Toronto Star

Di­vin­ing the real value of On­tario’s wa­ter

Fu­ture of Bluebelt hinges on stew­ard­ship

- DICK SNYDER SPE­CIAL TO THE STAR Canada News · Ecology · Ontario · Greenbelt · Golden Horseshoe · Waterloo · North America · United States of America · Great Lakes · Toronto · Stoney Creek · Trenton · Lake Erie · Québec · Comoros · organization · Nestle · Wellington · Simcoe County · Regional Municipality of Waterloo · David Crombie · Moraine · Moraine Valley Community College · Niagara · Erie · Lake · Northumberland County · Environmental Defense · Greenbelt Alliance · Aberfoyle · Crandall, TX

Some­time this sum­mer, the pro­vin­cial cabi­net will make a de­ci­sion that will carve out the fu­ture course of On­tario’s so-called Bluebelt.

Con­sider “the blue” to be the kid brother of the Green­belt, that (al­most) two-mil­lion acre swath of farm­land and green space pro­tected by pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tion since 2005.

The Green­belt an­chors the agri­cul­tural, tourism and recreation in­dus­tries in On­tario to the tune of $9.1 bil­lion per year in over­all eco­nomic im­pact and 161,000 full-time jobs. Eco-ser­vices such as wa­ter fil­tra­tion, flood con­trol and recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties ac­count for $3.2 bil­lion of ac­tiv­ity.

The pro­posed new Bluebelt cov­ers the vast wa­ter re­sources made up of moraines, aquifers, head­wa­ters, ur­ban river val­leys, lakes and wet­lands scat­tered across the Greater Golden Horse­shoe (and a little be­yond).

Nine out of10 On­tar­i­ans sup­port an ex­panded Green­belt in or­der to pro­tect wa­ter, farm­land and On­tario’s nat­u­ral her­itage from devel­op­ment sprawl. There are some ar­eas of the prov­ince — such as in­land com­mu­ni­ties like Water­loo, Guelph-Welling­ton and Sim­coe County — that rely on ground­wa­ter. This is a pre­cious lim­ited re­source. Yet these ar­eas are out­side the realm of Green­belt pro­tec­tion or, in­deed, any pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tion.

“Water­loo Re­gion is par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble be­cause we are the largest com­mu­nity in North Amer­ica de­pen­dent on ground wa­ter,” says Kevin Thoma­son of Smart Growth Water­loo. “We don’t have a big pipe to the Great Lakes, we don’t have moun­tain streams run­ning down into our com­mu­nity. We have solely our wa­ter wells.”

Say pro­po­nents of the orig­i­nal Green­belt leg­is­la­tion set12 years ago: It’s time to fo­cus on wa­ter. Or rather, it’s time to fo­cus on our stew­ard­ship of a pre­cious re­source that has been taken for granted. This will set the frame­work for how some of the prov­ince’s wa­ter re­sources will be man­aged and pro­tected for years to come — if all goes ac­cord­ing to plan.

Wa­ter plays a sig­nif­i­cant part in some of the 87 rec­om­men­da­tions for­mer Toronto mayor David Crombie sub­mit­ted to the pro­vin­cial govern­ment af­ter com­plet­ing a man­dated review of the Green­belt leg­is­la­tion and re­lated land-use plan­ning slated to take place at the Green­belt’s 10-year mark.

As chair of the Co­or­di­nated Land Use Plan­ning Review Ad­vi­sory Panel, Crombie and his team toured the prov­ince in 2014 and 2015, seek­ing stake­holder and pub­lic in­put to help shape fu­ture pol­icy. The panel’s rec­om­men­da­tions seek to unite the ob­jec­tives set out in the leg­is­lated plans for the Green­belt, the pro­vin­cial Growth Plan, the Oak Ridges Mo­raine and the Ni­a­gara Es­carp­ment.

“I’m op­ti­mistic — but peo­ple tell me I’m chron­i­cally cheer­ful,” said the 80-year-old for­mer Toronto mayor in an in­ter­view. “It is a his­toric op­por­tu­nity for the govern­ment to be­gin im­ple­ment­ing one of the largest and most sig­nif­i­cant re­gional plan­ning set of rec­om­men­da­tions in North Amer­ica.”

Pub­lic per­cep­tions of wa­ter are chang­ing, Crombie says, partly driven by an aware­ness of cli­mate change and con­di­tions in less wa­ter­rich parts of the world.

“We sit on 21 per cent of the world’s fresh wa­ter. No one else has the Great Lakes like we do, and there­fore the river val­leys that flow into it.

