The Sumac Ridge wind project is the first industrial wind project approved on the environmentally sensitive and protected Oak Ridges Moraine, the rain barrel of southern Ontario. The approval sets a precedent to open up the Oak Ridges Moraine for other wind projects and industrial development of all kinds. The project is currently under appeal before the Environmental Review Tribunal and has received a record number of 43 requests for status from community and First Nation groups.
Sumac Ridge is one of five proposed wind projects on the Oak Ridges Moraine that residents have been fighting for the last five years. Community members have spent significant amounts of time and money trying to protect and preserve the moraine. When the Sumac Ridge wind project was posted on the Environmental Registry, 2,874 comments were registered. Frustration with the process is mounting along with the fees of lawyers and experts hired to prepare for the Environmental Review Tribunal.
While wind power is a sustainable green energy alternative to the environmental harms associated with fossil fuels, as with every industrial development, it can have important impacts in vulnerable areas and these must be fully assessed. The Sumac Ridge project and the other proposals will require the construction of access roads, clear-cutting of significant woodlands and the delivery of thousands of truckloads of gravel, sand and concrete onto the moraine. The Oak Ridges Moraine is one of the last continuous green corridors in southern Ontario. The remnants of tall grass prairie and oak-pine savannas in the eastern portion of this ancient landform are globally threatened ecosystems and may be impacted by wind development.
The Sumac Ridge wind project will be located in a part of the moraine that provides both terrestrial core and corridor habitat and is a critical refuge for birds, bats, threatened and/or endangered plants and animals, and numerous species at risk. Most importantly, it is a high aquifer vulnerability zone, a groundwater recharge area and at the headwaters of the Fleetwood Creek and Pigeon River. The Ministry of the Environment must revoke its approval of the Sumac Ridge project and stop allowing industrial development to take precedence over the protection of our water.
There is no time to lose. The world is running out of accessible clean water. We are polluting, mismanaging and displacing our finite freshwater sources at an alarming rate. We need a new water ethic that places water and its protection at the centre of all policy and practice if the planet and we are to survive.
This new water ethic should honour four principles.
The first is that water is a human right and must be more equitably shared. The United Nations has recognized that drinking water and sanitation are fundamental human rights and that governments have obligations not only to supply these services to their people but also to prevent harm to source water.
The second principle is that water is a common heritage of humanity and must be protected as a public trust in law and practice. Water must never be bought, hoarded, sold or traded as a commodity on the open market and governments must maintain the water commons for the public good, not private gain.
The third principle is that water has rights, too, outside its usefulness to humans. Water belongs to the earth and other species. Our belief in “unlimited growth” and our treatment of water as a tool for industrial development have put the earth’s watersheds in jeopardy. Water is not a resource for our convenience, pleasure and profit, but rather the essential element in a living ecosystem. We need to adapt our laws and practices to ensure the protection of water and the restoration of watersheds, a crucial antidote to global warming.
Finally, while there is enormous potential for water conflict in a world of rising demand and diminishing supply, water can bring people, communities and nations together in the shared search for solutions. Water can become nature’s gift to humanity and teach us how to live more lightly on the earth and in peace and respect with one another.
Let it start in our own backyards.
Maude Barlow is the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians and served as senior adviser on water to the 63rd president of the United Nations General Assembly. Cindy Sutch is the Chairperson of Save The Oak Ridges Moraine Coalition in Ontario and a Director of The Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation.