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