09/30/2013 05:40 EDT | Updated 11/30/2013 05:12 EST

Protecting the Thames River

The federal government has stripped considerable protections away from literally hundreds of lakes and rivers across our country last spring by eliminating those waterways from the "Navigable Waters Act." While the Conservative government has tried to sell this as "cutting government red-tape," the consequences of unregulated development can have serious consequences to our environment. Nowhere is this more true than with our water resources.

The lack of coordinated planning and a fair and reasonable regulatory framework means that development in one community cannot only have unintended negative consequences for the immediate community, but considerable effects on communities downstream of such developments.

This is the reason I introduced my Private Member's Bill, C-498, to return Navigable Waters Act protection to the Thames River watershed. The Thames River already has a federal "Canadian Heritage River" designation, justifiably so given its historic importance to southwestern Ontario.

Unfortunately, that designation does nothing to protect the river from development exploitation.

Last month the World Wildlife Foundation released a study which gave the Thames River a "Poor" grade, and this has attracted some media attention in the London area. In just a short time, my office has received many emails and phone calls in support of my proposal.

In addition to the support, citizens have also been bringing additional concerns to my attention in regard to the Thames River. None disturbed me as much as the information from the "Oxford People Against the Landfill," in regard to a proposed 17-million tonne Industrial/Commercial dump site on fractured bedrock only 500m from the Thames River. Already identified by the Thames-Sydenham Source Protection Committee as a "highly vulnerable" area, the risk to the Thames River and surrounding ground water from leachate permeating the fractured bedrock limestone and contaminating water is simply too high.

I have called on the Ontario Ministry of the Environment to add an expert "karst" study to the Terms of Reference for the Environmental Assessment for the Walker Industries dump proposal. This is a hydrogeological study that would identify interactions between the proposed landfill and groundwater and surface water bodies. It is important this information is included in the assessment to ensure that leachate from this proposal is in fact not a threat.

More importantly, I am voicing my objection to this proposal as Carmeuse Lime has an agreement with the Ministry of Natural Resources to restore their quarry to a "recreational quality" treed green-space. The people in the community and the surrounding area would like to see them held to this agreement.

The local community is concerned that not only will their lives be affected, but potentially others will be endangered should this proposal go forward. Less than 20 minutes downstream, the 350,000+ residents of London will also be profoundly impacted by any leachate contaminate seeping into the Thames River.

Downstream from London, smaller communities, including the City of Chatham, will also be put at risk. There are simply too many communities potentially impacted should the government fail to include a karst study in the Environmental Assessment.

It is crucial that we protect our lakes and rivers. The Thames is central to the community in London and all of the other communities through which it flows. We need to work together to protect our river, not only for us but for future generations.