Ontario Must Act to Protect Waterways Within the Greenbelt
Pressure is mounting on all sides. The Greater Toronto Area is planning to accommodate another four million people and provide over six million jobs in the next 25 years. New residents will demand affordable housing options, connected and walkable communities, social services, and the preservation of our environment. Preservation will include farmland for growing local food, green spaces, and the protection of our water quality. All of this, with lower taxes. In response, the provincial government is conducting a thorough review of The Greenbelt Plan that aims to strike a balance between these competing needs.
The winning vision
Ontario introduced the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006, and the Greenbelt Plan, 2005, in an effort to grow strategically, more efficiently, combat sprawl, and create more complete communities where we can live, work, and play. The plans are a step in the right direction and have received many awards in recognition of vision and positive impacts. And yet, more is needed to protect our natural heritage.
Looking back over the past ten years, it is clear that, municipalities need support to accommodate increases in intensification and density targets so that roads, transit, and other infrastructure is in place sooner. Going forward, even greater provincial support is needed and should be addressed through the current Coordinated Land Use Planning Review process. The province needs to allow for municipalities to achieve provincial goals; but one size does not always fit all. A clear and transparent process needs to be established for growing the Greenbelt.
Growing the green; protecting the blue
Being that the Growth Plan and the Greenbelt Plan have begun to address the protection of green space, attention should also be given to expanding the plan by adding sensitive water features. The headwaters of the Carruthers Creek, located in northeast Pickering, is situated outside the Oak Ridges Moraine, and is therefore not protected. The area is vulnerable to development pressure that could result in downstream flooding and erosion. These headwaters are comprised of prime agricultural lands, containing sensitive hydrological features completely surrounded by the Greenbelt. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority has identified the Carruthers headwaters as a priority area that should be protected. Guided by an environment-first philosophy, the Town of Ajax believes that protecting the Carruthers Creek headwaters is necessary. A watershed study is underway now that will inform whether urbanization should occur in the area; developers own a significant portion of this area and intend to build.
Protection of headwaters is just one of four priority areas identified for action by the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation for the Co-ordinated Review. They propose a Bluebelt that includes threatened headwaters, moraines, groundwater recharge and discharge areas, wetlands, and rivers and streams across Southern Ontario. Recognizing that the pressure to urbanize on and around our sensitive water features is never going to decrease, the group believes that now is the time to ensure that these areas are protected, before irreparable damage is done.
The province must act
Water is one of Canada’s greatest resources, and it is up to us as citizens to protect it. Urbanization needs to be planned in a sustainable, smart way that considers water systems holistically and prevents downstream flooding, biodiversity loss, and erosion. Although the Co-ordinated Review includes a new Urban River Valley designation to protect waterways between the Greenbelt and the Great Lakes and other inland lakes, it does not go far enough.
The Growth Plan and Greenbelt Plans will continue to shape growth and development across the Greater Golden Horseshoe, but we must seize this unique opportunity and apply the lessons learned to improve the sustainability of our communities.
Steve Parish is the Mayor of Ajax.