By Faisal Moola - David Suzuki Foundation
Sponge. Filter. Tap. Watersheds really are nature's awesome multipurpose tool.
Today we released a new report that reveals the Ontario's renowned Greenbelt is providing residents with more than $1 billion in economic benefits each year by filtering and regulating the water that ends up in our waterways and flows out of our taps. Best of all, the fields, forests, streams and wetlands of the Greenbelt do this absolutely free of charge.
Protecting watershed as a natural filter for pollutants isn't a new idea. In the late 1990s, New York City, choose to invest $1.5 billion to protect and restore the source of their drinking water — the surrounding Catskill and Delaware watersheds — to avoid massive capital costs associated with overhauling the city's waterworks.
By protecting its watersheds, the city didn't have to spend the estimated $6-8 billion and more than half a million each year afterwards to build new water treatment and filtration systems. Rather than having their water rates double as had been predicted, New Yorkers' water bills went up only a modest 10 per cent as a result of the decision to invest in water conservation and watershed protection.
Similarly, in today's report, ecological economists Sara Wilson and Michelle Molnar estimated that if the Greenbelt's forests and wetlands were to be reduced by 30 per cent, local water bills could go up by a whopping $381 per year. This is because the communities would need to replace the natural filtration and storm water regulation services that these ecosystems provide, for free, with engineered solutions.
The report also highlights the urgent need to strengthen protection for near-urban watersheds by expanding the Greenbelt further and preventing unsustainable development and industrial activities, like the proposed Highland mega-quarry located at the edge of the Greenbelt.
As this amazing video illustrates, if built, the Highland Company's 1,000 ha limestone mega-quarry would threaten the headwaters of five rivers that sustain some of the most productive farmland in North America.
The immense economic value of the Greenbelt clearly demonstrates the need to finally bring nature into the equation so as to better plan the growth of our towns and cities and to prevent unsustainable industrial development in the heart of our precious watersheds, such as the proposed Highland mega-quarry.