The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) is mandated to provide leadership in the restoration and protection of the environmental health and quality of Lake Simcoe and its watershed. Environmental groups have long criticized the LSRCA’s watershed development policy, which granted automatic approval for some developments in wetlands that the province has identified as Provincially Significant. Last year, the LSRCA proposed a new policy, but it included a new set of problems. The policy proposed last fall would have the LSRCA approve developments in wetlands without considering the full environmental impacts in cases where the development had official plan and zoning approvals. As a result of pressure from stakeholders in the environmental community, including Ecojustice and its client, the South Lake Simcoe Naturalists (SLSN), the LSRCA has now revised its proposed policy to provide strong protections for wetlands.
In September 2014, Ecojustice commented on a draft policy on behalf of South Lake Simcoe Naturalists. Ecojustice noted that the proposed policy was unlawful and allowed developments in wetlands even where there would be harm to the environment and other problems, like flooding. Ecojustice and SLSN are pleased that the LSRCA responded by conducting a legal review of the draft policy. In December 2014, the LSRCA revised the policy to address the majority of comments submitted by SLSN on wetland development approval. LSRCA staff have now proposed the removal of the provisions that allowed housing developments to be automatically approved in Provincially Significant Wetlands. Under the new draft policy, proposed developments in or near wetlands will be very restricted.
If the new revised policy is approved by the LSRCA this spring, it will be a huge step forward for the protection of Provincially Significant Wetlands in the Lake Simcoe Watershed like the North Gwillimbury Forest. However, there is more work to be done by the LSRCA to protect headwaters and other natural features. Ecojustice will also continue to work with SLSN to ensure better public consultation and notice when the Conservation Authority considers wetland development permits so that we can make sure the policy is upheld in practice. Ecojustice is also monitoring the practices of other Conservation Authorities to ensure they comply with the law.