Responding to Stakeholder Concerns, the Province Leaves a Door Open to Support Effective Watershed Management

Working with Province and Municipalities to Address Gaps in the Conservation Authorities Act

On June 6th, the Provincial government passed Bill 108, More Homes, More Choice Act which includes amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act. Our concern has been that these amendments don’t fully capture the watershed management approach. This would seriously jeopardize the conservation authorities’ ability to delivery on municipal and provincial environmental priorities such as flood management, drinking water protection and climate change adaptation.

Other stakeholders agreed with us, including agencies, concerned citizens and many municipalities and their influence has had an impact. The Province has left a door open to revisit and possibly add to the list of mandatory programs and services which were just passed.

While the Province did not add another priority (Conserving Natural Resources ‘aka watershed management’) as requested by Conservation Ontario and the conservation authorities (CAs), they did agree that the suggested list of mandatory programs and services may not fully capture all the elements needed for an effective watershed-based approach and, as a result, they’ve included a clause to address possible gaps through regulation. Careful consideration of what is included in this regulation could bring greater consistency to conservation authority programs and result in better service outcomes.

So now the next stage of work begins.

Conservation Ontario and the conservation authorities will now work with the Province and municipalities to review and confirm that the necessary elements for effective watershed management are included in the existing roster of mandatory programs and services or propose additional mandatory programs or services to the Province to incorporate via regulation to fill any gaps.

Currently, conservation authorities receive funding support for various watershed management programs and services from both the Province and municipalities, however, for most CAs it is municipalities who pay the lion’s share.

Most conservation authorities’ budget requests to municipalities already incorporate the necessary elements for watershed management and we need this to continue. So far, they have been funding programs they deem important such as flood management activities, monitoring, modelling, watershed studies, stewardship, water quality protection and improvements, public outreach and education, and land management. We will be relying on municipalities for their continued support for this work.

We can’t effectively protect people and build resilience in Ontario against climate change if we don’t take a broader watershed management approach. We need to be able to do the work to identity and address issues before they get out of control because, otherwise, we’re just responding to each individual crisis as it arises. Watershed-based programs and services are the most effective and cost efficient tools we have to address increased and stronger flooding, stormwater runoff, degraded water quality, stressed biodiversity and damages to our lands, rivers, lakes and groundwater aquifers.

Continuing to support the watershed management work of conservation authorities isn’t a nice thing to do – it’s an imperative.

 Author: Conservation Ontario staff