The Impact of Employment Lands on King Township Water

Nov 22, 2020

King Township is fortunate to have many provincial plans, government regulations and historical planning precedents to help protect the environment and shape the direction of economic and residential development in our villages and rural areas. We interpret these standards in our Official Plan, in our bylaws and in our approval process for ongoing development.

Given that the ink on the pages of King Township’s newly minted Official Plan is barely dry, the storm clouds are gathering on the horizon of our planning goals and standards. In October, York Region Council’s planning staff recommended re-zoning land along the 400 series highways – within the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine – from agricultural to employment.

Not only would the proposal shrink Ontario’s important Greenbelt unnecessarily, there are serious issues surrounding the water that would be necessary to service the area.

Re-Zoning Land for Employment

Proponents of York Region’s new employment land proposal observe that the current locations of employment land in the area may not be conducive to future employment, nor support growth along the highways. Critics, however, note that the Region already has over 2,000 hectares – including 166 acres in King Township – of surplus employment lands, sufficient for generations to come. They also fear that if new employment lands are introduced, current employment lands would likely be declared surplus and converted to residential, increasing urban sprawl.

Further, current employment lands are primarily located in settlement areas to promote sustainable, healthy and liveable communities that encourage more people to walk, take transit or cycle to work. The newly proposed employment areas are outside of settlement areas, which would set a bad precedent and would contravene the vision and the spirit of King Township’s Official Plan.

Water for King

Another significant consideration to factor into developing these and other such locations is that they require servicing, especially water and water treatment. Water services infrastructure does not currently exist in these areas and creating them is fraught with issues, primarily the source of said water.

York Region gets water from the Lake Simcoe and Lake Ontario watersheds which are both part of the Great Lakes (Lake Simcoe drains into Lake Couchiching, which drains into Georgian Bay which is part of Lake Huron, a Great Lake, and so, while separate, they are all considered hydrologically one body of water). As part of the five Great Lakes, these areas have various legal protections agreed to by both the United States and Canada including the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement; the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty; and The Great Lakes–Saint Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resource Agreement. To safeguard their integrity, these legal contracts do not allow for the diversion or increase in diversion of Great Lakes water from one Great Lake to another.

The development of water infrastructure in King poses an additional challenge as the township is bisected by these two watersheds. Currently, the Township’s water source is a combination of private wells and municipal water pumped up all the way up from the Toronto water treatment plant on Lake Ontario, dubbed the “Big Pipe”.  This infrastructure, which contravenes the existing bi-national agreements because it crosses watersheds, was created before The Great Lakes–Saint Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resource Agreement was signed. The Ontario Ministry of Environment has urged York Region to reduce this diversion.

To accommodate King’s plans for growth, the following are three of options being considered to provide water services in the township:

  • Sourcing water and treatment locally which builds on the current water treatment planning targets for the north half of King Township. This includes the Upper York Sewage Treatment Plant which would offer services to proposed and future communities across the northern half of York Region for their waste water. There have been major delays in starting this project, however, as experts debated whether Lake Simcoe was too small and shallow to accommodate the expected increase in volume of treated waste water. There were also discussions about whether First Nations concerns were properly addressed. As a result, it is forecasted that it will be at least another five years before this water treatment infrastructure is in place.
  • ‘Big Pipe 2.0’ – a mixture of local groundwater and accessing remote treatment facilities using the existing ‘Big Pipe’ system. However, as King’s groundwater in the proposed new employment land would be in the Lake Ontario watershed, and the “Big Pipe” water which extends into Aurora and the Lake Simcoe watershed, would result in transferring water across watershed boundaries this contravenes the various agreements so is not a viable choice.
  • Using the Lake Ontario based water from King City’s existing ‘Big Pipe’ would not be a problem if it remains south of the Lake Simcoe watershed otherwise you face the same issue noted above.

Ecological Harm

Aside from the source of the water, there is potential for extreme ecological harm in building new water infrastructure.

First, local experts recognize that building water and sewer lines through Oak Ridges Moraine and the Greenbelt challenges the flow of local ground water in unpredictable ways. King Township had a myriad of problems with their brand new Nobleton sewage treatment plant. Since the beginning, the plant has had a significant water leak that officials were unable to locate and which resulted in a much higher volume of water than originally calculated. After spending a considerable amount of time and money, the Township was unable to fix the problem and was forced to instead limit planned development and add that increase in growth to King City.

Additionally, to permanently position pipes, sites would need to be permanently dewatered to below the level the pipes would sit which requires that groundwater be pumped out and sent with storm water to the York/Durham treatment plant for discharge to Lake Ontario. This draws down the local groundwater supply which threatens existing private wells resulting in their closure, further increasing the water diversion. Dewatering also threatens local wetlands, including vernal pool wetlands, which are essential breeding habitat for many species of frogs, salamanders and turtles including Species At Risk. Finally, extensive drainage for storm water will also be required by these developed lands which will be coupled with the dewatering efforts which will all be removed by the Big Pipe across watersheds, which is, again, contrary to the Boundary Water Treaty.

Like the Greenbelt Protection Plan and the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, water management directives are only as good as the willingness of the politicians and the public to see these regulations incorporated into the Official Plan of King Township and the bylaws developed to implement this Plan.

CCKT will continue to monitor any developments related to the allocation of employment lands and the local appetite for ‘Big Pipe 2.0’. These initiatives should not determine how we manage our water services or our protected lands in King Township.