake and the watershed
- support on-the-ground actions to improve the watershed by restoring shorelines and stream banks
- provide outreach and education to engage local citizens to be lake stewards
The Lake Simcoe 10-year review
Improving the health of Lake Simcoe requires ongoing collaboration with all levels of government, Indigenous communities, local conservation authorities, agricultural and industrial sectors, residents and visitors to the watershed.
The Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks is required under the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008, to ensure that a review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan is carried out at least every 10 years after the date the plan takes effect to determine whether the plan should be amended.
The engagement period for the review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan took place between December 2020 and March 2021.
Based on the engagement and the findings from the review, the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks will consider making amendments to the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.
Funding for Lake Simcoe projects
From 2021 to 2023, we have committed more than $27.3 million in actions to protect and restore Lake Simcoe. This includes:
- a $24-million investment for a new phosphorus recycling project to help reduce phosphorus discharges from the Holland River into Lake Simcoe
- multiple ongoing projects totalling $3.3 million that support the implementation of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, helping to build healthier and stronger communities across the region
The following projects are receiving multi-year funding to deliver on Ontario’s commitments in the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. Additional projects will be announced soon.
19 projects receiving over $3.3 million in multi-year funding
|Recipient||Project location and year project started||Project description||Funding amount|
|Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority||Sampling occurs throughout the watershed - 2023||Monitoring the amount of phosphorus and other nutrients entering the lake, calculating phosphorus loads and investigating the relationship between phosphorus loads and deep-water dissolved oxygen||$749,711|
|Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority||Sampling occurs throughout the watershed - 2023||Studying contaminants in water and sediments, including heavy metals and organic chemicals, and will contribute to activities to identify and address the causes of water quality impairment||$69,114|
|Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority||Innisfil, Newmarket, and Oro-Medonte - 2023||Supporting land owners s to encourage the adoption of best practices for stormwater management to reduce the amount of stormwater and pollution entering Lake Simcoe from urban areas.||$389,647|
|Toronto Metropolitan University||Bradford West Gwillimbury - 2023||Water quality technology research testing to help address barriers to improve water quality from Holland Marsh||$97,200|
|Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority||Activities occur at watershed scale - 2021||Updating existing sub-watershed evaluation guidelines to improve the end user experience, encourage information sharing about sub-watershed evaluations and specific actions, targets and detailed guidance about local hydrological and natural heritage resource planning and management||$189,205|
|Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority||Sampling occurs throughout the watershed - 2021||Conducting a study to improve understanding of the relationship between phosphorus loads and deep-water dissolved oxygen||$77,770|
|Western University Engineering Department||Project activities are computer based - 2021||Improving estimates of the contribution of septic systems to phosphorus loads to tributaries of the Lake Simcoe watershed||$120,600|
|St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences||Project activities are computer based - 2021||Improving understanding of nutrient transport into the receiving waters of Lake Simcoe from across the watershed to improve the capacity of watershed planners to manage non-point sources of nutrients throughout the watershed.||$89,356|
|Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority||Project activities occur at a watershed scale - 2021||Supporting the adoption of best practices for winter maintenance that will lead to a reduction of chloride levels in Lake Simcoe over the long term||$199,555|
|Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority||Project activities occur at a watershed scale - 2021||Improving the capacity of municipalities to manage existing municipally owned stormwater management infrastructure by providing technical services, training opportunities and management tools||$257,670|
|Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority||Project activities occur at a watershed scale - 2021||Supporting municipalities to encourage the adoption of cost optimizing approaches to implementing comprehensive stormwater management master plans to reduce stormwater pollutants and volumes in the East Holland River.||$222,121|
|The Governing Council of the University of Toronto||Project activities are "desktop based" - 2021||Building an information management system to share information on the quantity and quality of natural land cover and natural heritage in the Lake Simcoe Watershed. Research on natural cover and its role in providing ecosystem services (including carbon and air pollution removal).||$110,000|
|Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority||Project activities occur at a watershed scale - 2021||Advancing understanding of the climate change implications for phosphorus loadings from stormwater management works and informing efforts to reduce urban phosphorus loadings to Lake Simcoe||$163,628|
|Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority||Project activities occur at a watershed scale – 2021||Raising public awareness of the benefits of urban restoration projects on tributary health, reducing pollutant loads and stormwater volumes at three select sites by developing restoration plans, and improving understanding of the negative effects of pollutants and stormwater volumes to tributary health.||$138,000|
|Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority||Project activities occur throughout the watershed - 2021||Raising public awareness of the benefits of rural stormwater restoration projects on tributary health and encouraging reductions in pollutant loads and stormwater volumes by developing rural stormwater restoration plans.||$152,545|
|Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority||Project activities occur throughout the watershed - 2022||Advancing actions to address nonpoint source sediment and pollutants and improve water quality in Lake Simcoe and its watershed||$99,750|
|Smart About Salt Council||Project activities occur at a watershed scale - 2022||Updating the “Essentials of Salt Management” training and certification program to improve the end user experience encouraging adoption of leading practices that will reduce salt levels in the Lake Simcoe watershed over the long term||$35,990|
|Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority||Bradford West Gwillimbury - 2022||Conducting a study to improve understanding about the amount of phosphorus in the water draining from Holland Marsh polders|| |
|Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority||Project activities occur throughout the watershed - 2022||Studying the efficiency of scaling a Receiver Monitoring Program to a watershed scale to provide information about the impacts of stormwater management infrastructure on the local tributaries, and encourage municipalities to adopt Receiver Monitoring Programs and conduct monitoring activities ensuring stormwater management infrastructure are functioning effectively and protecting local tributaries.||$74,418|
How you can help protect the Lake Simcoe watershed
There are many actions you can take to help improve water quality, protect and rebuild habitat, and prevent the spread of invasive species.
Around your home or property:
- catch and reuse rainwater by diverting your downspout into a rain barrel
- build a rain garden to collect runoff and encourage groundwater recharge
- protect shorelines and streambanks using natural approaches, like planting trees
- keep yard waste out of waterways
- leave grass clippings on your lawn as compost to reduce the need for fertilizer, and keep the grass length between 6 and 8 cm
- apply fertilizer only as needed, avoiding pathways, roadways and driveways
- check if you need a permit before doing any work on your property
- learn about how to stop the spread of invasive species on the water, in the garden, at the cottage and on a trail
- report an invasive species sighting
- don't flush garbage, medications or food waste down the toilet
- ensure your septic systems are properly maintained and pumped out regularly
- fix oil leaks in cars and equipment
- be smart about salt and minimize winter salt use
In your community:
- participate in or organize a clean-up of a local park or shoreline
- join in community activities to plant native trees and shrubs or create rain gardens to protect and restore habitats
Minister's reports on Lake Simcoe
The minister’s reports on Lake Simcoe provide summaries of the measures taken to implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, as well as advice received from the Lake Simcoe Science Committee and Lake Simcoe Coordinating Committee.
- Minister’s Report on Lake Simcoe, 2019-20
- Minister’s Report on Lake Simcoe, 2017
- Minister’s Report on Lake Simcoe, 2016
- Minister’s Report on Lake Simcoe, 2015
- Minister’s Report on Lake Simcoe, 2011-12
Other minister’s reports on Lake Simcoe provide summaries of the progress made every 5 years towards achieving the objectives of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan and key results of ongoing environmental monitoring in the watershed.
- Minister’s 10-Year Report on Lake Simcoe
- Minister’s Five-Year Report on Lake Simcoe