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Watershed Management

Watershed management, in its simplest terms means managing upstream activities and resources wisely so that downstream remains healthy. The Conservation Authority watershed model has received worldwide recognition over its history and the watershed is now recognized as one of the premier natural ecosystem units on which to manage resources.

Conservation Authorities define watershed management as “managing water resources within specific watersheds by knowing how much water is in the system, where it comes from, who is using it, how it is being contaminated and where it is ends up. Watershed management takes into consideration all the outside activities that can influence the quality and quantity of our surface and groundwater.”

Ontario’s 36 Conservation Authorities carry out watershed planning across the province.

What is Watershed Planning?

Watershed planning is a continuous process that requires us to:

  1. collect water resource data & analyze it to identify issues and problems;
  2. design a watershed plan on the basis of this data to protect and promote resource sustainability;
  3. implement the plan;
  4. monitor and evaluate plan while continuously updating it to adapt to new information or technology. Enforcement and compliance efforts are also important in this component.

Why Is It Important to Do Watershed Planning?

  • Everything is connected to everything else. Upstream activities affect the quality and quantity of water downstream. Eventually it all flows out of the public’s tap.
  • Surface and groundwater systems can be easily contaminated and have a limited tolerance for stress. Long term problems can develop that are costly and difficult to deal with in the future so preventative actions are required now.
  • Water resources can be protected more efficiently if watersheds are managed as whole ecosystems. By using a watershed approach to managing our resources, harmful impacts on the system can be identified quickly so that prevention, remediation or improvements can be carried out right away.
  • Managing our water on a watershed basis and taking the necessary action to protect or rehabilitate it can prevent future community water shortages and poor water quality.

Partnerships Are Key to Success

Conservation Authorities work with partners such as landowners, other non-governmental agencies in planning as well as all levels of government to plan and deliver watershed management programs and services.

What role can Conservation Authorities play in the management of Ontario’s water resources?

Conservation Authorities play a key role in protecting and improving water quality and quantity for Ontario. These agencies have the expertise and experience to assist in designing and delivering effective watershed management. As well, their local networks are essential for ensuring opportunities for a variety of public, nonprofit, industry and government stakeholders to work together for the good of the local environment.

Lessons Learned and Best Practices in Watershed Planning (2003)

This report, produced by Conservation Ontario with support from the Province of Ontario, recognizes the origins of watershed management in Ontario back to the 1930’s and examines the lessons that have been learned to 2003, identifying best practices currently being used in watershed management and planning. The lessons learned and best practices were identified by examining the experiences of three of Ontario’s 36 Conservation Authorities – Credit Valley Conservation, the Grand River Conservation Authority and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

This report looks specifically at:

  • Status of watershed planning in Ontario
  • Generic framework for watershed management
  • Lessons Learned: assessing the generic framework
  • Implementing the framework
  • Measuring success and reviewing the plan