The Ontario government’s Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan moves land-use planning to protect water resources into a new realm. At the time of writing, the plan was in draft stage, out for public comment. By the time you read this, the Moraine Plan will very likely be in its final form. To read the plan, please go to www.mah.gov.on.ca (the website of the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs & Housing) and from the home page, click on Oak Ridges Moraine.
The 160-kilometre-long (100-mile-long) Oak Ridges Moraine, stretching east-west, north of Toronto in both the Lake Ontario and Lake Huron Watersheds, has been the focus of intense public debate for over a decade — but especially since 1999, when the pressures of urban sprawl on the Moraine inflamed the public and woke up the politicians. The result was the introduction of draft new provincial legislation in November 2001 (given final passage in December) and release of the draft Moraine Plan. Although the Moraine Plan does have some weaknesses, conservation groups have been pleased overall that the government has, at long last, taken this bold step to protect the Moraine.
The Moraine Plan is the most comprehensive one in Ontario when it comes to protecting groundwater and surface water resources. Here’s what the plan requires:
· By November 2002, counties and regions must start preparing watershed plans for watersheds whose headwaters are within the Moraine area. The goal of watershed plans is to protect the ecological and hydrological integrity of the watershed. After November 2006, large-scale development will be permitted only where it conforms to a completed watershed plan.
· By November 2002, counties and regions must start preparing water budgets and water conservation plans on a watershed basis. After November 2006, large-scale development will be permitted only where the water budget and water conservation plan demonstrate that the necessary water supply for such development is sustainable without compromising the ecological and hydrological integrity of the Moraine.
· No development or site alteration will be permitted within “hydrologically sensitive features”, which includes permanent and intermittent streams, wetlands, kettle lakes, seepage areas, and springs; and within “minimum areas of influence” near streams and seepage areas. Development applications within areas of influence for wetlands and kettle lakes must be accompanied by a hydrological evaluation that, among other things, demonstrates no negative impact and includes a self-sustaining vegetation protection zone.
· No development outside existing urban areas will be permitted that would cause the total percentage of impervious surfaces to exceed 10 percent of the area of any subwatershed. (A watershed plan may specify a lower percentage).
· A long list of land uses are prohibited in wellhead protection areas, including underground and above-ground storage tanks not equipped with approved secondary containment devices, gas stations, landfill sites, dry cleaning shops, auto-wrecking yards, wood preservation sites, and many types of manufacturing.
Conservation groups such as Save the Oak Ridges Moraine (STORM) Coalition and the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (FON) have identified some weaknesses in the Moraine Plan’s water protection regime. First, somewhat surprisingly given the Walkerton water crisis (caused by cattle manure contaminating drinking water in May 2000), the Moraine Plan does not specifically address intensive livestock operations. STORM Coalition and FON had called for the plan to restrict intensive farming in the Moraine’s Natural Core Areas and Natural Linkage Areas (together comprising 62 percent of the Moraine area) and in all areas vulnerable to groundwater contamination, including wellhead protection areas.
Second, there is cause for concern that watershed plans are to be prepared solely by municipalities (counties and regions), many of which may not have the necessary resources to undertake this work, and there does not appear to be a mechanism planned for the provincial government to approve these plans. The Province should provide funding to help prepare the watershed plans and should set up an approvals body.
Federation of Ontario Naturalists
Serving as Hub for Ontario
355 Lesmill Road
Don Mills, ONT M3B 2W8
(416)-444-8419, ext. 243