On Monday, November 14th, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper travelled to Burlington, Ontario to present to a Joint Board that is determining the fate of Mount Nemo -- an area of the Niagara Escarpment that is threatened by an aggregate proposal by Nelson Aggregate.
Our counsel, Joanna Bull, presented to the group of decision makers about LOW’s concerns regarding the proposal. The following is our presentation which outlines our concerns.
Good Afternoon Madame Chair, and Members of the Board.
My name is Joanna Bull, and I am here today on behalf of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, a Participant in this proceeding.
Waterkeeper is here to ask that you deny Nelson Aggregate’s application to expand the Burlington Quarry.
Our role in this hearing is to remind you of the important context in which this decision is being made. The health of Lake Ontario depends on water refreshed and recharged by this land. The lake is too important, to too many people, to gamble on a quarry expansion. Instead, Mt Nemo, and its role in feeding our water resources, should be protected and celebrated.
We hope our presentation will be helpful to you when considering the evidence before you.
Let me begin by explaining a little about Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.
Waterkeeper is a registered Canadian charity.
We believe that a swimmable, drinkable, fishable Lake Ontario is possible, in every community and for every person.
We work to protect and celebrate the Lake Ontario watershed ...including the wetlands, streams, rivers, and creeks on Mount Nemo that feed and replenish Lake Ontario.
Our organization was born out of the Walkerton water tragedy. In Southwestern Ontario in the year 2000, seven people died and 2,500 fell ill after drinking tap water contaminated with e. coli. The co-founders of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Mark Mattson and Krystyn Tully, participated in the subsequent inquiry and, during that process, discovered this truth:
We have safeguards to protect our environment. But laws, policies, and plans only work when the people who apply them understand this: Each and every safeguard, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, is a crucial stepping stone to clean water. If one person along the chain in Walkerton had followed one safeguard one time, seven people’s lives would have been saved.
Waterkeeper exists to ensure that similar tragedies will never harm the residents of our own watershed as they swim, drink, or fish near Lake Ontario.
One of Waterkeeper’s foundational beliefs is that no one has all the answers.
We believe instead that, through due process, scrutiny, transparent decision-making, good science, and meaningful public consultation, the “right” answer will emerge.
The decision before this Board clearly means a lot for this community. That is why members of PERL have been here everyday, why they’ve scraped together funds to hire experts and lawyers, and why they’ve stayed committed to protecting Mt Nemo for years.
But the decision before you also reaches far beyond the slopes of Mt. Nemo. This decision has implications for the entire Lake Ontario watershed. That’s why Waterkeeper has been supporting PERL on this issue since 2005, why we have devoted significant staff time and resources to help get this hearing before you, and why we’ve continued to participate.
We’re here today to ask the Joint Board deny Nelson’s application to expand this quarry on the Niagara Escarpment.
We believe the evidence shows the area is fundamentally inappropriate for quarrying, and the potential for negative effects downstream outweighs Nelson’s justifications for continuing to quarry here.
This proposal has implications for all of Lake Ontario. Let me explain:
Lake Ontario is one of the Great Lakes, one of the most important bodies of freshwater in the world.
Lake Ontario is the drinking water supply for 9-million people in two countries. Lake Ontario supports subsistence, commercial, and recreational fisheries.
For more than a century, we have been unkind to Lake Ontario. Canada and the U.S. have identified seven Areas of Concern, where historic and chronic pollution, as well as inappropriate development, have led to severe environmental degradation. As much as 80% of habitat in Western Lake Ontario is gone because of water level regulation and development.
Wetlands, headwaters, and creeks have been drained, buried, or cut-off from their flow source. Habitats have been destroyed or encroached upon by development. Fish populations cannot reproduce as their breeding grounds have been eliminated or blocked.
But attitudes towards the Great Lakes have changed dramatically in recent years. We understand, now, the importance of protecting what we have left and taking steps to win back what we have lost.
You are part of this renewal.
Every decision that affects our watershed - including this decision - must be made with the interests of the watershed in mind.
