The official announcement came on December 7th. The province is proposing to grow the Greenbelt by up to another 345,000 hectares (see Figure 1), adding on to the 810,000 hectares already in permanent existence plus the extra 10,000 hectares of urban river valley lands and wetlands that were announced this spring. This is a truly impressive proposal.
At the heart of the decision is water. In the face of accelerating climate change and increasing pressures of population growth in the GTA, the government has become increasingly concerned about the risks of overlooking the strain being placed on our most precious commodity, water, and is increasingly committed to protecting both its quantity and quality.
Research indicates that many vital sources of groundwater to feed the wetlands and rivers in the Greenbelt and in Southern Ontario lie in hydrologically sensitive areas lying outside of current Greenbelt boundaries. Even with the addition of the Urban River Valleys (URVs), the Greenbelt is still not a self-contained, self-sustaining ecosystem. A look at the map indicates that many of these hydrologically important areas are the sites of large moraines, beds of gravel and other porous material left behind as glaciers receded and acting as huge filters and reservoirs for rainwater.
Figure 1: Map of potential Greenbelt expansion area obtained from MMAH website
Misdirected or undirected development and sprawl in these areas would have complex and far reaching negative consequences for the water supply. By adding these moraines onto the existing Greenbelt, long term protection could be much improved. And by redirecting urban growth to the hub areas that have been set aside for it, more natural areas are preserved for biodiversity, climate change mitigation, farming, tourism, active transportation, and all the other many benefits we receive.
But we note that these additions, however welcome, are only proposed, not achieved. Yet again, environmentalists must be prepared to keep guard, and to act, as the process unfolds. The province is accepting comments, questions and recommendations up until March 7, 2018. It will hold consultations with municipalities and stakeholders. You may submit your own comments or endorse the recommendations of a group, such as Sierra Club, whose evaluation you approve. Your voice is needed.
Stay tuned for updates!
Details on participation in MMAH's Public Consultation: http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/Page17641.aspx
Ontario Greenbelt Alliance News Release: http://www.greenbeltalliance.ca/node/167
The Star article: https://www.thestar.com/business/2017/12/08/ontario-may-expand-greenbelt-to-protect-water-supply.html
Coverage of expansion in Simcoe County: http://barrie.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1280088
This article was written by Thaia Jones, Greenbelt Campaign Chair at Sierra Club Ontario.
Blog image of Oak Ridges Moraine was obtained from TRCA website.