An hour and a half north of Toronto there is a constant stream of cars pulling over to the side of the road.
People get out, walk to the back of their vehicle, open the trunk and lift out jugs, which they carry to a small hut nearby.
Inside the hut there is a trough with spouts above it from which a constant flow of water pours.
Out one end of the trough water cascades down to a small creek scattered with watercress. Farm fields stretch away from the hut to a line of hills in the east. The hills form part of the Oro Moraine, part of which is known as the Waverley Uplands.
The water that flows here has been tested, and the results show that it is more pure, or contains less contaminants, than water tens of thousands of years old taken from ice core samples in the arctic.
What may make this water so pure is also, unfortunately, what attracts aggregate mining operations.
Moraines consist of rock debris left over by glaciers, which pushed and rolled that debris underneath during their century-long amble across the land.
The debris forms a filter for water, much like the one you may have in your fridge - a whole lot of particulate through which water, often rainfall, passes. Eventually this water ends up in the aquifer - the Alliston Aquifer - which we also talk a bit in the episode. This debris, which is largely comprise of gravel, is also a primary resource used in construction.
As you will hear, two large aggregate mines operate in the immediate area of these flows, and have applied to expand their operations.
Impacts from aggregate mining include the use of large amounts of water to 'wash' gravel, as well, often, as digging beneath the water table, which can drastically change hydrogeology.
The day we recorded the interview Margaret and I met early and headed north on Hwy 27 towards Elmvale.
The weather that day, as you can hear in the recordings, was wet all around - light rain, melting snow, water rivulets burbling, mist in the air. It set the tone perfectly for the topic of our interview.
Bonnie welcoming us into her home.
We sat around Bonnie's dining table. She had put out a platter of cheeses, meats, and crackers, and she made us feel about as welcome as possible.
For the next 45 minutes or so we talked about the experiences she and her husband, as well as neighbours and others, have had with the water in the area, and how that's changed with the ramp-up of aggregate mining.
On the podcast you'll hear audio of when we went for a walk in the woods just down the road a bit from Bonnie's.
A ten minute hike into the forest led to some of the many natural flows that occur around there.
The ground gives way in some areas, opening beneath the foot to a mix of water and sticks and leaves and silt. Rain pattered all around.
All through the area these springs push water out of the ground.
Video of one of them.
And a closer shot of how the sand is disturbed by the water burbling out of the ground.
Aggregate Issues in Ontario
The aggregate industry has historically been both environmentally and socially problematic.
As noted by the Environment Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) in its 2006/2007 report, this is due, in part, to the inherent conflict between demand for resource extraction and the need to protect sensitive ecological areas.
Additional issues suggest there remains considerable work that needs to be done so that a healthy balance between resource extraction activities and ensuring the health and viability of the ecosystems, including water and hydrogeology, is found.
These issues include a history of non-compliance with the Aggregate Resources Act, with, according to figures also cited in the ECO's '06/'07 report, 100 out of 121 operations non-compliant.
Further, it has been found that there is a frequent failure to return to sites pre-existing features or otherwise natural functions, with “most operators ... not conducting progressive or final rehabilitation as required.” This failure is incommensurate with the notion that aggregate mining activities are an “interim use”, which is how they are often justified by proponents.
Learn more about aggregate and how it functions in Ontario's land-use regime with our Greenbelt FAQs, here.
Resources and further reading:
Friends of the Waverley Uplands on Facebook
Federation of Tiny Township Shoreline Associations on Facebook
While governments and land use policies change, climate change impacts, water quality deterioration, and losses of forests and wetlands proceed across Southern Ontario.
This report is intended to demonstrate that we need to increase the amount of land that is well protected for the long term, now.
The province has an opportunity to do so for the Lake Simcoe watershed in the review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008, and Plan, 2009, and more broadly in the current consultation on proposed changes to the Provincial Policy Statement.
It is important to establish the understanding that protected lands are what we set aside as home, or habitat, for all other species. A robust protected lands policy should permanently protect the habitat for the collective sum of all of the other species in this world. This is necessary, morally and practically, to ensure a stable and vibrant planet.
The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s mapping project identifies levels of protection for our forests, wetlands and shorelines by analyzing the strength of policies covering them.
This analysis includes lands comprised of forests and wetlands and the buffers around them that make up Simcoe County's Natural Heritage System, or NHS.
