Bookmark this page
Provincial Links

The Regional Municipality of Durham

To: The Planning Committee
From: Commissioner of Planning
Report No.: 2001-P-44
Date: May 8, 2001

The Oak Ridges Moraine - Proposals for the Protection and Management of a Unique Landscape, File: 4.1.33


  1. That the Planning Department be authorized to initiate a consultation process to refine the recommendations of the strategic directions report entitled "The Oak Ridges Moraine - Proposals for the Protection and Management of a Unique Landscape" as indicated in the Commissioner's Report
  2. That Commissioner's Report No. 2001-P-44 be forwarded to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing inviting their support
  3. That upon completion of the findings of the consultation process, the matter be brought back to Committee and Council.


1. Purpose


The purpose of this report is to present the document entitled "The Oak Ridges Moraine - Proposals for the Protection and Management of a Unique Landscape" (draft proposal), which proposes strategic directions necessary for the protection of the Oak Ridges Moraine (ORM), and to seek authorization for a public consultation process that will assist in refining the recommendations of the report.


The strategy was prepared jointly by the staff of the Regions of Durham, Peel and York, with the assistance of the Conservation Authorities and other upper tier municipalities on the Moraine. The paper proposes an approach to the protection of the ORM that recommends new policy building on the Regional Official Plan policies already in place, the co-ordination of data collection that will enhance the knowledge base, and securement initiatives that will assist in prioritizing these efforts. The intent is to "raise the bar" on our understanding of the Oak Ridges Moraine water and terrestrial systems, and to strengthen policy for the Moraine. These proposed strategic directions will be refined through the proposed public consultation process.


This draft proposal is being presented concurrently in York and Peel Regions.

2. Background


The ORM is considered an important part of the landscape of southern Ontario. It is a distinct landform feature, performing essential ecological functions. Within the GTA area, the ORM forms the drainage divide between Lakes Ontario and Simcoe, and acts as the headwaters for over 35 rivers and streams, providing groundwater recharge, discharge and baseflow for numerous watercourses and containing an array of natural heritage features. The Moraine occupies approximately 21% of the total combined land area of the Regional municipalities of Durham, Peel and York.


The Moraine itself is a complex formation with the central portion composed of thick deposits of sands and gravels. The sands and gravels are not, however, continuous nor consistent in their thickness, with many areas exhibiting discontinuous lenses of granular materials separated by till layers. Where the granular materials are at the surface, the soils are permeable for rainwater and snow melt runoff, creating conditions for recharge and discharge functions.

3. The Oak Ridges Moraine - Towards a Long Term Strategy


In September 1999, the joint Regional initiative of the Regions of Durham, Peel and York published a discussion paper entitled "Towards a Long Term Strategy for the Oak Ridges Moraine". The key conclusions of the paper were:

  • Despite good intentions by many parties and substantial study over the years and the general consensus around the 1994 Oak Ridges Moraine Strategy, there was no approved comprehensive policy framework in place to protect the important ecological features and functions of the Moraine
  • Previous studies of the Moraine, most recently between 1991 and 1994, had resulted in significant data collection in a number of areas including hydrogeology and natural heritage, however, the database was largely inaccessible, was not being updated in a consistent timely fashion and was under-funded to provide for good quality information on an on-going basis
  • Although property acquisition was expected to remain the preferred method of ensuring protection of sensitive ecological lands, there were other techniques for land securement that needed to be investigated
  • There was a need to engage a wide group of stakeholders, including the Province, government, ratepayers, interest groups and industry representatives in any initiative to provide consistent policy on the Moraine


In order to address the need for a comprehensive policy framework, quality data on hydrogeology and natural heritage and a securement strategy, the three Regions initiated a co-ordinated workplan.

4. Strategic Directions


The resulting strategic directions builds on existing policy, data and initiatives. The proposal focuses on recommendations that will strengthen and co-ordinate policy across the Moraine. The 1994 Oak Ridges Moraine strategy was used as a guide to help improve the existing policies in the three Regional Official Plans. The proposal provides background and problem identification, discussion of the issues and recommended strategic directions for each of the following four topic areas.


The Oak Ridges Moraine acts as a storage reservoir for groundwater that discharges and feeds streams, rivers and lakes, supplies clean drinking water to an abundance of residents and supports a large and complex natural heritage system. This section of the paper identifies the interrelationship between ground and surface water functions and proposes a co-ordinated and consolidated approach to gathering, analyzing, and managing hydrogeology data and formulating policy to protect groundwater resources.


