01/11/2012 12:10 EST | Updated 03/04/2012 05:12 EST

How You Can Fix Lake Simcoe

Flickr: Ryan Kemmers

Lake Simcoe is a beautiful lake, with rich Southern Ontario First Nations and rural settler history. It is the most intensively fished lake in North America, and therefore, I suspect the most loved by anglers. And, it has certainly stolen the hearts of the owners of 12,000 cottages that dot its shorelines.

Let's show our love this year for Lake Simcoe by taking a minute to understand what's wrong, and learning to do what's right.

What's wrong with the lake? Phosphorus from human activities.

Phosphorus is naturally occurring, and is found in manure, soils, and cleaning products. It acts like a fertilizer in the water, just as it would on your lawn. Unfortunately, there's a bit more than twice the natural load of phosphorus coming into the Lake every year. The problem is that too much of it leads to algae blooms and excessive plant growth (the linked picture is an extreme example, at Lake Erie).

When these plants and algae die, oxygen is stripped from the water. Some of the best fish in Lake Simoce have been on life support (manual fish stocking programs) for decades because there was so little oxygen in the water, they couldn't survive.

Four ways to show your love

Here are four things that you can easily do to help reduce your impact on Lake Simcoe:

1. Make the shoreline wild

Lake Simcoe's shoreline is in bad shape. Too many hardened surfaces -- like concrete and metal and not enough plants -- make it inhospitable to the wild species that call it home. Not only does a wild shoreline look beautiful, but it also keeps water cool for fish and insects, prevents some pollution from reaching the water, and prevents soil erosion.

Do not mow all the way to the shoreline! Plant red osier dogwood on your shoreline and soon other things will start growing there too. You will see more animals and birds; they love natural shorelines.

2. Plant native species and grow our greenspace

Scientists tell us that we should protect 40 per cent of the watershed's forests, wetlands, and scrublands to protect water quality, biodiversity, and help with the impacts of climate change. We need the amount of green space we protect to go up, not down.

Where ever you live, you can plant native plant species that our local animals, insects, and birds like to eat and live on. You can volunteer at tree plantings organized by the Conservation Authority or your municipality. Tell your local government that you support protecting green space.

3. Use greener cleaners

From now on municipalities need to make their sewage treatment plants better at removing phosphorus if they are going to have lots more people living in their area. Even still, phosphorus from sewage treatment plants is expected to increase over time because there is so much urban growth planned. What we put down the drain is really important, whether you are on the town sewer or on septic.

Use phosphate-free or biodegradable cleaners of all kinds including soap, detergents, and all purpose cleaners. By using greener cleaners not only will you decrease your impact on the Lake, but you will also reduce you and your loved one's exposure to the toxic substances found in most everyday cleaning products. Look for "phosphate-free" or "biodegradable" on the label.

4. Don't make a demon of your lawn

Another related and huge source of phosphorus, is urban runoff (what rain and snow carries off lawns and roads). It may be treated by stormwater management ponds in new neighbourhoods, but the treatment in most cases is rather ineffective.

You can reduce this load by keeping your lawn natural by not using fertilizers. It's not just pesticides that are bad for the environment.

If all of us follow these tips, Lake Simcoe will be a healthier place for people, wildlife, and fish. Make a resolution to be part of the solution!