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Plans to clean up Holland River, Lake Simcoe take root in Bradford

The 'real culprits' of phosphorus pollution in the watershed are largely related to the development of urban communities and the associated activities, said Scott

Bradford’s Green Initiatives Advisory Committee is looking to improve the health of the Holland River and Lake Simcoe with a little help from Mother Nature.

Council voted to endorse the committee’s recommendation to support a group of restoration and filtration projects for the river and to ask the province to update the Lake Simcoe Phosphorus Reduction Strategy to include funding for those projects, during the regular meeting of council Sept. 5.

The recommendation also suggested the province create a time-bound action plan and associated budgets to achieve a 55-per-cent phosphorus pollution reduction to no more than 44 tonnes per year with a target date of 2030.

Much of this is expected to be achieved thanks to a planned phosphorus removal facility, but a report by Frank Jonkman, drainage superintendent, also detailed for the committee four supplemental projects which could help improve the health of the river in the short-term by absorbing phosphorus in runoff which could reduce the burden placed on the future facility:

  • aquatic vegetation management;
  • buffer strips introduced along the Holland River;
  • buffer strips along all municipal drains; and
  • a supplemental pumping station

Depending on the final design, Ward 2 Coun. and chair of the committee, Jonathan Scott, estimates the future facility will remove anywhere from five to 12 tonnes of phosphorus from the watershed per year.

“In year one it’s going to be a meaningful contribution, but over the course of a decade it’s going to be the biggest reduction of phosphorus we’ve ever seen, once it’s built and operational,” he said.

In the meantime, some of the smaller-scale and more naturalized options could be implemented as early as the spring to allow the natural world itself to act as a filter along with other benefits.

The report recommends periodically harvesting the aquatic plants already in the river, removing the nutrients, like phosphorus, absorbed within them and potentially using them for fertilizer elsewhere. As the plants grow back, they’ll absorb more of the nutrients, removing it from the water.

Jonkman expects a pilot project could begin as early as mid-year of 2024, and could be done entirely with the existing plants, without adding any additional vegetation.

“We would have to wait until emergent vegetation has grown in the river and would be available for harvest,” he said via email.

To help prevent that runoff before it even gets to the river, the report recommends vegetated buffer strips along the river, planted between crops and ditches to keep the farmland and natural areas separated and act as a filter for stormwater.

Jonkman estimated that project could be introduced as early as spring 2024 and be incorporated into regular maintenance done along the river.

Similarly, the report also recommends vegetated buffer strips along the town’s ditches and storm drains for the same reason. These would require regular maintenance including: mowing, weed control, monitoring planting performance, checking for bank failures and maintaining flow paths.

Jonkman estimated this project could take up to three years to implement as it would require a new engineering report under the Ontario Drainage Act and involve work along private property which requires the town to follow certain processes.

In both instances, Jonkman explained the buffer strips would mostly contain a variety of grasses chosen to best suit the conditions and add stability to the banks, but the exact plants chosen and the sizing of the buffers would depend on their location and nearby activities, such as farming.

The supplemental pumping station was recommended to ensure constant flow, continually filter phosphorus and prevent the existing pumping station from becoming overwhelmed.

Unlike the other three, this project would depend on funding timing and sources.

If funding were provided by the province’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, Jonkman estimated the project could be completed within two years, but if funding came through the Ontario Drainage act, he estimated it could take three years before work could begin.

The committee recommended the projects and action plan after gathering input from the Lake Simcoe Regional Conservation Authority (LSRCA) and Lake Simcoe Watch, the latter of which is an advocacy group that focuses on making the health of the lake an issue in provincial and municipal elections.

“In the last election Lake Simcoe Watch put out a questionnaire and a majority of councillors in Bradford signed on saying ‘Yes, we support the goals of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act to get to 44 tonnes, and yes, we would like to see an updated action plan to get us there,’ so this motion was about us effectuating that commitment,” Scott said.

On their website, Lake Simcoe Watch presents a record of the responses to their questions, in which Scott was not only supportive of the 44-tonne limit, but detailed some of the work he and Georgina Ward 3 Coun. Dave Neeson had already undertaken towards the goal.

“We worked to unite area municipalities to successfully push for over $24 million in funding towards the Lake Simcoe Phosphorus Recycling Plant, which will represent the single largest reduction in phosphorus into the watershed. We also worked to secure renewed federal funding for Lake Simcoe protection,” he is reported to have said.

More recently, the committee also reached out to the Holland Marsh Growers Association for their opinion of the issue.

“Certainly our farmers do a huge amount of phosphorus offsetting on the farm already and they have dramatically reduced phosphorus runoff from agriculture in the past decade or more, at great personal expense I might add,” Scott said.

The feedback he received was that the “real culprits” of phosphorus pollution in the watershed are largely related to the development of urban communities and the associated activities that come with it.

That’s supported by the efforts of the LSRCA, which not only maintains ongoing efforts to monitor phosphorus levels in the watershed, but also created a phosphorus offsetting policy which came into effect on Jan. 1 2018 to control phosphorus from new development.

The LSRCA’s board approved a new version of that policy on May 26 this year, which requires that all new development must limit the amount of phosphorus leaving their property to pre-development levels or pay the LSRCA $35,770 per kilogram to offset the phosphorus levels through various projects in the watershed.

If the province agrees to the request, Scott hopes some of the naturalized phosphorus filtration projects can also be incorporated into future plans for a recreation trail along the river bank.

“That will be great for residents and tourists to enjoy, and hopefully, the naturalized restored projects and the recreation projects work in harmony. ... We might be the only municipality that has a river and didn’t grow up next to the river — agriculturally we did, but not recreationally, or tourism wise. I really think it’s an untapped resource,” he said.

Michael Owen

About the Author: Michael Owen

Michael Owen has worked in news since 2009 and most recently joined Village Media in 2023 as a general assignment reporter for BradfordToday
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