Ontario water sources threatened, many species at risk, province's environmental commissioner warns
Friday, November 28, 2003
The Globe and Mail (Canada) by Murray Campbell
Ontario continues to ignore long-term environmental consequences in its push for economic expansion, the province's environmental commissioner says.
In his annual report, Gord Miller warned that the province's biodiversity is in danger and certain plants and animals are threatened with extinction. He said water sources are being threatened by discharges from sewage-treatment plants while urban sprawl threatens many native species.
He noted that there is even a shortage of native-tree seeds as a result of recent budget cutbacks.
"Short-term concerns dominate our thoughts and actions while the far-ranging or long-term consequences are not given much serious attention," Mr. Miller told a news conference at Queen's Park yesterday.
In reviewing compliance with the province's Environmental Bill of Rights, Mr. Miller concluded that various ministries, some of which remain understaffed, often do not work effectively with one another.
He noted, for example, that Ontario is using up its deposits of stone, gravel and sand at ever-increasing rates, mostly for highway construction, without any plans for wise use of this non-renewable resource.
He said legislation requires the rehabilitation of aggregate sites, which are often in ecologically sensitive areas, but the land is being degraded faster than it is being rehabilitated. Ontario produced more than 160 million tonnes of aggregate in 2001, about a third of Canada's output.
At the same time, municipalities are sending landfill sites tonnes of demolition rubble, such as concrete, that could replace aggregate in highway construction. He said that in Toronto, much of this waste is at the Leslie Street spit.
"It strikes me that archeologists will one day describe our society as one that dug huge holes in the Niagara Escarpment and other places, transported the stone to our city and then a few years later, dumped it in Lake Ontario," he said.
Mr. Miller's report said poor-quality effluent from municipal sewage-treatment plants is a cause of water pollution in Ontario's lakes and rivers. He said 15 plants in Ontario do little more than separate liquids from solids at a time when most other advanced countries subject sewage to secondary and tertiary treatments to remove heavy metals and other toxic materials.
Mr. Miller said the ministry is still suffering from 1990s budget cutbacks. "It's evident the Ministry of the Environment is not present out there in the environment as much as we would be comfortable with."
His critique covers only the period up to last March, when Ontario was still governed by the Progressive Conservatives. Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky said she is committed to upgrading her ministry's resources and to helping municipalities improve their sewage-treatment facilities, but could give no details.