8 years later - Oak Ridges Moraine water still in jeopardy

Media Release

Earthroots and STORM call for increased protection of the Moraine on Earth Day

(Toronto)  April 22nd, 2010 marks 8 years since the establishment of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, heralded at the time as one of the most progressive conservation-based policy frameworks in Ontario’s history.  In 2001 the Province of Ontario enacted special legislation to protect the 160-kilometre Oak Ridges Moraine. Described as southern Ontario’s rain barrel, the Moraine is a groundwater recharge/discharge area that feeds 65 river systems and provides drinking water to over 250,000 people.  The Moraine’s permeable sands and gravel absorb and collect precipitation, which slowly recharge underground aquifers.

However 8 years later, environmentalists and concerned citizens have unearthed glaring gaps in the conservation plan’s water protection policies that are being exploited by developers and municipal governments.  These gaps allow developers to leapfrog the Moraine and by-pass protection by piping ‘Moraine groundwater’ from within protected areas to service water needs for new developments off the Moraine.  “The intent of the conservation plan was to ensure that the cumulative impacts of major water-takings associated with development would be assessed through progressive watershed planning”, says Josh Garfinkel, Senior Campaigner for Earthroots. “However watershed plans are only required if new development happens within the Oak Ridges Moraine boundary.  There’s nothing to stop Moraine waters being used to service development off the Moraine.”

More concerning is the lack of special mechanisms or tests within the existing permit to take water process to protect the Moraine’s deep aquifers from being over-exploited, despite their significance in storing and releasing groundwater, “When talking about the Moraine, the crux of the issue is water,” explains Garfinkel. “However, we are now starting to see that the Ministry of the Environment is not effectively monitoring groundwater levels in these sensitive Moraine aquifers – thus, they are not enforcing their own policies with respect to water.”

The 8th anniversary should not be met only with criticism, notes Debbe Crandall, Executive Director of Save the Oak Ridges Moraine (STORM) Coalition.  “We continue to celebrate and champion the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan as being progressive in its environment-first approach. However, we are seeing scenarios and areas of weakness that weren’t anticipated when the plan was written – it’s time for these policy gaps to be addressed.  It means that the battle to save the Moraine is far from over.”

Organizations such as STORM and Earthroots are working diligently to conduct research, and lobby the government over the coming years. “The Oak Ridges Moraine and Greenbelt plans are up for review in 5 years”, explains Crandall.  “So the next few years are critical for us to show the public and the government that more work needs to be done to protect our watersheds, and to demand greater accountability and transparency when it comes to the management of our shared water resources.”

For more information contact: Josh Garfinkel, Earthroots’ Senior Campaigner 416-562-3894 (cell) or Debbe Crandall, STORM’s Executive Director at 905-880-3465.