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Protecting water for future generations: Public consultation document

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Table of contents

Protecting Water for future Generations Cover

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Minister's message

Introduction

Impacts of urbanization on water resources
Growing the Greenbelt to protect water
Co-ordinated Land Use Planning Review
Purpose of the consultation document

Background

Ontario’s Greenbelt 
Greenbelt plan designations
Ontario’s policy-led planning system

What it would mean to grow the Greenbelt

Identifying the study area

Important water features
“Building blocks” approach

Moraines
Coldwater streams
Wetlands

Study area mapping

Approach to study area mapping
Description of the study area

Growth and settlement considerations

Types of settlement areas
Settlement area policies
Considerations for settlement areas – potential Greenbelt expansion

Other provincial priorities and initiatives

Agriculture
Natural heritage and natural heritage systems
Mineral aggregates
Infrastructure

Moving from a study area map to a new Greenbelt boundary

Appendix 1: Study area building blocks map
Appendix 2: Water resources
Appendix 3: Policies for protecting water in the GGH
Appendix 4: Policies for settlement areas in the GGH
Appendix 5: Other policy areas in the Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan, 2017

A printable PDF version will be available soon.

Minister's message

The Greater Golden Horseshoe’s water resource systems are critically important for communities throughout the region. These systems provide us with clean drinking water. They also support agricultural viability, ecosystem health, climate change mitigation, including reducing flood risks — and much more.

In the next 25 years, the Greater Golden Horseshoe’s population is forecasted to grow by approximately 50% or more than 4 million people. This growth will place tremendous pressure on our water resources.

Ontario has already taken action to protect these resourcesThe Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan work together to help protect our water systems. We recently completed a Co-ordinated Land Use Planning Review of these plans which resulted in stronger protections for water.
 

Over the years, the region’s environmental policies have evolved in response to population growth, scientific advances, and our better understanding of how and why we need to protect our natural environment.

When the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Greenbelt Plan were put in place, in 2002 and 2005 respectively, their boundaries provided permanent protection to some of the region’s most important hydrological areas. Those boundaries reflected urban growth pressures at that time.

In more recent years, the ‘outer ring’ has experienced significant growth and more is forecasted. The outer ring is the area within the Greater Golden Horseshoe that is on the outer edge of the Greenbelt.  This area contains valuable water resources and many communities that rely heavily on groundwater for their water supply.

We are proposing a potential expansion of the Greenbelt to better protect important water features in this area of the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

This is an important next step in the evolution of environmental protection in the region. 

The study area was identified based on scientific, technical and land use planning analysis of locations in the outer ring with the greatest concentrations of water features under pressure from urban growth.

We are seeking your feedback on the parameters of a future expansion. We will be consulting with the public, municipalities, conservation authorities, Indigenous communities and organizations and other key stakeholders. 

Input received through this consultation will help inform decisions on how to move from a study area to a proposed Greenbelt boundary.

Please review the consultation document. We hope you will take the time to share your opinions and insights with us.

Sincerely,

Hon. Bill Mauro
Minister of Municipal Affairs

Introduction

The Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) is one of North America’s most dynamic and fast-growing regions. It is home to a vibrant economy, world-renowned natural features and some of Canada’s most productive farmland. The population of the GGH is currently about 9 million, and is forecasted to grow to about 13.5 million by 2041. For outer ring municipalities within the GGH, the population is forecasted to grow from 2.29 million in 2016 to 3.35 million in 2041.

Figure 1: The Greater Golden Horseshoe. The "outer ring" consists of Barrie, Brantford, Guelph, Kawartha Lakes, Orillia, Peterborough, the Counties of Brant, Dufferin, Haldimand, Northumberland, Peterborough, Simcoe, and Wellington and the Regions of Niagara and Waterloo.

A map of the Greater Golden Horseshoe Region.

 

Water is essential to the success of the region. We rely on water resources to supply clean drinking water, manage wastewater and stormwater, and provide a competitive advantage to industries including agriculture and agri-food. Water resources also provide recreational opportunities and sustain plants and animals. Important water features such as wetlands also make us more resilient to the impacts of climate change, including more frequent and extreme weather events that can include flooding.

Our lakes, rivers, wetlands and underground aquifers play a major role in sustaining communities and the quality of life of current and future residents of the GGH  —  but the capacity of these water resources is limited. Urbanization and human activities are impacting the region’s water features, and can cause water quality and quantity issues. Anticipated growth will place even greater pressure on the region’s water resources.

Impacts of urbanization on water resources

Urbanization threatens the long-term health of hydrological systems throughout the region. Urban development impacts water resources in several ways. Water cannot flow through hard and impermeable surfaces such as roads, buildings and other paved or concrete areas and often collects as surface runoff in drains and storm sewers. As a result, more water flows directly into streams and lakes, and less water seeps into the soil to recharge aquifers for drinking water and to support ecological processes.

Innovations such as permeable pavements and other low impact development technologies can help reduce runoff, but these approaches are not relevant in all circumstances, and they do not fully eliminate the impact of urban development on hydrological systems.

Pollution is a major concern for both groundwater and surface water. When contaminants such as nutrients, hydrocarbons, heavy metals, road salt, pesticides and animal waste seep into aquifers where groundwater is stored, the effects can be long term and difficult to reverse. That is why it is very important to prevent this pollution before it occurs.

For surface water, the quality and purity of stormwater runoff can become compromised as it travels over an urban landscape and picks up contaminants. This untreated runoff is often discharged directly into a water body where it can impact drinking water sources, fish habitat and aquatic ecosystems.

Following significant storm events, the increased flow and volume of stormwater across the surface of the ground can also cause flash flooding and erosion. This rapid stormwater runoff may enter streams, causing the erosion of stream banks. This process adds sediment to streams that can negatively impact fish and other aquatic species. Stormwater runoff can also increase water temperature, affecting the survival of fish species such as brook trout that need cold water.

