The Importance of Urban River Valleys

The Greenbelt protection has extended to 21 major urban river valleys and 7 coastal wetlands across the Greater Golden Horseshoe!

The addition of the 21 urban river valleys to the Greenbelt is an important recognition of the vital role the Greenbelt plays in protecting the hydrological features we rely on for clean drinking water, flood protection, and healthy ecosystems. 

To get a better understanding about why urban river valleys are important and what's placing them at risk; we sat down with Tom Bowers, the Foundation’s Research Manager. 

 

How do urban river valleys benefit communities?

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They are a great space for recreation. 

Hiking, dog walking and picnicking beside the water is much cooler during the hot days of summer. Many people enjoy fishing for salmon and trout and other species that are present all year round. It’s also a chance to see some wildlife as the rivers and their valleys are home to many different species you wouldn’t typically see in cities. The river valleys act as a migratory route for monarch butterflies and numerous song birds. They are also just beautiful and tranquil places to be, helping people unwind and escape from the hustle and bustle off city life for a few hours.

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They are the reason why cities in this region exist today.

Our rivers are a direct link to a long history of all the people that have lived and moved in this part of the world. For example, extensive archeological evidence indicates the Humber River has experienced human settlement for almost 10,000 years. First Nations peoples developed the Carrying Place Trail, which connects Lake Ontario to the upper Great Lakes. This trade route made the area attractive to European traders and explorers upon their arrival in the 17th century and led to its designation as a national historic site.

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They are essential elements of the cities’ green infrastructure network.

Green infrastructure is the natural vegetative systems and green technologies that provide a multitude of economic, environmental and social benefits, in addition to managing stormwater. The ravines, and the natural systems around them help control potential problems like flooding, saving buildings, properties and basements from water damage.

What are the key issues of the urban rivers?

Development is probably the biggest threat to the health and vitality of the urban river valleys. Impermeable surfaces and loss of forest cover in the watershed creates challenges for the rivers including: 

  • Decreasing ground water recharge -- affecting the base-rate flow of rivers and causing the river levels to get dangerously low for many species during dry months.
  • Increasing water temperatures -- affecting trout and salmon that rely on cold water streams, since water temperature is critical for many fish species.
  • Increasing pollution -- pollution flows more rapidly into our our water systems during storms from paved surfaces.
  • Increasing river bank erosion -- millions of dollars are spend annually in Ontario to fix erosion problems that are placing properties at risk.

Additional development pressures and climate change will exacerbate existing challenges.

Want to learn more?

We are working with community groups, municipalities and organizations across the Greenbelt to ensure the urban river valleys thrive.

Our partners have organized numerous events across the Greenbelt. Find out all the events and consultations that are happening in the Urban River Valleys.

Find out more about the 21 urban river valleys and 7 coastal wetlands that have been added to the Greenbelt. 

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