This analysis covers the entirety of Simcoe County's landscape, excluding Barrie and Orillia.
What we found breaks down like this:
Level 1: Most Protected
Just 14% of Simcoe County's lands have a level of protection that makes it difficult to change them from their current status for most purposes.
However, 11% of these lands are potential resource extraction sites, specifically for aggregate. (See map below.)
Level 1 lands include features protected by provincial policies, namely:
- significant woodlots;
- Provincially Significant Wetlands (PSW's);
- Areas of Natural Scientific Interest (ANSI's);
- Lake Simcoe shoreline;
- natural areas abutting Lake Simcoe;
- Significant Wildlife Habitat;
- Provincial Parks and Natural Areas (such as lands covered by the Niagara Escarpment Plan);
- and Core Areas, such as those covered by the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan.
An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required for land-use changes.
Map: Level 1 Protected Areas and Aggregate Potential Overlay
Use the slider to see how aggregate extraction potential overlays protected areas.
Level 2: Somewhat Protected
At Level 2, lands have weaker protections than Level 1. For some activities no Environmental Impact Assessment is required, including for low footprint infrastructure for which there is no alternative, non-intrusive recreation, maintenance of existing infrastructure, fish, forest, and wildlife management, stewardship and conservation activities, flood or erosion control, and retrofits to stormwater facilities.
Level 2 protections inhibit rather than prevent most activities, and include:
- Setbacks and vegetation protection zones around protected features such as ANSI's, PSW's, permanent and intermittent streams and lakes;
- significant groundwater recharge areas and highly vulnerable aquifers;
- linkage areas (Oak Ridges Moraine);
- Simcoe County Greenlands linkage areas;
- and features adjacent to Level 1 features.
Level 3: Not Protected
Level 3 lands include farmland, roads, settlement and built-up areas.
These unprotected lands comprise just over 50,000 hectares.
To put this in context, the City of Toronto, home to nearly 3 million people (Simcoe County is expected to just push past 400,000 by 2031), covers an area of 63,000 hectares.
Joint Press Release: Ontario’s “Open For Business” Bill Endangers Simcoe County’s Water and Green Spaces
December 10, 2018
Joint press release regarding the perils of Ontario’s “Open for Business” Bill 66 from Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and Ontario Headwaters Institute
Barrie, ON - On Thursday, December 6, the provincial government tabled legislation known as the “Open for Business Bill”, or Bill 66. This bill provides municipalities with powers that endanger the clean water, healthy environment, and vibrant farming communities that make Ontario the best place in the world to live, play, and work. Bill 66 will allow developers access to formerly protected areas within the Greenbelt, Oak Ridges Moraine, Source Water Protection Areas, and the Lake Simcoe Watershed.
Bill 66 allows municipalities to get Ministerial approval for “Open for Business planning bylaws”, without notifying the public. Those bylaws are intended to fast track development proposals that are primarily (but not limited to) employment uses. But the bar is low. A development application needs only to provide for 50 jobs in order to qualify for application of this bylaw in most of the province. Having provided for jobs, the development application can include residential, industrial and commercial uses. And since development applications approved under the “Open for Business" bylaw sidestep public consultation and all of the environmental regulations listed above, it could lead to land uses that contaminate our water and destroy our protected green spaces.
Let’s not forget that the 2000 Walkerton tragedy, in which seven people died, can be traced back in part to a Red Tape Commission launched in 1995 by then premier Mike Harris, which also aimed to open Ontario for business after years of "provincial red-tape fatigue.” Some of the policies that could potentially be subverted under Bill 66 were created following the Walkerton tragedy.
Margaret Prophet, Executive Director of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, says, “Our drinking water is already under threat considering the number of private wells and vulnerable aquifers that don’t receive fulsome protection from contamination or over-extraction. And this bill adds municipal wells to the list of water sources under threat. Why would we even consider putting people’s water at risk? Who does this benefit?”
This bill also ignores the reality that some planning is best done at a regional level, to ensure region-wide systems, such as watersheds, continue to function properly. Local knowledge and sound science play a central role in regional planning documents such as the Greenbelt Plan and Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. “Without these regional planning documents we put the public interest at risk,” argues Prophet.