Growing the Greenbelt to protect water

Originally established in 2005, Ontario’s Greenbelt permanently protects roughly 810,000 ha of green space, farmland, vibrant communities, forests, wetlands, and watersheds. This document is part of the Province’s consultation on a study area for potential Greenbelt expansion to protect important water features in the outer ring of the GGH as the region continues to grow.

Co-ordinated Land Use Planning Review

Four major provincial land use plans — the Greenbelt Plan, the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (‘the Growth Plan’), the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan — work together to help guide growth and protect the environment in the GGH. The Province recently completed a Co-ordinated Land Use Planning Review which resulted in updates to all four plans. The updated plans are now in effect.

Protecting water was a key theme of the Co-ordinated Review. The updated Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan now contain stronger policies for protecting water resources across the GGH.

As part of the Co-ordinated Review, the Greenbelt was also grown by approximately 10,000 hectares including 21 new Urban River Valleys and associated coastal wetland areas.

The advisory panel for the Co-ordinated Review, chaired by David Crombie, highlighted the importance of protecting water resources in the GGH. The panel recommended that the Province lead a process to grow Ontario’s Greenbelt to protect areas of ecological and hydrological significance where urbanization should not occur.

In keeping with the panel’s recommendation, the updated Greenbelt Plan, 2017 includes a new policy to support a provincially led process to grow the Greenbelt to protect ecological and hydrological features. The Province will also continue to consider municipal requests to grow the Greenbelt.

Upon releasing the updated Greenbelt Plan, 2017, the government committed to undertake a process, including public consultation, to expand the Greenbelt in the outer ring of the GGH with a focus on important water features under pressure from urban development.

Purpose of the consultation document

The purpose of this document is to seek feedback from various stakeholders, including the public, municipalities, conservation authorities and Indigenous communities and organizations on a study area for potential Greenbelt expansion.  This document:

  • describes the Province’s approach to identifying moraines, coldwater streams and wetlands as important features for protecting water in the outer ring
  • outlines the process followed for mapping the study area based on the locations of these features
  • describes and seeks input on other factors to be considered when mapping a proposed Greenbelt boundary, such as accommodating forecasted population and employment growth, and other provincial interests including agriculture, natural heritage, aggregates and infrastructure, and any other local considerations
  • includes discussion questions related to each of these topics

We are not consulting on a proposed Greenbelt boundary at this time. Input received through this consultation will help inform decisions on how to move from a study area to a proposed Greenbelt boundary.

We would consult further on a proposed boundary before any boundary changes are made.

Background

Ontario’s Greenbelt

Ontario’s Greenbelt includes areas covered by the policies of the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan. Collectively, these plans identify where urbanization should not occur.

The plans provide permanent protection to the agricultural land base and the ecological and hydrological features, areas and functions within the GGH and beyond. They work together with the Growth Plan, which provides the overarching strategy for where and how growth should be accommodated in the GGH.

Greenbelt plan designations

The Greenbelt Plan includes two main classifications or ‘designations’ for land: “Protected Countryside” and “Urban River Valley”.

The Protected Countryside designation seeks to:

  • give permanent protection to the natural heritage and water resource systems that sustain ecological and human health
  • protect against the loss and fragmentation of the agricultural land base and support agriculture as the predominant land use
  • provide for a diverse range of economic and social activities associated with rural communities, agriculture, tourism, recreation and resource uses

Within the Protected Countryside, the Greenbelt Plan identifies and protects a Natural System and an Agricultural System.

The Natural System is made up of a Water Resource System (WRS) and a Natural Heritage System (NHS) that often coincide, given the ecological linkages between water-based and land-based functions. The NHS of the Protected Countryside includes core areas with high concentrations of natural features, such as woodlands and wetlands, connected by corridors to allow for plant growth and animal movement. The Greenbelt NHS is mapped over top of other designations, and within it specific policies apply. For example, settlement areas are not permitted to expand into the Greenbelt NHS.

The Agricultural System comprises the agricultural land base (prime agricultural areas including specialty crop areas and rural lands) and the agri-food network (infrastructure, services and assets supporting agricultural viability.

In 2013, an amendment to the Greenbelt Plan introduced the Urban River Valley (URV) designation. The URV policies in the Greenbelt Plan are meant to protect river valleys in urban areas, and only apply to publicly owned lands.

Ontario’s policy-led planning system

Within Ontario’s policy-led land use planning system, there are a number of provincial and local policies that shape land use planning in the GGH.

The Provincial Policy Statement, 2014 (PPS) sets out Ontario’s key land use planning policies and applies to all of Ontario, including the GGH. All decisions on planning matters must be consistent with the PPS.

Four provincial plans work together to manage growth, build complete communities, curb sprawl and protect the natural environment. The Growth Plan applies across the GGH and establishes the long-term framework for where and how the region will grow. The Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan include additional policies that apply to specific areas. All decisions on planning matters must conform or not conflict with the four plans.

At the local level, a municipal official plan describes policies on how land within a municipality should be used. It is prepared with input from members of the community and helps ensure that future planning and development will meet the community’s needs.

What it would mean to grow the Greenbelt

If lands were added to the Greenbelt the policies of the Greenbelt Plan, 2017 would apply. Municipalities would be required to bring their plans into conformity with the Greenbelt Plan, 2017 in addition to any other policies that may already apply.

Through the Co-ordinated Review, significant efforts were made to align the policies of the Greenbelt Plan and the Growth Plan, and to align both plans more closely with the PPS where appropriate.

The key difference between policies in the two plans is that the Greenbelt Plan prohibits significant urban development. Settlement areas outside the Greenbelt are not permitted to expand into it, and there are enhanced tests for the size and location of settlement expansions inside the Greenbelt.

