What future waits for Rouge River Valley watershed?

Don’t worry, we aren’t talking about a river parts amock here.

The word ‘Rouge’ means ‘red’; the Rouge River gets its name from the reddish surrounding rocks. The presence of iron oxides makes these rocks look red. The river’s sandbanks have a reddish tint.The Rouge River is a tributary of the Ottawa River and a part of the Carolinian life zone.

From an altitude of 550 meters, it flows down 161 kilometers through the Laurentian Mountains to the Ottawa River. It is the main water body in a hilly region characterized by waterfalls and valleys. And if you are living in and around it, you are sure to get some of the freshest water around!

Interestingly, the Rouge River Valley is a very fragile natural phenomenon, even though it extends over eleven thousand acres. Incredibly, all of this exists within the city limits of Toronto.

Watershed

A watershed is that area which holds rainwater, or snow, that drains into a marsh, river or groundwater.

The Rouge River watershed has been used by humans for 10,000 years, from the aboriginals to the final settlers. The watershed of the Rouge River is spread over an area of 336 square kilometers. Of this, 1% consists of water bodies, while around 24% is the forest.

Apart from that, 35% is urban area while the remaining 40% is agricultural land. You would find the watershed starting in around Oak Ridges Moraine and then flowing in as far south as the Lake Ontario.  Rouge River falls into Lake Ontario at Rouge Beach.

Rouge National Urban Park

Apart from the above facts, did you know that a little bit of the watershed also lies right in the Rouge National Urban Park, the largest urban park in North America? The watershed covers some really wide regions, which include everything from York and Durham, Toronto, to even Whitchurch-Stouffville.

Major points

Human interference and arrogance, have started to harm and degrade this natural treasure. The carrying capacities of the natural systems in this watershed have been exceeded far beyond their replenishment rates. Detrimental changes like increased surface runoff water, water pollution, increased erosion, and consequently, sedimentation, and loss of biofdiversity are well on their way to becoming permanent features.

Further, the Rouge Park has no legislated protection. Likewise the Rouge River.  Unlike the Humber River, which has been designated as a ‘heritage river’ and has in-built monitoring controls, the Rouge River has no safeguard or statutory watchdog.

The primary owner of the Rouge Park Lands is the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). But its track record of protecting watersheds or parklands is not very reassuring.

Approval for the development in the floodplains, altering the course of the Rouge River and narrowing of the Oak Ridges Moraine corridor are a few of the worrying developments.

To make matters worse, the TRCA cannot be held accountable under the Environmental Bill of Rights.

On a final note

While human beings depend on nature for survival, our ever-growing refusal to acknowledge this fact is slowly, but surely, pushing us towards our own eventual ruin. And at the moment, North America is in real danger of losing one of its natural endowments.

The movement for preservation

In October 1954, Hurricane Hazel hit Canada. The destruction caused was horrifying. More than a hundred houses were brought down to earth. The Rouge River’s course was changed at more than 20 points.

In response, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) was formed, which aimed at looking at helping build the park.

The history and the timeline

An advisory committee, set up in 1990, was given the responsibility of drafting a park management plan. The plan was to ensure protection of the ecology of the Rouge Valley Park. This was the first time plans to create the Rouge Park were announced.

In 1992, the committee wanted the parks’ boundaries to be extended.

In 1999, there were the first major tremors that were felt. The fault line was not inside the Rouge Valley, but around it. This was probably a direct consequence of the construction and development that had been allowed on conservation lands.

There were further plans to cut off the only ecological corridor, south of highway 401, from the Rouge Park.

And more private developers got access to the headwaters of the Rouge River in Richmond Hill now. It was a result of conflict between long-term goals of a (almost permanent) stewardship and the steward’s short-term economic needs.

Progress

Many members of civil society have come forward to right this wrong. Many NGO’s have been formed for the purpose.

In order to start the Park, the Ontario government would have to first transfer lands to the federal government, something that some conservation groups do not think would keep the land safe from development and overuse.

A legal analysis done by Ecojustice brought out the vulnerability faced by critical ecosystems under the federal laws drafted to govern the proposed Rouge National Urban Park.

The Ontario government, to its credit, paid heed to the groups’ appeal to reconsider the plan to transfer the lands. Ontario declined to transfer its lands to the federal government until one drafted stronger legal protections.

Ecojustice vows to continue to support groups fighting for the country’s environment.

Individuals and groups from many parts of Canada continued to provide support to the cause.

And the results are encouraging.

The federal government announced its intention to increase the ecological protection of the Rouge National Urban Park and allow farms in the park leases of upto thirty years.

Late in 2017, Ontario announced plans to further transfer huge tracts of land to Parks Canada. Ontario’s Economic Development Minister, Brad Duguid, expressed gratitude towards individuals and groups who have been fighting for decades to protect the area. He offered special thanks to ‘Mother of the Rouge’, Lois James, 94, and also Jim Robb, who have long been in the forefront of this ecological battle.

New amendments to the park legislation, which were introduced in 2017, in parliament formally expanded the park’s borders by about 17 square kilometers. It also made ecology one of the main issues for the park’s management.