The REDC EMAP 

SUBWATERSHEDS FROM CALEDON TO BELFOUNTAIN

 

Why is this Scientific Study needed?

Proposals to mine below the water table for aggregates inevitably create concerns. Larger and larger aggregate developments raise troubling questions. Is there a point at which the ecology of the Escarpment and the Credit River Valley will be altered forever without any real possibility of restoring vital functions for the environment?

In a licence application this question is never addressed. Typically information is based on single site assessments of environmental risk. Studies supporting a licence application tend to focus on the impact of a proposed aggregate development on features or species within the site. We rarely learn how these features and species interact and depend on one another at a broader ecological level beyond the limits of a given property and its immediate surroundings -usually limited to an area of 250m beyond the property boundary. In practical terms this is all that is required by current regulations.

Without a comprehensive picture of the way in which the ecosystem of the area operates as an interactive whole we're flying blind. We lack the ability to evaluate the likely or foreseeable widespread impact that any given development will have.

What is this Study about?

To promote wise land use decisions we need to have the broader picture. For this reason REDC has brought together a well known firm of ecologists and a highly respected hydrogeologist to carry out an intensive study of 7 sub-watersheds of the Credit Valley River system. The study area is centred on a radial area around Caledon Village stretching down to Belfountain in the south, up to Alton in the north, across to Airport Road in the east and over to Winston Churchill Blvd in the west. The EMAP is the acronym for Ecological Mapping and Analysis Project.

The REDC EMAP project builds on existing scientific knowledge of the area. It uses innovative modelling and analysis techniques to study the complex interactions of land, surface and ground water, air, forests, plants, animals, insects, birds and humans within this designated area. The goal of this project is to gain a better understanding of natural heritage features and functions at a large scale and their relationship to existing and anticipated future aggregate extraction.

Phase 1 Results

Phase 1 of the EMAP study is now complete. The results of the mapping exercise demonstrate that aggregate mining has essentially bisected the natural environment between the town line to the west and beyond Kennedy Road to the east. This bisection by definition adversely affects the biodiversity and ecological functions of the affected area by removing essential corridors between key environmental features whose health and, in some cases, very survival depend on their ability to interact and "communicate" with one another.

The maps in the study illustrate the excavations left by mining operations in detail. They reveal that the extensive nature of these excavations makes it highly unlikely in practice that the original ecological functions of the area can be regained or restored.

We have been able to successfully map the impact of mining on terrestrial features. However it is not possible to assess the cumulative impact of aggregate mining on groundwater resources. Although these are the resources which the municipality and private well owners depend on for drinking water, there is currently no scientific basis for accurately assessing the cumulative effect of aggregate mining on groundwater.

This is of considerable concern since it has been determined that our municipal wells are already under stress, even with current demands. Our concern is magnified when we examine the interaction between surface water and groundwater which is even less understood.

So when we see - from our maps - mining in areas that either include wetlands or are adjacent to them, our apprehension increases:  Wetlands which are surface water features are likely to interact with groundwater and no one can predict the result of interfering with this interaction. It's clear from our study that the newly proposed below water McCormick pit would penetrate into a very extensive, provincially significant, and therefore theoretically protected, wetland complex. This could create potential risks to the capacity of the aquifer to perform its vital water delivery functions for municipal and private wells.

Wetland complexes are just what their name implies: complex, highly interactive hydrological systems which we invade at great environmental risk. Credit Valley Conservation Authority (CVC) and the Niagara Escarpment Commission NEC have warned that a tipping point exists but the question is when is that point reached beyond which negative impact on water quantity and quality may be irreversible.

We continue to share these results and concerns with relevant agencies and officials and will publish them when the study is complete.

Phase 2 is Next

Phase 2 of the EMAP study will explore surface water/groundwater interactions under the direction of REDC's consulting hydrogeologist working in collaboration with the firm of ecologists that conducted Phase 1.

The final product of this study will be a powerful, science-based account of the interdependence of, and connectivity between essential terrestrial and aquatic elements and features. This account will enable us to more accurately predict and anticipate the foreseeable net consequences of human activity in the area.

Time is not on our side. This knowledge is within our reach but acquiring it is expensive.  REDC volunteers and members conduct fundraisers and provide services pro bono where needed, but there is no question that we need further financial support for this project. We can only progress with the study as our financial support will allow. Financial contributions are welcome!