Sunday was World Rivers Day, a day to promote the stewardship and health of our rivers. In Ontario, the government is responsible for protecting the Oak Ridges Moraine, a 160-kilometre ridge of sand and gravel hills running along the northern part of the Greater Toronto Area, for its value to Ontarians: providing headwaters to 65 river systems, homes for more than 70 threatened and endangered species and drinking water for more than 250,000 people.

Every day, however, the Ontario government allows millions of litres of water to be pumped from the Moraine to water golf courses, sort sand and gravel, keep water bottling companies in business and, during the winter, to make snow. These industrial and commercial activities threaten a sensitive ecosystem that naturally filters the water many Ontarians get from their taps.

This week, Ecojustice and Earthroots launched three infographics that set out the challenges, symptoms and solutions to this problem. We wanted to show Ontarians how the government is managing its Permit to Take Water program on the Oak Ridges Moraine.

A Permit to Take Water is required for most activities that pump more than 50,000 litres per day.
The first two infographics in our series, Moraine Drain and Moraine Management, were released on earlier this week.

Solving Moraine Drain
Today’s infographic is the third in our three-part series. It outlines a few of the steps needed to resolve the challenges that are impeding protection of Moraine water systems.

Our recommendations
The challenges we faced in attempting to analyze the cumulative impact of water pumping on the Moraine has emphasized the lack of clear information being provided to the public with respect to decisions that impact our common water sources.

We recommend that the Ministry of the Environment

    1. Revise and improve the database for water management decisions, including increased transparency on actual water taking on the Oak Ridges Moraine. Provide up-to-date data on how much water is being used, not just how much is allowed to be used. This will empower Ontarians seeking information about who is pumping water within and near their community, how much is being permitted for which types of uses and inform the dialogue about how to prioritize uses as climate change impacts the amount of water available and its quality.
    2. Better coordinate its management of the Oak Ridges Moraine with the various authorities who share a responsibility to monitor and protect the Moraine in order to ensure the continued function of this valuable resource.
    3. Create a transparent and effective process for assessing the cumulative impact of water takings, particularly as it relates to Permits to Take Water on and near the Oak Ridges Moraine.
    4. Have an open conversation with Ontarians about prioritizing water uses and seek to charge fees on more water users. Only a relatively small number of industrial or commercial water users — including water bottlers, beverage manufacturers, agricultural chemical manufacturing facilities and ready-mix concrete manufacturing facilities — pay for the water they pump. These charges support a small portion of the government’s oversight of the water program. Plans exist to charge more water users (including mining, pulp and paper, non-hydroelectric power and recreational sectors) for the water they pump and use to earn a profit. But these plans have not been implemented.

Our vision
We believe that more can be and should be done to protect the Oak Ridges Moraine. The lack of easily accessible information and the lack of attention being given to the total impact of all the water pumping on the Moraine threatens Ontarians’ access to safe and clean drinking water.

We believe that Ontarians have a right to clean water and that it is the role of government to protect that resource.

What can you do?
Help us share this infographic and educate others about what the government needs to do to preserve the Moraine for us and our children. Mention this blog post on Twitter or Facebook or see the options to embed the infographic on your site by placing your cursor over it.