Additional details on Growth Plan and Greenbelt Plan policies are provided in the Appendices.

Identifying the study area

Important water features

The study area currently proposed for potential Greenbelt expansion is guided by the protection of important water resources under pressure from urban development.

To identify important water features for potential inclusion in the Greenbelt in the outer ring of the GGH, the Province gathered and analyzed the best-available provincial and public data on water features and growth forecasts.

Based on initial analysis of historic and forecasted population change in the outer ring, the area of focus was narrowed to the western part of the outer ring where population growth is the highest. The Province met with staff from the Grand River, Nottawasaga Valley and Lake Simcoe Region conservation authorities, municipalities within this area, and a number of stakeholder groups to identify and assess other available data.

In analyzing water features, the Province considered the full range of important hydrologic services and uses, such as quality and quantity of drinking water, health of aquatic ecosystems, agricultural viability, and recreational uses. A “features and functions” and watershed-based approach was used. This means that analysis focused on protecting important water features and areas and linking them based on their role, or hydrologic function (see Appendix 2).

Provincial analysis focused mostly on two hydrologic functions: recharge and discharge. These functions are considered by provincial technical staff to be most sensitive and most in need of consideration for addition to the Greenbelt. A third function, storage, was also considered as it relates to recharge and discharge.

This analysis identified three important features as “building blocks” for the study area: moraines, coldwater streams and wetlands. The section below describes each of these building blocks and the analysis that led to mapping the study area.

“Building blocks” approach

To identify a study area, data showing the locations of moraines and other significant sand and gravel aquifer areas was layered together with data showing areas with high densities of coldwater streams and wetlands (and associated upstream tributaries). Maps show the locations of these building blocks features in the outer ring.

These layers were used to identify where features are concentrated in the outer ring of the GGH. Analysis focused on areas where there is an overlap between surface water and groundwater features. The Province looked at the importance of connections between features and their associated hydrologic function.

Moraines

The glaciers that covered southern Ontario created landforms and deposited different types of sediments. Moraines were created where glaciers stood in one place for an extended period of time. Moraines are often raised, rolling features composed of well- sorted sand and gravel, and poorly sorted sediment known as ‘till’ (a mixture of boulders, cobbles, sand, silt and clay).

Deposits of sand and gravel were also left behind in rivers and lakes, and within channels that cross moraines.

Moraines and associated sand and gravel features form important aquifers and serve to replenish the groundwater resource through recharge.  Moraines allow rain and snowmelt to soak into the ground more rapidly and in much greater amounts than the surrounding, less permeable areas.  This process provides a reliable, slowly changing supply of water called baseflow for coldwater streams.  It also maintains the drinking water supply for many communities.

Figure 2: Illustration of the function of moraines as it relates to groundwater recharge, discharge, coldwater streams and wetlands.

An illustration of the function of moraines as it relates to groundwater recharge, discharge, coldwater streams and wetlands.

Groundwater recharge is enhanced by the topography of moraines that helps to drive the flow of groundwater towards low-lying areas. Moraines are often the source areas for water that sustain important waterways and sensitive wetlands and species.

To identify the study area, provincial analysis focused on moraines and other very porous or permeable deposits that connect to the existing Greenbelt, along with additional areas that are important for recharge1.

Coldwater Streams

Coldwater streams are fed by groundwater discharging from glacial formations, such as moraines and associated sand and gravel deposits (see Figure 2). They often form headwaters or source areas for streams, rivers and lakes. Their health and existence is critical for all these connected downstream water features.

Groundwater discharge that supplies coldwater streams provides baseflow to larger streams and rivers and helps to sustain them during dry periods. Coldwater streams also improve water quality by diluting contaminants and cooling water in larger downstream rivers.

Coldwater streams are important habitat areas for fish and wildlife. Species such as brook trout are adapted to the temperatures of these streams and will not survive in warmer water.

Coldwater streams were identified using stream baseflow data2 . Streams having high baseflow are often classified as coldwater streams because of the larger amounts of cold groundwater they receive.

Provincial analysis identified and mapped areas with high densities of coldwater streams (more coldwater streams per area), including their associated catchment areas.

Other significant areas and features that maintain cold groundwater sources were also considered in the analysis. Headwaters areas often receive higher and steadier baseflow from groundwater than larger rivers and they are important for generating flow in streams. Fens are important wetland features (as described below), but are also important for groundwater discharge and recharge.

What is a catchment area?

Watersheds can be identified at different scales, such as the vast Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River watershed that includes the total area draining into the Great Lakes through many different streams and rivers.

Watersheds can also be looked at from a smaller perspective, such as the portion of the landscape draining into a particular segment of a stream. This smaller perspective is the scale of catchment areas.

Catchment areas describe natural drainage areas around streams where surface water is collected. They are a useful scale for identifying the potential impacts of development on the surrounding landscape.

__________________________

1Data used in this analysis were partially derived from Ontario Geological Survey 2010. Surficial geology of Southern Ontario; Ontario Geological Survey, Miscellaneous Release--Data 128-REV ISBN 978-1- 4435-2483-4 [DVD] ISBN 978-1-4435-2482-7 [zip file]. Refinement of moraine mapping was undertaken using the most recent high resolution provincial elevation models.

 2Stream baseflow data used in this analysis were derived from the Aquatic Ecological Classification System. Jones, N.E. and B. Schmidt. 2017. Aquatic ecosystem classification system for Ontario’s rivers and streams. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Science and Research Branch, Peterborough, ON. Science and Research Technical Note TN-04. 19 p.+. (Available on request from MNRF at info.mnrfscience@ontario.ca).

