On Sunday June 11, we attended the Waterstock Festival in Erin to talk to people about how the Greenbelt protects clean water. Waterstock is a one-day music and food festival organized by Wellington Water Watchers and Riverfest Elora to raise awareness about the importance of source water protection and rally people around their “Water for Life, not Profit” campaign.
Erin is a charming small town in rural Wellington County, just beyond the Greenbelt, and many of the local residents we spoke to expressed a desire to keep it that way.
Wellington residents are concerned about the unsustainable use of groundwater, in a region where 80-90% of the population depend on municipal or private wells for their drinking water supply. They also worry that unchecked growth and urban sprawl will permanently alter their community, changing its character and making it harder for farmers and rural residents to make a living.
Fortunately, updates to the Growth Plan – which includes Wellington County – include stronger policies for water, natural heritage and farmland protection. But the success of these policies depends on how well municipalities put them into action, and experience from the last decade shows a mixed record.
Wellington, for example, was allowed to miss provincial targets for intensification (how much growth happens in built-up areas) and density of new communities. Next door, Waterloo Region exceeded the provincial targets, allowing it to grow without using up farmland or increasing pressure on groundwater supplies.
What this means in practice is that Wellington is consuming land at twice the rate of Waterloo as it grows – converting farmland to houses, and putting more pressure on stretched groundwater supplies.
This is why a coalition of grassroots community organizations has joined forces to push for a “Bluebelt” of protected water supplies in Wellington and across the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Growing the Greenbelt is the simplest and best tool for making sure these vulnerable areas are permanently off limits to growth. To find out more about the campaign go to www.growourgreenbelt.ca.