Natural Heritage Management System
The Natural Heritage System section proposes strategic directions to establish a natural heritage data management system to allow us to better understand and analyse the complexities and sensitivities of ecological features and the interrelationships of functions. Specific proposals are included to create a co-ordinated, accessible data management system with common data standards in order to provide better analysis, predictive ability and monitoring.


Policy Development
The Policy section summarizes required policy improvements, consistency issues, data gaps and implementation problems that exist in current policy. The approach builds on existing policy in Regional Plans and the general consensus around the draft 1994 Oak Ridges Moraine Strategy for the GTA. Policy direction recommended in this section should be valid for other geographic areas, not just for the Oak Ridges Moraine. Recommendations are also included for the strengthening of the Provincial Policy Statement.


The purpose of the Securement Strategy is to identify a consistent, co-ordinated approach to securement activity. The paper proposes a broad range of securement tools starting with protection from development by policy, a stewardship program to assist landowners in the conservation of their land, and ultimately, if these mechanisms fail, a land acquisition program is proposed.

5. Analysis and Options


Although the natural heritage system is common to all regions, a long-term vision applied across the ORM does not exist. A co-ordinated approach would provide more consistent protection of a natural heritage system across the Oak Ridges Moraine. This would result in efficiency, clarity and possibly avoid or scope land use conflicts.


The proposed strategic directions are based on an ecosystem approach and will provide for a seamless, more cost effective review and decision making process related to planning and land use issues. Ultimately this partnership approach will provide for a:

  • Means to further understanding of the natural heritage system
  • Consistent level of protection through the implementation of common policy objectives
  • Centralised, accessible and extensive natural heritage data management system
  • Land management program comprised of a land acquisition and private land stewardship program
  • Consistent approach to protecting groundwater resources


The policy intent of this initiative is to provide clear direction for the consideration of development proposals. It is recognized that some development can occur on the Moraine, however any development should not have a negative effect on hydrogeology and natural heritage features. It is recognized that existing development applications will be considered within the context of the approved policy currently in effect.

6. Obtaining Public Comments - Communications Plan


The Oak Ridges Moraine and its protection is a topic of much public interest. The commitment of the Regions in undertaking the initiative on the Moraine was to provide inclusive and wide-ranging public consultation. To facilitate this, a multi-part communication plan is proposed. The components of this plan involve:

  • Media release
  • Circulation of the draft paper to area municipalities, Provincial Ministries and interested parties
  • Availability of the draft paper for review and comment in municipal offices, and libraries Region wide
  • Prominent website reference including electronic availability of the draft paper
  • A series of public meetings/open houses across the three Regions
  • In the Region of Durham, two open houses, (tentatively in the Township of Uxbridge and Municipality of Clarington) to be held on two evenings in the second week in June, 2001
  • A symposium for key stakeholders scheduled for the morning of June 16, 2001 to heighten public awareness of the strategy and improve public understanding of the need for a long term ORM Strategy, and provide an opportunity for making comments on the draft paper
  • Specific focus groups will be arranged for key stakeholders like the Urban Development Institute, Aggregate Producers of Ontario and natural heritage groups


The symposium is expected to feature speakers and, through concurrent facilitated break out sessions, receive input on draft proposal. The results of this process will be used to update and refine the document to reflect the public interest prior to submission to the three Regional Council's, the Board's of the Conservation Authorities and Council's of other partners for endorsement. Staff will report back on these refinements in the Fall.


It is recommended that this report also be submitted to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing inviting their support.

7. Conclusion


The draft Oak Ridges Moraine paper recommends a number of directions in four topic areas: Hydrogeology, Natural Heritage, Policy and Land Securement. It is recommended that the paper in its draft form be circulated widely in accordance with the proposed communications plan. Comments received will be used to refine the draft paper prior to submission to Regional Councils, the Conservation Authorities and other interested parties and agencies for endorsement.


This report has been prepared jointly with Bryan Tuckey, Commissioner of Planning and Development Services for the Region of York, and Nick Tunnacliffe, Commissioner of Planning for the Region of Peel, and their respective staff.

A.L. Georgieff, M.C.I.P., R.P.P.
Commissioner of Planning

Recommended for presentation to committee
G.H. Cubitt, M.S.W., C.A.O.