Skip to content
Simcoe Gravel mining

Garbage dumps and gravel pits: Fight to protect Simcoe County water has waged for decades

It’s been more than a decade since Site 41 in Simcoe County in southern Ontario became a flashpoint in the fight to defend water against the intrusion of industry and pollutants. 2009 saw the culmination of a 26-year long fight over whether a garbage dump would be built over the aquifer, which boasts “the purest groundwater ever tested.” At the time, the Council of Canadians joined activists, farmers community members, and Indigenous groups to apply pressure to the Simcoe County Council and prevent the County from dumping more than one million tons of garbage on the site. After months of organizing, including door-knocking campaigns by residents and a community blockade that led to the arrests of at least 17 people, including Simcoe County residents and members of the nearby Beausoleil First Nation, the Simcoe County Council ultimately voted overwhelmingly to turf the plan to build a dump on top of the Alliston aquifer.

But the fight isn’t over

The 2009 battle with Simcoe County came after decades of talk about making the site a landfill. Thirteen years after that win, the aquifer is still being threatened, this time by gravel mining. It’s the unique geological makeup of the Simcoe Uplands, located along the southern edge of Georgian Bay, about an hour and a half north of Toronto, that has made the water so pure. And it’s the same geological makeup that makes the region appealing for gravel mining, a profitable industry that, if it continues to expand as the new Teedon Pit quarry would allow, could destroy the precious alchemy of silt, soil, and trees that scientists believe is the source of the water’s pristine quality.

Residents of the area are calling on the federal government to protect the ground water under the Simcoe Uplands, and to prevent the expanding gravel mines from disrupting what they call a “natural filtration system” that has kept the water pure since time immemorial.

Nature is made up of systems of delicate – and often fragile – balances. Simcoe County’s pristine water is believed to exist because of a natural filtration system made up of topsoil, silt, vegetation, and aggregate. Gravel mining intentionally disrupts that fragile balance, sucking up more than a million litres of water daily for the washing of gravel, all while disrupting and disturbing the complex geological systems that have made the water “the gold standard” for water worldwide.

Protecting water anywhere should be a priority everywhere

As the climate crisis continues to intensify, drought will become more common. So will disruptive weather events like mudslides, hurricanes, floods, and more, all of which can interfere with a community’s access to clean, potable water. Protecting pristine groundwater like that in Simcoe County isn’t just about protecting a vital necessity for that region – keeping the water’s natural filtration system intact could allow scientific study that will help us understand how certain geological features keep water pure. And defending potable water should become reflexive. As a primary element of life, it’s a best practice to mobilize against any and all threats to water and to make interfering with water systems more trouble for industry and the government than disrupting it is worth.

Alex Birrell

Alex Birrell is one of the Council of Canadians Communications Officers, specializing in Research and Analysis.

Become a member today

Become a member of the council of Canadians for as low as 1$/year

Read more analysis