For Lake Simcoe, this bill is bad news for a body of water already under threat. Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition Executive Director, Claire Malcolmson, states, “Bill 66 is completely inconsistent with the Province’s recent “Made in Ontario Environment Plan”, which stated last week that the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan would continue to be implemented. The targets and protections in the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan are based on extensive scientific research. Allowing any development to sidestep these protections is a threat to the Lake, the quality of life of its residents, and to the local tourism industry which depends on Lake Simcoe’s health. If this goes ahead, we may as well start planning Lake Simcoe’s funeral.”
The Ontario Headwaters Institute (OHI) for its part is concerned about how the new bill will impact both water and nature. According to Executive Director, Andrew McCammon, “Over the last year, the OHI conducted numerous workshops to craft common visions for a sustainable Ontario. In Simcoe, as elsewhere, it was clear that communities want more protection for our water and our natural areas, not less. We shared those results with the province and rather than extending such protections, the Ford government appears intent on curtailing them. We need sound government policies that balance development and environmental protection, not unaccountable growth that threatens Ontario’s ecology.”
About the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition: www.simcoecountygreenbelt.ca: The Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition is a diverse coalition of 35 organizations from across Simcoe County and the province calling on local and provincial leaders to better protect our water resources, green spaces and farmland through smart growth and sustainable policies including expansion of the Greenbelt into Simcoe County.
For media inquiries please contact: Margaret Prophet, co-chair, SCGC
705-718-1383 email: email@example.com
About: The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition is a lake-wide member based organization that provides leadership and inspires people to take action to protect Lake Simcoe. www.rescuelakesimcoe.org
For media inquiries please contact: Claire malcolmson, Executive Director
Published October 19, 2016, in the Barrie Examiner
"SPRINGWATER TWP. – In Simcoe County, we see water everywhere and believe we have an abundance of the precious resource.
Margaret Prophet of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition would like to burst that bubble with a loud pop.
“The idea that our water is plentiful and secure is a myth,” Prophet told a group of about 30 people gathered at the Midhurst United Church Wednesday morning.
A panel of half-a-dozen interested parties, including the founder of Ontario Farmland Preservation, Bernard Pope, Tottenham mother Nancy McBride, who’s concerned about the quality of her tap water, Becky Big Canoe on the band council of the Chippewas of Georgina Island and environmentalist Bob Bowles spoke at the symposium.
With a pre-recorded video from former Toronto mayor David Crombie, the group is one of 30 across Ontario calling on the province to protect the greenbelt, which includes the Oak Ridges Moraine in the Greater Toronto Area, and add Simcoe County to those protected lands.
The idea is to create a bluebell of protected lands around the existing greenbelt that would protect the source of drinking water for 1.25 million residents, as well as supporting agriculture economies."
Read the rest, here.
For immediate release
From The Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition
July 18 2016
Local Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition calls for action on water protection
Dozens of organizations and activists join residents calling for a ‘Bluebelt’ to protect water sources for the health and prosperity of the region.
July 18, 2016 / Simcoe County/ Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition- The Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition (SCGC) is calling on the province and county to expand the Greenbelt into the County to protect our vulnerable and important water resources. This is as a direct result of The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority’s issuance of a level 1 low water response for its watershed and direction to residents and businesses to reduce water consumption.
“Simcoe County’s watersheds are routinely identified through the province’s low water monitoring system according to Conservation Ontario data. This is a warning that a business-as -usual approach is not working here. We need aggressive measures to ensure that we can continue to provide water to our residents, farmers and industries going forward,” says SCGC co-chair Margaret Prophet. “Ensuring policies direct growth and development away from areas that threaten our water supply is a logical first step. We feel the Greenbelt can be a game changer for how Simcoe County approaches what we protect and how we develop our communities.”
The Greenbelt would overlay areas that directly supply residents’ drinking water such as the Oro Moraine as well as areas that allow precipitation to refill our groundwater reservoirs. Wetlands and greenspaces that filter our water and mitigate against flooding would also be protected under an expanded Greenbelt.
Local water advocate and environmental scientist, Connie Spek, agrees. “Why should water be political? Why are we dragging our feet when it comes to putting in best practices that have been shown to increase the health of wetlands and forests? Don’t the residents, businesses, farmers and environment of Simcoe County deserve the utmost level of protection and conservation? The Greenbelt is a good and necessary first step towards a brighter water future for Simcoe County.”
