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© Lora Denis
The Ontario government is proposing to expand the Greenbelt to protect water for future generations. Why then has it excluded the headwaters of rivers and streams in the Whitebelt from consideration?
The headwaters of the Humber, Don and Rouge Rivers and Duffins and Carruthers Creeks are not part of the proposed study area, which is looking only at the so-called “outer ring.” Yet if the purpose of Greenbelt expansion is indeed to protect precious water resources, surely we can’t ignore the Whitebelt headwaters. Especially if we are to prepare for the staggering growth in human population forecast for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area – 46 percent in the next 25 years!
Take Carruthers Creek for example. The headwaters of Carruthers Creek, north of Ajax, are completely surrounded by the Greenbelt. They are the unprotected hole in the doughnut, all prime agricultural land.
The creek flows south through Ajax into Lake Ontario. Not surprisingly, Ajax has a direct interest in seeing the Carruthers headwaters protected. Ajax mayor, Steve Parish, has been advocating for their inclusion in the Greenbelt for many years on the grounds that development in the headwaters would increase the risk of floods downstream and result in the loss of farmland. He has been at loggerheads, however, with other politicians in Durham Region who would prefer to see the area open to development.
Politics aside for a moment, let’s take a look at this from another perspective – that of the redside dace, an endangered fish found only in southern Ontario and which has disappeared from much of its former range. Carruthers Creek is one of the few places in Ontario where redside dace are still hanging on.
The integrity of the headwaters of streams that this fish inhabits is extremely important to its survival and well-being. Development is one of the most significant threats because it leads to excessive erosion and sedimentation, altered water temperatures and loss of vegetated streamside buffers.
Interestingly, redside dace need clear water to see their prey. They are highly sensitive to suspended particles in the water caused by erosion and sedimentation. Water quality matters to them, as it does to us.
That is why scientists consider redside dace to be an excellent indicator of the health of our waterways. Because they require cool, clear waters, their absence or decline signals that development has gone too far, significantly impairing water quality.
By the same token, their continued presence, in places like Carruthers Creek, signal that it’s not too late, that we still have a chance to do right by redside dace, the people of Ajax and all of us who depend on healthy streams and rivers. Let’s not squander the opportunity that Greenbelt expansion offers.
Hopefully our new Ontario Government are serious about the environment and effective conservation. Rod Phillips should stand for all of Ontario as well as his home riding of Ajax. Developers have had their interests put ahead of the environment for too long.