Why Wellington County Needs Greenbelt Protection

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 00:00 -- envirodef
This blog is part of our #ProtectOurWaters series that highlights residents who are fighting to expand the Greenbelt in their communities to protect vulnerable water supplies from urbanization and climate change.

Arlene Slocombe and her family live a simple off-grid lifestyle along the banks of the Eramosa River in Wellington County. They rely on water from the river and rain catchment throughout the year to supply their drinking needs. Arlene’s lifestyle is a testament to her efforts to protect water, and she is an inspiring community leader through her work at Wellington Water Watchers. She supports Greenbelt expansion to protect water systems that face growth pressures in her region.

Arlene Slocombe portrait in front of a gazebo in winter.

Q: How did you get involved in Greenbelt action?

A: I was a founding member of Wellington Water Watchers in 2007, a group that is committed to the protection of water systems in our region. We carry out education and outreach initiatives in our communities to highlight threats to the Grand River watershed.

Our Official Plan enforces protections for our diverse water features, including our moraines, significant wetlands and river corridors. But, there are gaps in our environmental protections. We need the provincial Greenbelt to maintain healthy watershed conditions, including our surface and groundwater quality.

Our region and other municipalities within the Grand River watershed are heavily reliant on groundwater. Nearly 800,000 residents in Guelph, Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Brantford, and Brant County use groundwater that is cleaned, stored, and supplied by the Paris Galt, Orangeville, and Waterloo moraines. Protections of these moraines must be robust if we are to accommodate urban growth at its current pace.

Greenbelt designation can help protect these important groundwater recharge features in addition to our regional protections. As citizens of the upper portion of the Grand River watershed, we have a responsibility to protect source water here for future generations, and for those downstream.

Q: Why does water need protection in your region?

A: Ontario’s Growth Plan designates land supply for urban growth in our towns and cities. But, the Growth Plan can only be effective if it works alongside our regional and provincial legislation, which ensure lands outside of our urban boundaries are protected from development. We can no longer take our water resources for granted, especially as we are one of the fastest growing regions in Southern Ontario. Wellington County’s population is predicted to grow by 46 per cent by 2041. Piping water from the Great Lakes to accommodate our growth is a costly and redundant alternative. We need to safeguard the land and water we already have to support intensification.

Adding a layer of protection such as the Greenbelt will ensure that our region is inclusive in the broader provincial oversight. Without it, we run the risk of paving over our water features, which will reduce the recharge of our groundwater systems.

Q: How are community members getting involved?

A: Wellington Water Watchers has a broad reach through our supporter base and across social media. Through our newsletter and events we are able to educate and raise awareness. Our recent panel discussions and speaker events, featuring a prominent researcher on increasing flood incidents in southern Ontario, have also encouraged our supporters and local decision-makers to attend the Greenbelt expansion Public Open Houses. The moderator at our panel event was our former mayor, who is a vocal advocate of protecting the Paris Galt moraine.

Our communities are invested in taking care of the pristine water systems we have in our region. The words “protect our water” are truly resonant here, and you can see this as you drive by homes with lawn signs. We hope to continue engaging our hundreds of thousands of supporters in the conversation on water protection and land-use planning. Slowly but surely, our residents are fighting for change.