Wetlands

Wetlands are lands that have been saturated with water long enough to cause the formation of waterlogged soils and the growth of hydrophytic (water-loving) or water- tolerant plants. Wetlands often occur in low-lying areas or along the edges of lakes and rivers. Figure 3 shows an illustration of the function of wetlands.

Wetlands are among the most productive and diverse habitats on Earth. Ontario’s wetlands are biodiversity hotspots that host an array of plants, birds, insects, amphibians, fish and other animals, including many species at risk.

There are four types of wetlands in Ontario. Marshes are periodically or permanently flooded with water and contain plants such as cattails and water lilies. Swamps are the most diverse type of wetland, are usually wooded, and can be found across the province. Fens and bogs, often called peatlands, are rare in southern Ontario but more common in the north.  Fens contain more nutrients than bogs.

Wetlands are important for the quality and quantity of water because they filter sediment, absorb nutrients and convert many chemicals to less harmful forms. Wetlands also provide Ontarians with a variety of valuable ecosystem services that create economic benefits and contribute to a high quality of life. These include providing clean and abundant water, controlling flooding and erosion, storing carbon, facilitating recreational opportunities and providing other important social and cultural benefits

Figure 3: Illustration of the function of wetlands 

An illustration of the function of wetlands.

To identify the proposed study area, analysis focused on catchment areas of high wetland density (more wetland per area). All wetlands were considered, including provincially significant and non-provincially significant under the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System and unevaluated wetlands3.

Discussions Questions: 

1. Are there additional “building blocks” features that should also be considered for addition to the Greenbelt to protect water?

2. Are there additional data sets or types of analysis that should be considered?

____________________
 3Wetland data used in this analysis were obtained from the Southern Ontario Land Resource Information System (SOLRIS) which is publicly available through Land Information Ontario. Wetlands larger than 0.5 hectares are identified in SOLRIS and are derived through a variety of data sources and remote sensing techniques.

Study area mapping

Approach to study area mapping

The study area is based on the general locations of moraines, coldwater streams and wetlands, and areas where these features overlap. 

The study area map is conceptual and incorporates additional land around the identified water features (a minimum of one kilometre, but wider around some irregular features). The study area does not represent a proposed boundary. The Province will refine and map a proposed Greenbelt boundary in the future, based on feedback received through this consultation process. 

Figure 4: This map shows the study area for potential Greenbelt expansion

The study area map was generated using watersheds and catchment areas as a basis for mapping, rather than roads or municipal boundaries, in order to better reflect the water resources system. The study area has also been limited to the boundaries of the GGH. As a result, features and areas identified that naturally extend beyond the GGH are not shown in their entirety.

There are many moraine areas west of the Niagara Escarpment, including some that are located far away from the existing Greenbelt. To identify the study area, analysis focused on those major moraine areas that connect to the current Greenbelt in order to identify opportunities to grow the Greenbelt along its current boundary.

Several river corridors flowing through the study area are also shown on the map. The urban sections of these corridors may be considered for addition to the Greenbelt as URVs.

Description of the study area

The study area is categorized by the following seven geographic areas:

  1. Waterloo and Paris/Galt Moraine complex (Waterloo Region, Brant County, Wellington County)

    The Waterloo Moraine consists of sorted or stratified deposits of very permeable sand and gravel capped by silt and clay in some places. It is centred within the Region of Waterloo adjacent to the Paris and Galt Moraines.

    Aquifers within the Waterloo Moraine are important for municipal water supply and provide baseflow to the area’s coldwater streams. In places where these aquifers are exposed at the surface, they serve as significant groundwater recharge areas. The southern portion of the moraine provides baseflow to the Nith and Grand rivers and to Whiteman’s Creek.

    The Paris and Galt Moraines are located adjacent to the existing Greenbelt boundary. The two moraines function as one feature that extends from Guelph southward towards Cambridge and Brant County. The northern portion is composed of a mixture of till, sand and gravel. The southern portion is very permeable sand and gravel. The moraines and associated sand and gravel deposits act as a significant groundwater recharge area providing enhanced baseflow to the Grand River between Cambridge and Brantford.

  2. Orangeville Moraine (Wellington County, Dufferin County)

    The Orangeville Moraine includes an area immediately adjacent to the existing Greenbelt boundary southwest of Orangeville and east of Fergus. It is similar to the Waterloo Moraine, consisting primarily of sorted or stratified deposits of very permeable sand and gravel. Where these deposits are exposed at the earth’s surface they form a significant groundwater recharge area and provide baseflow to the upper Grand, Nottawasaga and Credit rivers.

  3. Escarpment Area Moraines (Dufferin County, Simcoe County)

    There are several smaller moraine areas along the brow, or upper edge, of the Niagara Escarpment. These include the Gibraltar and Singhampton Moraines, which are similar in form and composition to the Paris and Galt Moraines to the south. They provide baseflow to streams flowing from the Niagara Escarpment and recharge for groundwater that supplies communities to the southwest (e.g. Shelburne, Orangeville, Fergus and Guelph).

  4. Oro Moraine (Simcoe County)

    The Oro Moraine is located in Simcoe County, west of Orillia and Lake Couchiching.  It is composed primarily of highly permeable sand and gravel and is a significant groundwater recharge area. It also provides baseflow to local streams. This area also includes associated catchment areas with high concentrations of wetlands and coldwater streams.

  5. Nottawasaga River Corridor (Dufferin County, Simcoe County)

    This area includes sorted or stratified deposits of sand and gravel flanking the Niagara Escarpment within the valley of the Nottawasaga River. It also includes the Minesing Wetland and other important wetlands adjacent to Nottawasaga River.