“We took it for granted that ‘it’s there’ and al­ways would be. So us­ing it as a sewer is no prob­lem, paving it over is no prob­lem, all in the name of progress. But now there’s a re­birth in the un­der­stand­ing of the im­por­tance of wa­ter. So boy, we bet­ter re­mem­ber it won’t be there for­ever and we’ve got to treat it with a little more care.”

Crombie has had his hands wet for a long while. In 1988, he was com­mis­sioner of the Royal Com­mis­sion on the Fu­ture of the Toronto Water­front, which grew out of pub­lic dis­may over wa­ter­side devel­op­ment on fed­eral lands. This led to the open­ing of the 350-kilo­me­tre Water­front Trail in 1995, con­nect­ing parks, wildlife habi­tats and recreation ar­eas from Stoney Creek to Trenton.

To­day the trail cov­ers more than 1,600 kilo­me­tres span­ning from Lake Erie east into Que­bec, with fur­ther ex­pan­sion planned for Lake Huron and Northum­ber­land County.

“Wher­ever we go, peo­ple un­der­stand that the trail is a ve­hi­cle by which you at­tract at­ten­tion to the qual­ity of the wa­ter and the qual­ity of its re­la­tion­ship to the land.”

But it’s taken some work to get there.

“Now there’s a clear un­der­stand­ing that good ecol­ogy is a pro­ducer of wealth,” Crombie says. “That’s the fact of it. A wet­land sits there and it cleans wa­ter — it’s not a stag­nant thing.”

Debbe Cran­dall has been in­volved with ef­forts to pro­tect the Oak Ridg- es Mo­raine since 1990, back when “it was pretty much the Wild West.” There was no leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect wa­ter­courses from be­ing paved over or filled-in in the name of eco­nomic devel­op­ment.

“If you were to look at a map (of ar­eas of the Greater Golden Horse­shoe) pre-1980s, and then look at the same map to­day, you would no­tice that the land­scape has be­come sim­pli­fied,” she says. “All these little head­wa­ter trib­u­taries are gone. They’ve been plowed over or drained. They’ve been paved.”

There was no uni­fy­ing leg­is­la­tion to guide the myr­iad re­gions and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that touched on the mo­raine. More sig­nif­i­cantly, there was a lack of un­der­stand­ing of the sci­ence, ge­og­ra­phy and hy­drol­ogy at play.

“Be­cause each mu­nic­i­pal­ity didn’t have a sense of the ‘whole’ — and how im­por­tant that little bub­bly thing, which may seem so small at one spot, how they all join to­gether to cre­ate these river sys­tems.”

Cran­dall calls the Oak Ridges Mo­raine — which spans 24 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and 160 km — “a per­fect rain bar­rel” be­cause it’s lined with silty glacial soils that act as a mas­sive bucket. Even when all else is dry, the mo­raine pro­duces teem­ing riv- ers of wa­ter.

But it was not al­ways un­der­stood — or ap­pre­ci­ated — as such. To­day, the sci­ence has caught up, thanks to decades of work by such groups as STORM (Save the Oak Ridges Mo­raine), On­tario Na­ture, Eco Spark, En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fense, Earth­roots and the On­tario Green­belt Al­liance — just to name a few of the dozens of grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tions ad­vo­cat­ing for wa­ter pro­tec­tion in the prov­ince.

On May 17, 2001, the Oak Ridges Mo­raine Pro­tec­tion Act was passed. Earth Day 2017 marks 15 years since the Oak Ridges Mo­raine Con­ser­va­tion Act was ap­proved as a reg­u­la­tion un­der the new leg­is­la­tion.

Cran­dall points to work that still needs to be done. Un­fet­tered per­mits to take wa­ter — as re­vealed last year dur­ing the pub­lic out­cry over Nestlé’s 3.6 mil­lion-litre-a-day al­lot­ment at its Aber­foyle site — are a par­tic­u­lar sore point that Cran­dall would like to see rec­ti­fied.

“We have to find ways to build com­mu­ni­ties, re­spect the ecol­ogy and be help­ful to the econ­omy,” Crombie says. “The old way that sep­a­rated those three things is no longer not just good think­ing, it is no longer a part of mak­ing us a pro­duc­tive, healthy and sus­tain­able place.”

 ?? TOURISM AND CUL­TURE, CITY OF HAMIL­TON ?? Web­ster Falls near Hamil­ton, Ont. The pro­posed new Bluebelt cov­ers the vast wa­ter re­sources scat­tered across the Greater Golden Horse­shoe.
TOURISM AND CUL­TURE, CITY OF HAMIL­TON Web­ster Falls near Hamil­ton, Ont. The pro­posed new Bluebelt cov­ers the vast wa­ter re­sources scat­tered across the Greater Golden Horse­shoe.

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