Growing Our Greenbelt: The Humber River Headwaters



Growing our Greenbelt is a blog series focusing on "areas of critical ecological and hydrological significance" recently flagged by more than 100 environmental and community group as requiring Greenbelt protection. Over the next several months, we'll be highlighting the headwaters, ground water recharge areas, surface water features and urban river valleys that, if added to the Greenbelt Plan, would be part of protected and connected clean water system. 

Want to see your Greenbelt grow? Follow our series and use #GrowOurGB on social media to join the movement!


Did you know….

Significant portions of the headwater catchment area for the Humber River are not currently protected under the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine Plans?

But here’s the good news, more than 100 community and environmental groups are recommending that the provincial government fix this protection gap before we lose these critical headwater areas to the pressures of urbanization.

It’s all part of a recently released "Bluebelt" proposal that calls for a 1.5 million acre Greenbelt expansion into Ontario's sensitive water systems (Find out more about the proposal here).  


The “Bluebelt” proposal identifies three specific Humber River headwater catchment areas in Peel and York vulnerable to urban development. These areas, circled on the map above, are adjacent to and surrounded by Greenbelt protected lands.

Why is this proposal so important for the future of the Humber River watershed? Here are just a few of the reasons.




It's all connected!

Measuring 911 square kilometers, the Humber River watershed is the largest river watershed in the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s (TRCA) jurisdiction.

Its waters, originating on the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine, flow down the Humber River into Lake Ontario. Although much of this watershed is protected under the Greenbelt Act, certain headwater areas, and the urban river valley itself, are currently left out of that protection.

This omission is a crucial gap we need to fix, since what happens in one part of the watershed inevitably affects the health of the watershed as whole. 




Healthy headwaters mean a healthier Humber River

The vulnerable headwaters areas under discussion are only a small fraction of the watershed. So why are we so concerned?

The short answer – because a healthy river needs healthy headwaters.

Headwaters are where water is recharged and filtered, and where moving water picks up sediment and nutrients that will be delivered to aquatic systems downstream. These areas are extremely sensitive, greatly influencing water quality and quantity across the watershed, the degree of flooding, and habitats for native plants and animals.

The effects of urbanization on these headwater areas--from pollution, to refuse dumping, to the introduction of invasive species--would significantly affect the downstream water quality.




A healthier Humber River means cleaner drinking water, better habitat, and a more liveable region

There are so many reasons we should care about the Humber River Valley's health; not least because the Humber River flows directly into Lake Ontario, the drinking water source for over 6 million people!

The Humber is also an important physical and ecological connection between the Greenbelt and Lake Ontario, providing passage for rare and endangered species, in particular for fish and migratory birds.

And let's not forget how unusual it is to have this kind of natural sanctuary right in the middle of an otherwise urbanized landscape - it's certainly a treasure worth protecting!  

The West Humber River




The Humber is already under threat

The TRCA recently reported that surface water quality was getting worse in the Humber due to urban and rural run-off, deforestation, and poor storm water control. 

Reversing these trends and restoring the Humber to health is an ongoing and longterm project. It's a project the TRCA and their community partners pursue tirelessly (Fact: Between 2008 and 2012 the TRCA and its volunteers have planted over one million trees and shrubs along the Humber!)

Greenbelting the Humber River headwaters, because it leads to healthier aquatic ecosystems downstream and a more robust natural heritage system, is crucial to ongoing efforts to improve the watershed's health. 




Ecological goods and services 

If these headwaters and the rest of the proposed "Bluebelt" is added to Greenbelt protection, the result would be an additional 1.6 million acres of protected wetlands, forests, and grasslands and billions of dollars in natural capital benefits. Natural capital is measured in ecological goods and services such as:

  • Storing and filtering water runoff
  • Minimizing flooding and saving funds from hard infrastructure.
  • Providing natural spaces for physical and mental health benefits to rural and urban residents.

Expanding the Greenbelt to critical waterways will increase protection of natural heritage features that feed rivers and creeks throughout the Greater Golden Horseshoe. It also offers corridors of connectivity for migratory species to foster long-term health of the region and ensure biodiversity and resiliency.

So there you have it - 5 important reasons we need to Greenbelt the Humber River headwaters!

What's next? Find out more about the Humber River and the TRCA's restoration efforts and read more about the visionary proposal to #GrowOurGB!


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