  6. Important surface water and recharge features in southeast Simcoe County

    This area includes catchment areas with high concentrations of coldwater streams and wetlands, and sand and gravel areas that are important for groundwater recharge

  7. Catchment Areas and Wetlands West of Minesing (Dufferin County, Simcoe County)

    This area includes catchment areas with high concentrations of coldwater streams and wetlands. It also includes catchment areas that connect the Minesing Wetland to the Niagara Escarpment. There are also deposits of very permeable sediment along the base of the Niagara Escarpment in this area.

Discussions Questions: 

3. Of the seven areas, are there some that are more or less important?

4. Are there areas beyond the study area that you think should be considered for potential future Greenbelt expansion?

5. Should the Province consider adding rivers that flow through urban areas as Urban River Valleys in the Greenbelt?

Figure 4: This map shows the study area for potential Greenbelt expansion

Growth and settlement considerations

In order to support vibrant communities in the GGH, much of the region’s anticipated population growth will be directed to settlement areas. In the context of considering potential Greenbelt expansion, this creates   a need to balance the protection of water resources with accommodating appropriate urban growth over the long term.

What are Settlement Areas?

Settlement areas refer to urban and rural areas within municipalities (cities, towns, villages and hamlets). They are built up areas with a mix of land uses where development is concentrated and where lands are designated in an official plan for development over the long term.

Types of Settlement Areas

Settlement areas of all types are found in the GGH. They vary significantly in area, population, economic activity, types of land uses, water and sewage servicing, and the role they play in their municipality.

The policies of the Growth Plan establish a general hierarchy of settlement areas to shape where future growth will be accommodated:

  • major cities (i.e. those that have an urban growth centre) are the largest centres, have planned or existing higher order transit, contain large downtown areas, and are planned to accommodate significant population and employment growth over the long term
  • large settlement areas (i.e. those that have a mapped or ‘delineated’ built boundary but do not have an urban growth centre) are typically serviced with full municipal water and sewer services, are a focus for intensification, and can support the achievement of complete communities
  • small/rural settlement areas (i.e. undelineated built-up areas) are  smaller communities without a mapped or ‘delineated’ built boundary, typically serviced with individual on-site sewer and water services, where growth will be limited

Overall, settlement areas with delineated built boundaries are where the vast majority of forecasted growth is to be directed.

In the Greenbelt Plan, Settlement Areas are Towns/Villages or Hamlets:

  • Towns/Villages have the largest concentrations of population, employment and development within the Protected Countryside, and most have full municipal services
  • Hamlets are substantially smaller than Towns/Villages, are typically serviced with individual on-site sewer and water services, and have limited capacity to accommodate significant growth.

Settlement area policies

The Growth Plan provides the main policy direction for where and how municipalities must direct and plan for growth within settlement areas, to ensure the efficient use of land and existing infrastructure, and support the achievement of complete communities. As such, the settlement area policies of the Greenbelt Plan must be read in conjunction with the Growth Plan. Key policies include:

  • the Greenbelt Plan prohibits settlement areas outside the Greenbelt from expanding into the Greenbelt
  • the Growth Plan prohibits settlement area expansions into the Greenbelt Plan NHS
  • the Growth Plan only permits modest expansions of settlement areas within the Greenbelt area identified as Towns/Villages, and no expansion of Hamlets
  • the Growth Plan contains detailed criteria that must be met as part of a full municipal study (i.e. municipal comprehensive review) in order to justify settlement area boundary expansions, including a land needs assessment undertaken in accordance with a standard provincial methodology
  • the Growth Plan requires a full analysis of the best location for settlement area boundary expansions, including availability of existing or planned supporting infrastructure, water and wastewater and stormwater master plans, watershed planning, and avoiding NHS, prime agricultural areas and key hydrologic areas where possible

Considerations for Settlement Areas – potential Greenbelt expansion

Overall, the Greenbelt Plan broadly identifies where urbanization should not occur and the Growth Plan directs growth to settlement areas with delineated built boundaries where the vast majority of growth should be directed. Growing the Greenbelt in close proximity to existing settlement areas may impose limits on where they can grow in the future as settlement areas are not permitted to expand into the Greenbelt. This potential constraint on settlement areas also needs to be considered alongside factors that relate to existing circumstances such as adjacent shoreline areas or the location of neighbouring settlement areas.

Discussions Questions: 

6. With the range of settlement areas in the GGH, how should the Province balance accommodating future urban growth with protecting water resources?

7. What are other key considerations for drawing a potential Greenbelt boundary around settlement areas?

8. How should the Province determine which settlement areas become towns/villages or hamlets, if included in a potential Greenbelt?

Other provincial priorities and initiatives

A number of provincial priorities and initiatives need to be considered as part of potential Greenbelt expansion. This section outlines considerations related to four key provincial priorities: agriculture, natural heritage, mineral aggregates and infrastructure. A detailed description of the policies in the Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan that relate to each priority is included in the Appendix 4.

Agriculture

The GGH contains some of Canada’s best agricultural land. It is important both in terms of providing healthy, locally-grown food and as a key economic driver. Agriculture and water resources are inter-related. The agriculture and agri-food sectors rely on water resources and at the same time agricultural activities impact water resources, for example through vegetation and drainage patterns.

As part of implementation of the Growth Plan, the Province, led by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, is developing an Agricultural System for the GGH. It has two components:

  • the agricultural land base comprises prime agricultural areas including specialty crop areas and rural lands which together form a continuous, productive land base for agriculture in the GGH
  • the agri-food network includes elements important to the viability of the agri-food sector such as regional infrastructure, services and assets.  Elements of the agri-food network are mapped in the Agricultural System Portal.

Once finalized, the Agricultural System will support the viability of the agri-food sector and consistently protect farmland across the region.

Natural heritage and natural heritage systems

An NHS is made up of natural heritage features and areas, along with the linkages that connect them. These linkages support biological and geological diversity, natural functions, viable populations of native species, and ecosystems. These areas are important for their environmental and social value. Landforms, ecosystems, habitats, and plants and animals — especially native species — and their surrounding environments are all part of natural heritage.

