Nature for Water
21 Mar

March 22 is World Water Day and this year the theme is Nature for Water. There are problems all over the world concerning access to clean water. Water is affected by pollution, desertification, and over-population. Although we can’t solve the world’s problems, we can look at our own situation and make improvements.

We are surrounded by lakes and rivers, so much so that we seldom think about wetlands. Although in Niagara we have already lost more than 90% of our wetlands, few of us care enough to act when developers continue to build housing developments in our remaining natural areas. It is not just the Thundering Waters swamp forest that is threatened. Many of our most ecologically valuable lands are privately owned and, with people from outside Niagara eager to buy homes here, it seems that times are ripe for those who value land only for its monetary value to cash in.

All of us will be poorer without the ecosystem benefits that intact natural assets give to us. Wetlands provide flood protection, water and air purification, carbon storage and they are a wonderful source of biodiversity.

Developers cannot build in provincially significant wetlands, but they can build close to them and they can isolate them. Developers in Niagara continually destroy wetland complexes, areas where more than one wetland is linked to another and separated by a non-wetland area. These complexes are vital for wildlife to survive. Wetlands not rated as provincially significant have little protection.

Buffers are vegetated areas that help to protect wetlands from some of the problems that nearby development brings, such as salt run-off, pollution, invasive plants, and human and pet interference. They provide some protection for wildlife. The Ontario Natural Heritage Manual recommends these buffers be 120 metres, the minimum is 30 metres. Your elected officials in Niagara have recently said, on a number of occasions, that 10 metres will do. The smaller buffers allow more houses to be built. The developer will be richer and the environment poorer.

Why are we permitting development in our natural areas? Why are don’t we practice smart growth and place our residential developments in areas without significant natural features? Spring is coming and we look forward to seeing birds and plants, many of which rely on wetlands. We will smell the fresh air and soil, purified for us by wetlands. We will hear the choruses of frogs again this year and we will begin saving our wetlands so that never will our spring be truly silent.

Joyce Sankey