1. Introduction

The Greater Golden Horseshoe is forecast to grow to 13.5 million people and nearly 6.3 million jobs by 2041, making it one of the fastest-growing city-regions in North America.[1] In planning for and managing growth, the province and municipalities need reliable information on the capacity and constraints of servicing infrastructure in the region.

The project was conceived in three phases with the ultimate goal of achieving a better understanding of the capacity of water and wastewater infrastructure in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, as well as the availability of fresh water and the assimilative capacity of the region's "inland" water systems (that is, systems other than the Great Lakes), including lakes, rivers, and aquifers.

Phase 1: Feasibility study to answer two questions:

  • What data are available to assess the capacity of and constraints on existing and planned water and wastewater systems relative to the availability of fresh water and the assimilative capacity of the region's inland water systems?
  • Using the available data, what types of data products and tools can be developed to better inform the allocation of growth across the Greater Golden Horseshoe?

Phase 2: Data collection and analysis and build-out of spatial database.

Phase 3: Design and build-out of scenario-based decision-support tool to identify environmental and infrastructural vulnerabilities across the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

Deliverables from each phase of the project are intended to inform the implementation of the Provincial Policy Statement, 2014, and of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2017. For example, the Growth Plan includes policies to ensure that "sustainable water and wastewater services are available to support future growth."[2] This study will also contribute to the implementation of the Greenbelt Plan, 2017, which contains policies for growth in small towns, villages, and hamlets within the Greenbelt and for protecting water resources across the region.[3]

Ideally, the resulting information and assessment tool can be used to guide population growth allocations, first by the Province and then by upper- and single-tier municipalities across the Greater Golden Horseshoe, to reduce pressure on areas with environmental vulnerabilities and constraints on infrastructure, including financial constraints.

In the early 1990s, the Province of Ontario undertook a similar exercise to the current feasibility study. Then too, the focus was on the need to develop a better information and modelling framework for managing growth:

The pressures for significant growth in parts of Southern Ontario are providing major challenges for local governments. The potential feasibility and costs of providing water and sewer servicing schemes are of particular interest. As a consequence, an interministerial Committee was established to review the existing situation and to provide recommendations for alternate strategies to accommodate predicted growth through schemes which will not only be environmentally appropriate but which are technically and economically feasible.[4]

[1] Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2017, pages 1 and 10.

[2] Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006, page 8. The 2017 version does not contain these exact words but does mention the need to "Improve the integration of land use planning with planning and investment in infrastructure and public service facilities" and to "Protect and enhance natural heritage, hydrologic, and landform systems, features, and functions" (see Section 1.2.1, Guiding Principles).

[3] See, for example, section of the Greenbelt Plan, 2017: "Decisions on allocation of growth and planning for water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure shall be informed by applicable watershed planning in accordance with the Growth Plan" (page 23).

[4] A Request for Proposals was issued by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs on Oct 3, 1990. It included an evaluation of existing water and wastewater systems and an assessment of groundwater resources. See South Central Ontario Study. Phase 1 Servicing Review by C.C. Tatham & Associates Ltd., prepared for the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs. The municipalities covered included Simcoe County, Dufferin County, Wellington County, Brant County, and the Region of Waterloo.