The Greenbelt and the Growth Plan are aligned with and build on the PPS to provide policy protection for natural heritage features and areas including significant wetlands, significant woodlands, fish habitat and habitat of endangered and threatened species. 

The Province, led by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, is currently developing a regional scale, principle-based NHS for the GGH using criteria and methodology that are defendable, repeatable, and based on science.

Once finalized, the Growth Plan NHS will support a comprehensive, integrated, and long-term approach to planning for the protection of the region’s natural heritage and biodiversity.

Mineral aggregates

Mineral aggregates are a non-renewable resource essential for the continued growth and development of the region. Sand and gravel deposits that form the moraines within the study area are valuable sources of mineral aggregates.

The PPS establishes that aggregate resources shall be protected for long-term use and as close to locations where they are required as is realistically possible. This is referred to as “close to market” and it is a key consideration for aggregate operations because of the economic and environmental impacts of transport, including increased fuel costs and vehicle emissions.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure refers to physical structures that form the foundation of development. Examples include highways and transit corridors, sewage and water treatment systems, electricity generation, transmission and distribution facilities, and oil and gas pipelines.

Both the Greenbelt Plan and the Growth Plan recognize that new infrastructure and upgrades to existing infrastructure will be needed in the future to serve the substantial growth projected for the GGH. Infrastructure is permitted in the Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan, subject to certain conditions.

In November 2017, Ontario also released Building Better Lives: Ontario’s Long-Term Infrastructure Plan 2017, which demonstrates Ontario’s commitment to long-term, strategic, evidence-based public infrastructure planning and delivery. The plan highlights that Ontario will take steps to ensure that infrastructure planning, going forward, continues to support the Province’s land-use planning framework and related initiatives.

Discussions Questions: 

9. Once the Agricultural System and Natural Heritage System under the Growth Plan are finalized, how should they be considered as part of potential Greenbelt Expansion?

10. How should other provincial priorities or initiatives, such as mineral aggregates and infrastructure, be reflected in potential Greenbelt expansion?

11. What other priorities or initiatives do you think the Province should consider?

Moving from a study area map to a new Greenbelt boundary

The study area map was developed based on scientific and technical analysis of locations with concentrations of moraines, coldwater streams and wetlands in an area under pressure from urban development in the outer ring.

The study area is conceptual, providing room to refine and map a proposed amendment to the Greenbelt Plan and the Greenbelt boundary to grow the Greenbelt in the future based on feedback received through consultation.

The process of moving from a study area to a proposed new Greenbelt boundary will include elements of both scientific and land use planning analysis. For example, refinements may be made to the study area to reflect additional information regarding the location of hydrological features or important land use planning considerations such as accommodating forecasted growth. Feedback received through public consultation will help inform this process.

To translate the study area boundary into a map suitable for a proposed Greenbelt boundary regulation, existing legally recognized mapping references such as roads, lot lines and municipal boundaries may be used.

In keeping with the requirements of the Greenbelt Act, 2005 the Province would consult with the public, municipalities, conservation authorities, stakeholders and Indigenous communities and organizations on a proposed amendment to the Greenbelt Plan and boundary prior to any changes being made. This would provide an additional opportunity to comment on the Province’s approach.

Appendix 1: Study area building blocks map

Study area building blocks map 1: this map shows the study area that includes moraines and other sand and gravel

Study area building blocks map 2: this map shows the study area that includes coldwater streams and wetlands 

Appendix 2: Water resources

Groundwater

Groundwater is found below the earth’s surface in cracks and pore spaces in soil or rock. Soil or bedrock where groundwater is stored and is easily tapped into is known as an aquifer. 

Many communities in the GGH, both urban and rural, rely on groundwater supply from wells tapping into aquifers as the primary source of drinking water. For example, as noted in Waterloo Region’s official plan, approximately three quarters of the Region’s drinking water comes from wells that tap into aquifers. Groundwater is also important for agricultural, commercial and industrial uses.

Groundwater is constantly replenished as rain or snowmelt soaks or percolates into the ground, through a process known as recharge. This process also assists with naturally filtering and purifying water.

At points where groundwater meets the surface, such as along the slopes of hills or in river valleys, cold, filtered water is released slowly at seepage areas and springs. This process is known as groundwater discharge. It provides a reliable, slowly changing supply of water to surface water features called baseflow. Baseflow is particularly important during periods of low precipitation.  

What is a watershed?

A watershed is an area of land where all waters drain into a common outlet, such as a river. Other terms, for a watershed are ‘drainage basin’ and ‘catchment area’.

What is a hydrologic function?

Hydrologic function is the capacity of a watershed or an area within a watershed to capture, store and release water coming from rainfall, runoff or snowmelt. This can include:

Recharge: what happens to rain or snowmelt at, near or below the surface of the ground, for example when rainwater soaks into soil.

Discharge:
the release of water from a watershed, for example when water moves from the ground into streams and rivers and eventually leaves the watershed.

Storage: the amount of water kept within a watershed, for example in soil, aquifers and lakes.


Figure 5: Illustration of groundwater and surface water interactions.

Illustration of groundwater and surface water interactions.

Groundwater discharge also supports Ontario’s coldwater fisheries. Species such as brook trout rely on groundwater to reproduce and to supply cold, clear, oxygen-rich water needed for their survival. 

Surface water 

Surface water refers to water features on the earth’s surface, such as wetlands, streams, rivers, springs, headwaters, and inland lakes. In addition to being supplied by groundwater discharge (as described above), surface water features are also supplied directly by rainfall, snowfall, and water that runs over the ground’s surface.

Surface water features serve a range of functions. These features improve water quality by filtering and assimilating pollutants, support vegetation in and along the shores of streams and lakes and provide habitat for fish and other aquatic species.

