Moraine Water Diversion
It’s About Water! Gambling With the New Blue Gold
It’s About Water! is the campaign slogan adopted by residents of Cavan Monaghan township, Peterborough County, in a successful fight to protect their water resources from an extremely concerning development. The Fraserville proposal would see an expansion to the existing Casino at Kawartha Downs, 684 new residential units, a new golf course with a club house, and 120 acres of employment lands. If put forward today, Fraserville would be immediately quashed by the provinces new ‘Places to Grow’ growth plan, which aims to specifically stop this sort of low-denisty, sprawling development. However, as plans for Fraserville were submitted just months before the growth plan’s enactment, the development had a green light to move forward.
Even more concerning, Fraserville does not have the water resources to support a development of this scale – the Casino is already trucking in potable water daily. In an attempt to bring water to the site, town council put forward a proposal to pipe water from the Oak Ridges Moraine 12 kilometers to the Fraserville site, prompting a huge public outcry from residents in and around the hamlet of Millbrook, whose wells would have been drawn to capacity.
Pandora’s Box for the Oak Ridges Moraine
Early this year Earthroots and STORM (Save the Oak Ridges Moraine) Coalition joined local citizens in their fight to stop this precedent setting proposal. Fraserville is one of the first instances where we have seen an attempt to pipe water from ‘protected’ aquifers on the Oak Ridges Moraine to support new development off the Moraine, opening a Pandora’s box for the region’s most important groundwater source. Through its system of underground aquifers, the Oak Ridges Moraine supplies water directly to 250,000 people living on the Moraine. It also forms the headwaters for 65 rivers and streams, acting as a giant filter that cleanses the rain and snowmelt which recharges the large lakes that millions of other Ontarians rely on for their water.
Fraserville has revealed a serious gap in the landmark Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (ORMCP); while numerous measures in this legislation protect the Moraine’s groundwater resources from development on the Moraine, no protection is triggered when a development stick a pipe into the Moraine to siphon off water from afar! As the ORMCP has been effective at stopping most development on the Moraine, the real threat to Moraine aquifers at this point is from development off the Moraine.
Fraserville has underlined just how vulnerable the Moraine’s groundwater resources are. Until Earthroots and STORM joined the fight, local citizens were largely being ignored by their council, who seemed to think the public outcry was just a ‘not in my back yard’ attitude. By using our clout to garner media attention and arrange meetings with the Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Local MPP Rick Johnson, and two Cavan Monaghan councilors, we were able to bolster the It’s About Water! campaign and give it the boost it needed. By raising the profile of the issue, and legitimizing the tireless, strategic work of local grassroots activists, some Cavan Monaghan councilors began asking questions and listening to concerns.
While Fraserville plans are still undergoing the Ministry of the Environment’s Environmental Assessment process, at the beginning of August 2010 Cavan Monaghan Council finally responded to the overwhelming outcry and legitimate concerns raised by their constituents. In an unprecedented move council passed a motion to cease any further consideration of diverting Moraine waters to support development in Fraserville!
Big Victory Raises Bigger Concerns
While this was a huge victory for the Moraine, the reality of the situation is that under the current legislative framework this proposal could have easily moved forward. And in most Southern Ontario municipalities it would have. Most municipal councils are not nearly as bold or receptive, and the level of community engagement, dedication, and strategic campaigning that stopped this project is a rare thing.
Earthroots has already learned of two other proposals that aim to exploit this same gap in the ORMCP by piping allegedly protected Moraine water to new developments off the Moraine. In the hamlet of Colgan on the Northwest corner of the Moraine, two new proposed subdivisions are seeking to pipe water from the Oak Ridges Moraine, as the existing community is already struggling with water shortages. Similarly, in the community of Mount Albert in East Gwillumbury, planned growth is stretching local water systems beyond capacity, prompting a proposal to pipe groundwater from the Oak Ridges Moraine.
The prediction that water will be the new oil for this century is beginning to ring true, even here in Ontario where we have access to a large percentage of the world’s freshwater. With this in mind, protecting the Moraine and its invaluable water resources is vital to a sustainable future for Southern Ontario. While our victory in Fraserville gives us hope for the future of the Moraine, it also demonstrates that water shortages and the politics of who can access water and how are already upon us. The Colgan and Mount Albert proposals underline our fears that the fight to protect the Oak Ridges Moraine is far from over.
The ORMCP and Greenbelt legislation are coming up for review in 2015. The Moraine was first protected in 2001 due to a huge outcry from communities across Southern Ontario. Leading up this to review, we need your voices again to send a clear message to policy makers that draining the Moraine for offsite development is a disastrous idea, and that stronger protection and more sustainable planning for the use of Moraine waters is essential.
Submit your comments today through the premier’s website: https://www.premier.gov.on.ca/feedback