Toronto rivers and surrounding ravines become part of Greenbelt
The expansion comes as part of a larger growth plan from the province for the greater Golden Horseshoe.
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Some of Toronto’s most valuable environmental resources are now part of a protected zone.
The Etobicoke Creek, Humber River, Don River and the ravine land around their shores are now officially included in the 800,000-hectare Greenbelt.
Franz Hartmann, executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance that championed the expansion, said it’s been an eight-year fight to get 21 urban river valleys connected to the larger protected zone.
As climate change brings more extreme weather, like May’s heavy rain and flooding, the rivers are more important than ever. They need to be protected from development and erosion, Hartmann said.
“Our river systems are going to be channelling all of that rain towards the lake,” he said.
The rivers run through several municipalities and were under “a patchwork” of different bylaws, making it hard to protect them.
“Now it’s the same minimal standard that has to be maintained, and that’s good news for ensuring that our rivers stay as healthy as possible,” added Hartmann.
Tim Gray, executive director of advocacy group Environmental Defence, said the new classification will help residents understand how urban rivers are linked to Lake Ontario and the rest of the Greenbelt.
The additions are part of the province’s larger review of growth in the greater Golden Horseshoe, which will result in tougher limits on development.
Gray said it’s all part of redefining the way we look at cities and a necessary move toward a denser European model.
“We need to think about designing our cities in a similar way where they don’t just sprawl forever onto the remaining farmland,” he said.
The province’s new plan also requires cities to set their own climate policies, in alignment with Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan.
Lindsay Wiginton of the Pembina Institute called the move a “missing link” in the fight against climate change.
“It will make sure that we’re taking local action across the province,” she said.