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Group seeks to support environmental projects in Orillia

Mehreen Shahid

By Mehreen Shahid, Special to the Packet & Times

A view of Lake Simcoe's shoreline from Kitchener Park on West Street South.

MEHREEN SHAHID/THE PACKET & TIMES A view of Lake Simcoe's shoreline from Kitchener Park on West Street South.

A regional non-profit organization wants residents to weigh in on solutions for managing Orillia's stormwater management issues, especially along properties lining Lake Simcoe.

"What we're trying to do in each of these projects is to take a space that hasn't been used or has lost purpose over the years and bring it back with meaning," said Hilary Van Welter, director of ReWild, Ontario Water Centre (OWC), talking about its project ReWilding Lake Simcoe. "When we go into a space, it's a blank sheet. We do engagements with people and work with that to look at what could be designed to provide a missing link in their lives, and to offer the community a very different kind of space."

Van Welter and Orillia's representative for OWC, Kathy Manners, presented to council how the ReWilding project could be brought to the city, naming Kitchener Park and Huronia Regional Centre as two properties that could benefit.

"ReWilding is a citizen-led community development approach," said Manners. "There are examples of that all on the other side of the lake, Beaverton and Brock, but nothing has happened on this side of Lake Simcoe."

Van Welter explained how the community would be involved using an example of a similar project already executed at Pine Beach in Keswick.

"It's a community park owned by the community in Keswick, Georgina, just north of Cook's Bay," she said. "The water was full of weeds, you couldn't swim in it. The quality (of the water) was not usable because a lot of the stormwater coming down from the homes. It was a soggy mess of grass, and they would only use it once a year for fireworks on Canada Day."

Through community engagement and guidance from experts, such as hydrologists and contractors, the property was given innovative stormwater remedies, such as artificial culverts and stream systems and a town square that contained with a below-surface system to help absorb rainwater, said Van Welter.

This re-imagining of the space helped ensure run off water was filtered from sediment and excess nutrients before it flowed into the lake, and has lowered its temperature by four degrees, she added.

The culverts and streams created in the area serve as open stormwater systems, said Van Welter, and serve in educating residents on the impact rainwater runoff has on the health of Lake Simcoe.

Along with this, residents submitted applications to the municipality on how they could redo their yards to reduce stormwater runoff. Approved ideas were provided resources, both financial and educational, to execute their ideas, she explained.

ReWilding not only helps in managing the health of Lake Simcoe, said Van Welter, it also helps communities to reconnect.

"Our goal is to create a space and work with the community on looking at new programming, new economic development and opportunities that emerge that the space can inspire," she said.

In the past, funding for the ReWild projects has come through a number of sources, including industry stakeholders, all tiers of government and academic institutions, said Manners.

"Generally, it's a collective of different types of funding. But quite honestly, the city is allocated a lot of money to go towards stormwater management, and what we're saying is don't just speak to developers but also talk to citizens," she added.

A few months ago the city unveiled its $65-million stormwater master plan that will be implemented over the next two decades or so. Ideas included in the plan are development of catchment areas and bioswales.

And while the city has its own traditional plan and a long-term financial strategy, it could use some innovation and creativity in its approach to the issue, said Coun. Tim Lauer.

"Their angle is a little bit less traditional and focusing on ideas that aren't quite expensive but more creative," he said, referring to the presentation.

As for part of the funding coming from the city, Lauer said, "I guess, in the case of individuals or the group that presented, it would be a matter of case-by-case looking at them and deciding what's in the advantage of the Orillia taxpayer to invest in that."

For more information on OWC and ReWilding Lake Simcoe, visit

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