Two main factors determine whether water enters the ground to become groundwater through recharge or runs off to become surface water: the ability of the ground to absorb water and the amount of water already present in the ground. If the soil and underlying rock are very porous or permeable (e.g., sand and gravel or fractured limestone), water will readily enter the earth to fill the pore spaces between the grains of sand and gravel or the cracks within the rock. If the ground is not very porous (e.g., clay-rich soils or bedrock containing shale) or the air spaces in the ground are already filled with water, then water will flow over the ground as surface runoff.

Appendix 3: Policies for protecting water in the GGH

Provincial Policy Statement, 2014

The Provincial Policy Statement, 2014 (PPS) sets out Ontario’s key land use planning policies, including policies guiding the protection of water resources. The PPS applies to all of Ontario, including the GGH. Where the Growth Plan or Greenbelt Plan provides enhanced or more detailed policy direction, the policies of the plans take precedence, subject to any legislative provisions. The PPS requires:

  • protection of groundwater features, such as recharge/discharge areas, water tables, aquifers and certain unsaturated zones
  • protection of surface water features, including shoreline areas, headwaters, rivers, stream channels, inland lakes, seepage areas, recharge/discharge areas, springs, wetlands, and certain types of associated riparian lands
  • promotion of the efficient use of existing sewage and water services, stormwater management best practices (including stormwater reuse), low impact development, and watershed planning 

Greenbelt Plan (2017) and Growth Plan (2017)

The updated Greenbelt Plan and the Growth Plan have enhanced policies for the protection of water resources that build on the direction provided by the PPS. The Greenbelt and Growth Plan include policies that:

  • prohibit development and site alteration (with limited exceptions such as for infrastructure) in key hydrologic features (e.g., wetlands, permanent and intermittent streams, lakes, seepage areas and springs) and within a 30-metre minimum buffer (vegetation protection zone)
  • require an environmental study for most development and site alteration within 120 metres of key hydrologic features to determine if larger buffers or other mitigation is needed
  • require key growth and infrastructure decisions (e.g., water/wastewater and stormwater master plans, settlement expansions) to be informed by watershed planning or an equivalent study
  • require site-specific growth and infrastructure decisions (e.g., stormwater management plans, planning for designated greenfield areas) to be informed by subwatershed planning or an equivalent study 
  • require certain developments in key hydrologic areas (e.g., highly vulnerable aquifers, significant groundwater recharge/discharge areas, and headwaters areas) to demonstrate that water functions will be protected
  • require development and site alteration in the NHS to demonstrate that there will be no negative impacts on key hydrologic features or their functions and disturbed areas and impervious surfacing will be minimized

Comparison of Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan water policies

Through the Co-ordinated Review, many of the water-related policies of the Greenbelt and Growth Plan were aligned and harmonized to provide a consistent level of protection, as described in the overview of water policies above. However, given the differences in the broader mandates for each plan, a few distinct water policy differences between the Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan may impact the protection of water. The Greenbelt Plan policies will become applicable for any areas that may be brought into the Greenbelt.

  • Key hydrologic areas – both plans require certain types of development within key hydrologic areas to demonstrate that water functions are protected. However, the trigger for this requirement in the Growth Plan is large-scale development (e.g., a plan of subdivision, vacant land plan of condominium or site plan). The trigger in the Greenbelt Plan is "major development" (any structure with a footprint larger than 500 square metres, the creation of four or more lots, or a major recreational use).
  • NHS – both plans have similar policies that apply to the systems. The Growth Plan states that settlement areas should avoid expansions into key hydrologic areas and the NHS where possible. The Greenbelt Plan explicitly prohibits settlement area expansions into the NHS.

Appendix 4: Policies for settlement areas in the GGH

Types of Settlement Areas

Settlement areas in the Greenbelt fall into two categories: Towns/Villages and Hamlets. Towns/Villages have the largest concentrations of population, employment and development within the Protected Countryside. While most Towns/Villages have full municipal water and sewer services, some have municipal water servicing only or a combination of private and municipal water services.

Hamlets in the Protected Countryside are smaller than Towns/Villages and play a smaller role in accommodating residential, commercial, industrial and institutional development. Hamlets typically are serviced with individual on-site water and sewer servicing.  As a result, Hamlets are not locations to which growth should be directed.

The Growth Plan distinguishes between those settlement areas for which the Minister of Municipal Affairs has delineated a built boundary (originally issued in 2008) and those left “undelineated”.

A set of criteria determined whether a settlement area in the GGH received a delineated built boundary. Criteria were related to size, the type of servicing, and whether settlement areas were identified as a focus for growth.

Although the original Growth Plan always provided direction on limiting growth in settlement areas that are not fully serviced, the Growth Plan, 2017 includes revisions that respond to input from stakeholders by clarifying:

  • the difference between settlement areas with and without delineated built boundaries
  • the vast majority of growth is to be directed to settlement areas that have delineated built-up areas with existing or planned municipal water and wastewater servicing
  • that growth is to be limited in settlement areas that are undelineated built-up areas or do not have existing or planned municipal water and wastewater servicing

Settlement area policies in Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan, 2017

The Greenbelt Plan contains general settlement area policies set out in section 3.4. These policies prohibit settlement areas outside the Greenbelt from expanding into the Greenbelt. The policies also encourage the creation of community hubs, support for components of the Agricultural System and the promotion of access to local, healthy food in settlement areas.

The settlement area policies of the Greenbelt Plan must be read in conjunction with the settlement area policies of the Growth Plan, 2017. The Growth Plan provides a regional framework for where and how municipalities must direct growth in a manner that makes more efficient use of land, optimizes existing infrastructure and supports the achievement of complete communities.

