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Ontario government appoints advisory group for the Muskoka Watershed

Ontario's minister of environment, conservation and parks and the Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP announced the formation of an advisory group for the Muskoka Watershed on Wednesday. Twitter/Jeff Yurek

The Ontario government has appointed nine members to an advisory committee that will provide recommendations to the province to protect the Muskoka Watershed.

“Dealing with flooding issues [and] ensuring that the area is resilient to the severe weather changes leads to people enjoying the recreational opportunities that are available throughout the watershed,” Jeff Yurek, Ontario’s environment, conservation and parks minister, told Global News on Wednesday.

“Ensuring that the watershed is kept in good condition and identifying issues that need to be dealt with is pretty key, not only to protecting the environment, but at the same time, ensuring that the economy stays strong in this area.”

READ MORE: The worst of the Muskoka floods is over, but residents still grapple with the aftermath

In the spring, Bracebridge, Muskoka Lakes and Huntsville – three of six municipalities in Muskoka – were under states of emergency due to immense flooding. The region also saw mass floods in 2013.

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Muskoka Lakes Mayor Phil Harding has been vocal in his criticism of the Muskoka River Water Management Plan, especially in the wake of the floods that hit the community in the spring.

READ MORE: Canadians more concerned about flooding than 4 years ago: poll

“We already have a Muskoka Watershed council, but I’m really hoping that the new advisory group, they go obviously far beyond that, and they try to understand all things watershed and water management,” Harding told Global News.

According to the Muskoka Lakes mayor, addressing the region’s water management plan should be the first task of the advisory group.

“I think there’s two things that have to happen,” Harding said. “Number one, the plan doesn’t address climate change. Additionally, the plan needs to address moving water faster through the system, and at times, holding water back in the system.”

WATCH: Muskoka Region recovering after spring flooding

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Muskoka Region recovering after spring flooding – Jul 29, 2019

Members of the Muskoka Watershed advisory group have experience in the fields of environmental protection and conservation, resource management, urban and land use planning, municipal government, natural and applied sciences, and finance in Ontario.

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Mardi Witzel, chair of the advisory group, said in a statement that there needs to be a more comprehensive approach to watershed management due to various environmental issues in the region, including recent and frequent flooding, increased development pressure, increasing nutrient loads and water quality concerns.

Last year, the Ontario government announced the $5-million Muskoka Watershed Conservation and Management Initiative to identify risks and issues facing the Muskoka region.

READ MORE: Ontario government announces new pilot program to help protect communities from extreme weather

“We have $5 million committed for the advisory group, and we will match up to an additional $5 million of any charity donations that are given to the advisory group,” Yurek said.

According to the minister, the Muskoka Watershed supports a tourism and recreational economy of up to $400 million.

Protecting and restoring watersheds in Ontario is part of the province’s Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan.

WATCH: Bracebridge homeowner talks about flooding impact

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Bracebridge homeowner talks about flooding impact – May 1, 2019

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