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Strengthened support for the Freshwater Action Plan 'a big win'

'Municipalities across our region have united together to call for renewed funding for Lake Simcoe and Nottawasaga watersheds, and we’re pleased funding is in this year's budget,' says mayor
From left to right, Bradford West Gwillimbury Coun. Peter Ferragine, Mayor James Leduc and Coun. Jonathan Scott stand on the banks of the Holland River, which flows into Lake Simcoe. At its Jan. 17 meeting, council endorsed a motion calling on the federal government to commit and actually spend funds to improve the health of the lake in the 2023 federal budget.

This week's federal budget provided some good news for the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury and surrounding municipalities with the announcement of additional support for the Freshwater Action Plan.

The government is proposing to invest $650 million over ten years, starting in 2023-24, to support significant bodies of water, along with another $100 million to create the Canada Water Agency, which will oversee the management of this fund.

Over the past few years, a coalition of municipal mayors and councillors have been advocating that this funding be included in the federal budget and that programs from this funding proceed, in order to fulfill bipartisan commitments to protect our lakes and rivers.

"Municipalities across our region have united together to call for renewed funding for Lake Simcoe and Nottawasaga watersheds, and we’re pleased funding is in this year's budget," said Bradford Mayor James Leduc. "We now need the government to quickly work with us and other stakeholders to put this funding to work."

Canada is home to 20 per cent of the world's freshwater supply. Healthy lakes and rivers are essential to Canadians, communities, and businesses across the country. Recognizing the threat to freshwater caused by climate change and pollution, the federal government is also proposing $22.6 million over three years to support better coordination of efforts to protect freshwater.

Bradford Councillor Jonathan Scott, who was also recently elected vice-chair of the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority (NVCA), says he is pleased with the funding.

"Quite frankly, it’s more than we were expecting and our town was at the forefront of advocating for this funding to move forward for the past two years, so it’s a big win," explained Scott, who says investing in the health of our freshwater is imperative for a number of reasons.

"Ensuring healthy watersheds is critical to the fight against climate change and supports key economic drivers in our region, as well as maintaining healthy drinking water," he said. "Over the past few years, we’ve worked with a diverse group of municipal council members, parliamentarians and environmental activists to push the federal government to deliver renewed funding to restore the health of Lake Simcoe and the Great Lakes, in particular."

Scott said while these major investments is great news, the government needs to go further and quickly put in place a plan so that the funding can be put in action.

"These funds can support conservation, tree planting, environmental upgrades to waste systems, shoreline restoration and a whole host of other projects to improve the natural ecosystems in our watersheds — and there’s not a moment to waste," Scott said.

Bradford Councillor Peter Ferragine, who was re-elected as vice-chair of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) agrees, saying he looks forward to further details sooner rather than later.

"Now that the budget is out, I hope that plans with the funding are used efficiently, effectively and in a timely manner. It's one thing to commit funding,
it's another to utilize it accordingly," he said. "Our watersheds and lakes are not only important to nature, our municipalities, and our local economies, but also
everyone's mental and physical health."

A statement from the government says strengthening the Freshwater Action Plan will benefit younger generations and people living around waterbodies who rely on them as their drinking water source, and people working in sectors such as tourism, agriculture, and fisheries that depend on freshwater.

Georgina Mayor Margaret Quirk says this money is needed now more than ever to go towards important environmental restoration projects.

"Last year, I said it was good news to see that Lake Simcoe is a national priority in the budget. This year’s investments build on the good news and we are eager for the government to make clear how this money can be invested to restore the health of our lake," said Quirk.

Georgina Councillor Dave Neeson echoed that statement. He says the funding will go a long way to helping protect our watershed for generations to come.

"As we said this winter, putting the funds into the real world through tangible conservation and other environmental projects is critical."

More information on the the government's proposed funding can be found here.