Waterkeeper has serious concerns about the potential impacts of this proposed quarry on Lake Ontario’s watershed.
You’ve heard extensively about the connection between Mt Nemo and Lake Ontario. That evidence paints a picture of the movement of water from here to the Great Lake below us.
Water resources that originate on Nelson’s property, or that are fed by groundwater and streams on Nelson’s property, feed and replenish Lake Ontario. The Mount Nemo Plateau is the highest point of land in this area. It is home to the headwaters of a number of creek systems, including the Mount Nemo Tributary West and East Branches, which flow into Grindstone Creek, and tributaries to Shoreacres Creek, Tuck Creek, and Bronte Creek.
Bronte and Grindstone Creeks both contribute to the Credit River - 16 Mile Creek watershed.
Grindstone Creek originates above the Niagara Escarpment in Flamborough. It drains an area of 90 square kilometres making it one of the main tributaries discharging into the northwest-end of Hamilton Harbour. It carries about 14% of the water that flows into that Harbour. Wetlands at the Creek’s mouth are an important fish and bird habitat in an otherwise threatened area of Lake Ontario. They are of historic importance to whitefish, lake herring, and the endangered American eel. Grindstone Creek is prized for trout fishing.
If you allow this quarry to proceed, it will affect much more than the eighty some odd hectares on Nelson’s property.
The Lake Ontario Biodiversity Conservation Strategy Working Group identifies changes to tributaries that alter natural stream processes or restrict the movement of fish as one of seven major threats to biodiversity on Lake Ontario.
Nelson will be extracting aggregate below the water table, requiring dewatering. The floor of the existing quarry will continue to be de-watered to allow it to be used for processing. A new quarry could capture groundwater, lower groundwater levels in the surrounding area and capture surface water run-off that would have fed watercourses downstream.
As the existing quarry has already impacted flows to springs and headwater streams, the proposed new quarry would exacerbate these impacts.
One potential effect of a new Mount Nemo quarry is reduced water supply to wetlands, resulting in early drying in the spring, delayed filling in the fall, and reduced water supply to downstream creeks. More than two-thirds of natural Great Lakes wetlands have already been filled in or drained for agriculture, urban uses, shoreline development, recreation, and resource extraction (like quarrying).
Quarry dewatering could “dry out” the Halton Till under the site and under adjacent Provincially Significant Wetlands, which could lead to wetland drainage or drying. The loss of wetlands threatens hydrological processes and water quality, as their natural storage and cleansing functions are removed from the ecosystem.
It is clear that there are implications locally, for wetlands and natural areas - but also that these impacts have far reaching consequences in the watershed - consequences for every one of the nine million people relying on our Great Lake.
Madame Chair, Members of the Board - You’ve heard evidence that the groundwater system on and around the property is complex, and a lot of uncertainty remains around how it would respond to a new quarry. You’ve heard differing opinions on things like hydraulic conductivity, water balance, and karst features from various experts.
As a lawyer, and one that works for the protection of natural systems, I can tell you that the uncertainty demonstrated by contradictory science merits the application of the precautionary principle.
The precautionary principle calls for protecting the environment in the face of uncertainty, particularly when there is something as important as Lake Ontario at stake.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper asks that the Joint Board deny Nelson’s application to expand the Burlington Quarry on the Niagara Escarpment.
Waterkeeper wholeheartedly supports efforts to protect and restore vital waterways. The Nelson Aggregate proposal does neither. Nelson should not be granted a licence to quarry below water in an area where vital water resources are already impacted by development. We ask that you remember the context in which this decision is being made when you review and weigh the evidence before you. We ask this Joint Board to deny Nelson Aggregate’s application, so that Mt Nemo can be protected, restored, and celebrated.
A swimmable, drinkable, fishable future is possible - but it isn’t possible without you.
Thank you for your time today.
To support Waterkeeper's efforts to protect the Lake Ontario watershed, donate today online via CanadaHelps.
Send your friends to http://bit.ly/DonateToLOW and ask them to make a donation.