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Golf Courses in Southern Ontario: A Strain on the Moraine and Our Water Resources


Due to the growing popularity of golf, a number of courses have sprouted up across Southern Ontario over the past few decades.  These courses are now speckled across Ontario’s Greenbelt and sensitive Oak Ridges Moraine, areas the province has finally agreed to protect.  While golf courses may have a façade of ‘greenness’ due to their appearance, the reality is that maintaining unnaturally-short, perfect green grass on such large areas requires staggering amounts of groundwater, alongside a slough of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.

As part of a coalition of conservation groups, concerned citizens, and municipal leaders that pushed for the creation of Ontario’s Greenbelt and protection for the Oak Ridges Moraine, Earthroots is extremely concerned about the environmental impacts that golf courses are having on these allegedly ‘protected’ areas.  Golf courses are allowed on the vast majority of the Greenbelt, including a large portion of the Oak Ridges Moraine.

Due to our concerns, Earthroots has formed a partnership with Ecojustice, formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund, to begin researching the actual impacts golf courses are having on these sensitive areas.  Unfortunately, because Ontario golf courses are only monitored through self-reporting and evaluation, it is extremely difficult to find any information regarding actual water takings, pesticide and other chemical use, or the environmental impacts of these activities.

Through a series of costly information requests regarding permits to take water issued to golf courses by the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), Earthroots and Ecojustice have completed a case study on 9 golf courses on the Oak Ridges Moraine in the Aurora/Newmarket area.  Our alarming findings were released in a report entitled Ontario’s Water Hazard: The Cumulative Impact of Golf Courses On Our Water Resources. Please visit the “latest news” section of our website at

While the province has recently reaffirmed its commitment to protecting our freshwater resources by reforming its water laws and policies, our findings revealed shocking realities about common practice at the MOE indicating a huge degree of neglect, incompetence, and fatal flaws in the province’s current permitting system. It appears that the MOE is lacking integral information regarding the different groundwater resources respective golf courses are taking water from, information that would be necessary to accurately monitor if groundwater takings are sustainable.  Another issue is that the MOE is not ensuring that permits to take water held by golf courses are current: one course operated for 17 years without a valid permit, another for 9 years, without any known legal recourse.

Equally disturbing, while courses are required to submit annual monitoring reports to the MOE, the vast majority of courses we examined did not seem to be submitting such reports. Despite this fact the MOE has still continued to renew permits to take groundwater to golf courses at, or above their initial levels.  Similarly, the MOE is not screening for important pre-requisites before awarding permits: the new proposed Westhill golf course in Aurora was granted a permit to take water which then had to be revoked, as the MOE had issued the permit without ensuring that a required Environmental Assessment had been completed.  It seems that all one has to do to get permit to take water is apply.

Even more alarming are the actual amounts of water being used; the 9 existing courses alone are allocated over 3 billion litres of water per year.  This would be enough water to supply all annual water needs for almost 25,000 Canadians, based on Canada’s hugely wasteful personal water use rate of 343 litres per day.  To put this into perspective, a human being requires 20 to 50 litres of water per day to meet basic needs, meaning that the water supplied to these 9 golf courses could meet the needs of 170,000 to 427,000 people in other parts of the world.

This alarming consumption of groundwater becomes even more alarming when we examine the Oak Ridges Moraine as a whole.  Earthroots has found that there are 41 courses on the Moraine, and an additional 28 courses within 5 km of the Moraine. With this in mind, it should not be surprising that despite the bountiful supply of groundwater we have in Southern Ontario, the Aurora/Newmarket area has been experiencing ongoing issues with declining groundwater levels.  Both municipalities have been forced to supplement groundwater supplies with water from Lake Ontario over the past few years.

Normally, under groundwater regulations, the MOE will engage in a cumulative impacts assessment of a watershed when there is a high density of heavy groundwater users in that watershed, when the area exhibits declining groundwater levels over a period of 5 years, or when water shortages regularly occur in the drier summer months. Our research indicates that all three of these conditions are present on the watershed shared by Aurora and Newmarket; however, after speaking with representation from the MOE, it would appear that no such study is being pursued.

It is important to note that the environmental issues surrounding golf do not end with their enormous consumption of groundwater.  Because of the massive amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides used, courses also pose a serious risk for groundwater contamination.  We are now beginning to recognize the serious threats posed by the use of these chemicals, a fact that is underlined by new provincial pesticide bans.  Unfortunately these bans exempt golf courses.

Take Action!

Ontario’s Water Hazard brings into question the extreme degree of neglect by the MOE in properly managing and allocating groundwater resources.  There is a need for immediate action contact Premier Dalton McGuinty and the Minister of Environment John Gerretsen and ask for:

•    No new golf courses in any Greenbelt areas.
•    Existing courses to be subjected to conservation measures, including guidelines limiting the use of groundwater and dangerous chemicals.
•    Regulations which force golf courses to comply with to the same guidelines as the general public in regards to prohibiting pesticide use.

It’s time for Ontario to avoid this water hazard and bring our practices up to par!


The Honourable Dalton McGuinty                               The Honourable John Gerretsen

Premier of Ontario                                                              Minister of the Environment

Legislative Building, Room 281                                      12th Floor, 135 St. Clair Ave. W.

Queen's Park                                                                          Toronto, ON 

Toronto, ON  M7A 1A1                                                       M4V 1P5

Phone: 416-325-1941                                                          Phone: 416-314-6790

Fax: 416-325-9895                                                               Fax: 416-314-7337

For more information please contact Josh Garfinkel at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / 416-599-0152 x15.