Settlement area boundary expansions can be undertaken only as part of a municipal comprehensive review. The Growth Plan (subsection 2.2.8) sets out the criteria that must be met as part of a municipal comprehensive review in order to justify a settlement area boundary expansion, including a land needs assessment undertaken in accordance with a standard provincial methodology.

Once a settlement area boundary expansion has been justified, the Growth Plan requires a full analysis of the appropriate location for the expansion based on considerations such as availability of existing or planned supporting infrastructure, water and wastewater and stormwater master plans, watershed planning, and avoiding NHS, prime agricultural areas and key hydrologic areas where possible.

Greenbelt specific settlement area boundary expansion policies

In addition to the full set of criteria for settlement area boundary expansion outlined above, the Growth Plan includes criteria that apply specifically to proposed settlement area boundary expansions within the Greenbelt:

  • no settlement area boundary expansion is permitted into the Greenbelt NHS
  • for settlement areas inside the Greenbelt (towns and villages), all of the Growth Plan policies for expansion must be met, with an additional restriction allowing only modest expansions (5% increase in size to a maximum of 10 ha; only 50% of the added lands can be residential)
  • expansions of Hamlets in the Greenbelt are prohibited. Outside of the Greenbelt, expansions may be permitted in Hamlets subject to justification and criteria 

Appendix 5: Other policy areas in the Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan, 2017

Agriculture

Through the Co-ordinated Review, policy updates were made to better protect agricultural lands while supporting the long-term viability of the agri-food sector. Most policies related to agriculture are now harmonized in the Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan, but some minor differences remain.  For example:

  • the Growth Plan requires the completion of an Agricultural Impact Assessment for settlement area boundary expansions throughout the GGH, and both plans require these studies for proposed infrastructure transportation corridors and mineral aggregate operations in prime agricultural areas; the Greenbelt Plan also requires these studies for non-agricultural uses in prime agricultural areas and encourages them for non-agricultural uses in rural areas
  • the Greenbelt Plan includes lot-creation policies that establish minimum lot sizes for agricultural severances in prime agricultural areas, whereas the Growth Plan does not
  • in some cases the Greenbelt Plan may be more restrictive related to agricultural uses. For example, in key hydrologic areas, some agricultural buildings could be considered major development and would therefore be required to meet additional policy requirements
  • there is potentially a wider range of non-agricultural uses permitted for prime agricultural areas in the Growth Plan compared to the Greenbelt Plan; the Greenbelt Plan specifies permitted non-agricultural uses, whereas the Growth Plan defers to the PPS

Natural heritage

The PPS requires NHS identification in Ecoregions 6E and 7E. It also encourages the maintenance, restoration, or where possible, improvement of the diversity and connectivity of natural features, and the long-term ecological function and biodiversity of an NHS.

Policies in the Growth Plan and the Greenbelt Plan for key natural heritage features and for NHS are aligned and build on the PPS policy framework. The Growth Plan, 2017 has been harmonized with the Greenbelt Plan, 2017 to apply “Greenbelt-level” protection to the NHS. However, there are differences.

One key difference is settlement area boundary expansions, while discouraged, are permitted into the Growth Plan NHS, but are not permitted into the Greenbelt NHS. Once a settlement area is expanded into the Growth Plan NHS, that parcel is no longer subject to the NHS protection policies of the Growth Plan. However the area will be designated in official plans and the connectivity, diversity, and functions of the natural heritage features and areas will be maintained, restored, or enhanced. This offers flexibility to municipalities to still enable growth, while providing heightened protection to natural features and areas.

Within Growth Plan settlement areas, the PPS continues to apply. Municipalities must continue protecting natural heritage features, and may continue to protect any municipal natural heritage systems already identified or identify new ones.

Mineral aggregates 

The policies of the Growth Plan and the Greenbelt Plan are aligned with respect to restricting aggregate extraction in some key natural heritage and water features and permitting it in others. The key difference is municipalities within the GGH but outside the Greenbelt are able to establish policies that 

may be more restrictive on mineral aggregate extraction than the Growth Plan's policies, provided they remain consistent with the PPS. Municipalities within the Greenbelt are not able to establish policies that are more restrictive on mineral aggregate extraction than those in the Greenbelt Plan.
Another difference between the two plans is that the Greenbelt Plan requires mineral aggregate operations to set maximum allowable disturbed areas for their licences, to maximize rehabilitated areas and minimize disturbed areas on an ongoing basis during the life of the operation. This requirement is not included in the Growth Plan.

Infrastructure

The Greenbelt Plan and the Growth Plan both state that existing, expanded or new infrastructure approved under the Environmental Assessment Act is permitted if it serves the significant growth and economic development expected in southern Ontario. Locating infrastructure in the NHS, key natural heritage features, key hydrologic features and key hydrologic areas is discouraged wherever possible. Where there is no reasonable alternative, impacts on the features and their functions must be minimized and mitigated.

Both plans also discourage locating infrastructure within prime agricultural areas. In situations where avoiding prime agricultural areas is not possible, an Agricultural Impact Assessment or equivalent analysis as part of an environmental assessment is required to demonstrate how impacts on the Agricultural System will be avoided, minimized or mitigated.

In some cases, the Greenbelt Plan includes more specific requirements on planning, design and construction of infrastructure than the Growth Plan. These include:

  • requiring that planning, design and construction practices minimize the disturbance of the existing landscape, including impacts caused by light intrusion, noise and road salt, wherever possible
  • requiring that, where practical, existing capacity and co-ordination with different infrastructure services be optimized to maintain the existing character of the Protected Countryside
  • requiring that infrastructure planning, design and construction practices maintain or improve connectivity between features where reasonable
  • prohibiting new waste disposal sites and organic soil conditioning sites in key natural heritage features, key hydrologic features, and their  associated vegetation protection zones