Founder of Ontario Farmland Preservation and OFA member, Bernard Pope, believes inaction due to lack of political will have far-reaching effects. “Many of the farmers in Holland Marsh are dealing with crop loss due to flooding and hail. Farmers in Brant County are dealing with drought conditions and many have already lost their crops for this season. Agriculture is the number one value-added sector in the province and we need water. Look at what has happened in California to farmers when water becomes scarce. If farmland continues to be turned over to houses and water continues to not be properly protected, I worry for the future of my industry and our region.”
The SCGC recently partnered with environmental advocates, agricultural organizations, and community members across the Greater Golden Horseshoe to expand the call for even greater protection of the GGH’s water resources.
The Province announced in May, as part of the coordinated land use planning review, a proposal to grow the Greenbelt into 21 urban river valleys and 7 coastal wetlands. The SCGC wants to go further and protect key areas in need of stronger protection, including locally the Oro Moraine, Minesing Wetlands, Nottawasaga Watershed and Wasaga Beach, wetlands of Ramara, and many other areas of hydrological significance.
The grassroots campaign is building momentum every day, with thousands of residents across the region taking action by writing to Minister for Municipal Affairs Bill Mauro to support the government’s recommendations and urge that the Province grow the Greenbelt in many parts of the province including Simcoe County and Brant County.
“We know that 9 out of 10 residents see the Greenbelt as the most significant environmental initiative in Ontario,” said Burkhard Mausberg, CEO of Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation. “The number one reason these residents give for supporting the Greenbelt is the protection of water resources. Growing the Greenbelt to protect our water resources is more of a good thing.”
Says Prophet, “It’s time we start listening to the science and the science is indicating that we should be concerned about our water. With people all over the region demanding change, the big question is whether the political will is there to take the bold and necessary steps and grow our Greenbelt and protect our water. We hope that there is. I can't imagine people 50 years from now will say we did too much to ensure our water is clean and plentiful.”
Supporters are encouraged to join the movement and visit www.growourgreenbelt.ca/action to add their voice to the growing chorus of residents championing growing the Greenbelt in their communities.
About Grow Our GB The #GrowOurGB initiative is a coalition between organizations and associations representing more than 120 member groups, and 300,000 members across Ontario. Launched on June 21, the #GrowOurGB Primer, ‘Growing the Green, Protecting the Blue’ is a comprehensive guide to understanding how we can act now to protect water resources for our future. Visit www.growourgreenbelt.ca to learn more and take action. Backgrounder information is available, contact the writer below.
About SCGC The Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition is a diverse coalition of over 30 organizations from across Simcoe County and the province calling on local and provincial leaders to expand the Greenbelt into Simcoe County. The SCGC looks forward to engaging the public and stakeholders about the role an expanded Greenbelt would play in the future of Simcoe County. Visit www.simcoecountygreenbelt.ca to learn more and take action.
About the Greenbelt Ontario’s Greenbelt is the solution for fresh air, clean water, healthy local food, active outdoor recreation, and a thriving economy. At nearly two million acres, it’s the world’s largest permanently protected greenbelt, keeping our farmlands, forests, and wetlands safe and sustainable.
Margaret Prophet, Co-Chair, SCGC, Cell 705-718-1383 , Email m_prophet[at]hotmail.com
Published January 29, 2016, in the Barrie Advance
"Imagine you spread anti-bacterial liquid all over your hands. Later that day, you wash your hands with soap and water.
Those germ-fighting chemicals are now running down the drain with Barrie’s water supply headed to the sewage treatment plant.
Such chemicals can negatively affect water ecology, warns Connie Spek, a local water expert. “We almost take it for granted. It’s easy to ignore things that have always been there,” she said.
The former member of the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority is one of four speakers at a free, public event Jan. 30. Experts will discuss issues surrounding regional water, farmland and natural heritage systems.
Expanding Ontario’s Greenbelt in Simcoe County is also on the agenda.
The event is organized by AWARE Simcoe and Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.
Spek said people put chemicals down the drain without realizing it, such as hormones from medication that show up in urine and Nano silver from antibacterial yarn, used in odour-free socks.
“We’re a modern society (but) we kind of let things slide,” she said. “The most startling thing to happen in our province was Walkerton. I turn on the tap – that’s municipal water – and it’s safe. I make that assumption.”
Although the water crisis in Walkerton in 2000 sparked increased regulations and source-water protection, Spek said there is always more people can do."
Read the rest, here.