The Community Proposal to Grow the Greenbelt
The Province has identified critical water systems ("the Study Area") currently under pressure from urban growth and climate change, and is seeking public input regarding how and where we should expand Greenbelt protection in those key areas.
While the proposed study area is an important first step to protecting our region's water, we could be doing even more.
A coalition of 120 organizations, with over 500,000 members across Ontario, has put together an ambitious, science-based plan for protecting critical water systems adjacent to the existing Greenbelt. Several areas in this plan have been left out of Study Area currently being considered by the government.
See below for more information on the two crucial areas and why so many are advocating that they too be considered for Greenbelt expansion.
Click on the map above to see the grassroots proposal alongside the Provincial Government's current Study Area.
1. The Grand River Watershed
The Waterloo, Paris/Galt and Orangeville moraines were created by the retreat of glaciers 10,000 years ago, which left behind porous deposits of sand, gravel and soil, 120m thick in some places. The moraines act as natural “rain barrels”, filtering and storing rainwater and snowmelt in underground aquifers in a process known as “groundwater recharge” - filtering and cleaning drinking water.
More than 120 community groups are proposing to grow the Greenbelt to protect the following features along the Grand River Watershed:
- The Waterloo, Paris/Galt and Orangeville moraines, which account for 80% of the Grand River watershed’s total groundwater recharge despite covering just 30% of the land area.
- Almost 800,000 people in Guelph, Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Brantford, and other towns along the Grand River watershed rely on moraine aquifers and groundwater for clean drinking water.
- The moraines also replenish springs, streams and rivers in the Grand River watershed with cool, clean water. In some parts of the watershed this accounts for up to one sixth of the summer flow. Residents of Brantford and Ohsweken benefit from this as they draw their water directly from the river.
- This recharge process maintains river flow in times of drought, and keeps streams cool, providing habitat for rare species like brook trout.
- The moraines also contain a number of other significant natural habitats, including kettle lakes and wetlands, extensive forests, and provincially rare prairie/savanna and peatland communities. These will become increasingly important as migratory corridors for certain species of wildlife as climate change causes their ranges to shift.
2. Simcoe County's Rich Water Resources
At 4,841 square kilometers, Simcoe County is rich with water resources. The area, one of the largest regions in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, contains globally significant wetlands, pristine beaches, large aquifers, and many critical rivers and moraines.
More than 120 community groups are proposing to grow the Greenbelt to protect the following features of Simcoe County:
- Lake Simcoe and its watershed, the largest freshwater body in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, which supports a coldwater fishery and extensive forests and wetlands. It is already partially protected by the Greenbelt;
- The two main watersheds - Lake Simcoe and the Nottawasaga - provide a source of safe drinking water to 25 municipalities with more than half a million residents.
- Recharge areas and groundwater supplies, relied on by most of the County through wells and replenishing surface waters in Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay;
- The Oro Moraine that provides drinking water to 20,000 residents and groundwater to the Minesing Wetland;
- Globally (Minesing wetland) and provincially significant wetlands;
- Watershed forests that form a natural corridor/linkage extending from the Niagara Escarpment north to the Canadian Shield and south to the Oak Ridges Moraine;
- Important migratory bird sites and corridors (i.e. shorelines);
- Other significant headwater and groundwater recharge areas, including the Dundalk Till Plain, Peterborough Drumlin Field and Simcoe Uplands;
- Many kilometers of shoreline tied to the local and provincial tourism economy.
What is placing these areas at risk?
- Inefficient development. Moraines and other source water areas are complex and interconnected systems that are highly sensitive to changes from increased urbanization. Loss of habitat, increasing demands for water, and escalating levels of pollution are proven to have irreversible long term effects.
- Climate change. Extreme weather events that cause floods and droughts are placing more pressure on our water sources. Keeping the existing hydrological systems in tact is critical to ensure the ecosystem services they provide - like clean drinking water and abundant supplies for rural economic drivers, such as agriculture - continue to function.
Why is the Ontario Greenbelt the solution?
- It's a strong Provincial policy. The Greenbelt Plan is a provincial land use plan that permanently protects prime farmland, specialty cropland, and environmentally significant land from inappropriate development.
- Strong track record with preventing degradation. Experience from the past 13 years shows that the Greenbelt is successful at protecting nature, water and farmland and preventing costly and inefficient sprawl. For more information, read the Report Card on the Environmental Health of the Greenbelt.
- Provides a baseline of permanent protection. Right now, municipalities across the Greater Golden Horseshoe have different policies and guidelines on water preservation and protection, resulting in a patchwork of protections that cannot address the broader "eco-systems approach" required to protect the water systems crossing municipal boundaries. Growing the Greenbelt would ensure all these areas have a permanent baseline of protection.
- Strong public support. 9 in 10 Ontarians agree that the Greenbelt is one of the most important contributions to the future of the province.
Growing the Greenbelt would permanently protect prime farmland, specialty cropland, water sources, and environmentally significant land from inappropriate development right now – not at some point in the future.