March 17, 2010

Who really cares about protecting fresh water?

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Credit River is pleasant to behold, so as long as it doesn't dry up or catch on fire, it is easy to treat it as just part of the scenery. Here in Erin, since we are have the privilege of living in a headwaters area, we should be concerned with protecting the mix of wetlands, aquifers and streams that give life to our river.

"When you look around the world, you realize how precious fresh water is," said Andrew McCammon of the Ontario Headwaters Institute, speaking at a recent community workshop at the Terra Cotta Conservation Area.

He warned that climate change could reduce water flows, killing off a high percentage of fish and other wildlife in the Credit. His group urges the Ontario government to strengthen environmental policies, which control the work of conservation authorities, municipalities and developers.

"The function of a river is not just to move water off the land – it's much more," said Bob Morris, an aquatic biologist with Credit Valley Conservation. The CVC works to keep the river clean and cold, with the right mix of nutrients and sediment to support wildlife.

As land is developed for human activities, it is no longer acceptable to simply channel small streams into underground pipes and pave over large areas that allow water to seep into the earth.

"How many roots can we cut off a tree before it dies? It's the same for rivers," said Morris. He will be the guest speaker tomorrow night (Thursday) at the Erin Legion, at the FAST Forward environmental film series, presented by the Climate Change Action Group of Erin and the CVC. The film is Waterlife: The Story of the Last Great Supply of Drinking Water on Earth, about preservation of the Great Lakes ecosystem. It starts at 7 pm and admission is free.

The public is not always enthusiastic about preserving natural treasures. Late in the previous century, when it became common knowledge that Erin's septic waste was a serious source of pollution, there was little public concern. If enough people cared about the Credit, the problem would have been solved long ago. Environmental awareness has been taught in our schools for a long time now, but we seem to have little to show for it.

Inconvenience is more likely to stir people up than environmental damage. I cannot agree with those who would preserve the Hillsburgh Transfer Station, a leaking pile of garbage that should have been shut down 20 years ago.

The opposition to the Rockfort quarry shows how the public can be mobilized for a clear-cut cause. Erin's need for a septic sewer system, however, is more complicated, because it will involve major costs, affect future growth and require a treatment plant that will discharge into the Credit. Without strong support, the project could be put off indefinitely. Will Erin's environmentalists rally to that cause?

Education on environmental issues is key to attitude change, and one of the best ways to combine that with some fun and exercise is to get out into the natural environment. On Sunday, April 11, the CVC is holding a grand re-opening of the Terra Cotta Conservation Area, at 14452 Winston Churchill Boulevard.

It is not a return to the intensive recreational use of the 1970s and 80s, when the site was known for its campgrounds and huge outdoor pool. The focus now is on nature hikes, and events at the refurbished Watershed Learning Centre, where they have already started holding educational programs. The re-opening will include maple syrup demonstrations and wagon rides. Go to

Admission is free that day, but normally it is a bit expensive if all you want to do is walk your dog for an hour. In peak seasons the cost is $4.75 per adult, $2.75 for children and seniors, and a maximum daily fee per vehicle of $20. I'd rather spend $55 on a 12-month membership ($45 for seniors, $100 per family), for unlimited admission to all the CVC Conservation Areas.

The CVC publishes an excellent 58-page booklet called Rising to the Challenge: A Handbook for Understanding and Protecting the Credit River Watershed. Well-illustrated and clearly-written, it provides basic scientific information and outlines issues at the political and household levels. Download a PDF version in the education section of the CVC website, or contact them for a printed copy.