About Conservation Authorities

Unique to Ontario, Conservation Authorities are local watershed management agencies that deliver services and programs to protect and manage impacts on water and other natural resources in partnership with all levels of government, landowners and many other organizations.

Conservation Authorities promote an integrated watershed management approach balancing human, environmental and economic needs. Conservation Authorities are organized on a watershed basis.

There are 31 Conservation Authorities operating in southern Ontario and five Conservation Authorities delivering programs and services in northern Ontario. The network of Conservation Authorities is represented by Conservation Ontario, which is a nonprofit association. Conservation Authorities began to be established by municipalities and the province in the 1940s in response to severe flooding and erosion problems in Ontario.

Conservation Authorities are either charitable or nonprofit organizations legislated under the Conservation Authorities Act, 1946. Each Conservation Authority has its own Board of Directors comprised of members appointed by local municipalities and most are elected municipal officials.

Conservation Authorities range in size from very large to small which influences the programs and services they are able to offer.

A particular milestone in Conservation Authority history was the impact of a devastating event – Hurricane Hazel in 1954. This storm mobilized the need for managing Ontario’s watersheds on a regional basis.

As a result, after Hurricane Hazel, the provincial government amended the Conservation Authorities Act to enable Conservation Authorities to acquire lands for recreation and conservation purposes, and to regulate that land for the safety of the community. 

Over time, Conservation Authorities have become involved in a wide range of activities and responsibilities, depending on the environmental concerns of local residents, member municipalities and the Province. Each Conservation Authority’s watershed management program is geared to its specific needs and is scoped according to the resources available.

Typical breakdown of funding sources for Conservation Authorities 

Municipal levies – 54%
Self-generated revenue – 34%
Provincial grants & Special Projects – 9%
Federal Grants or Contracts – 3%


Conservation Authorities are legislated under the Conservation Authorities Act, 1946. They began to be established in the 1940s when Ontario was experiencing a lot of flooding and erosion problems as a result of earlier years of environmental mismanagement. The most recent Conservation Authority was established in 1979 (Kawartha Conservation). Together, Conservation Authorities are mandated to ensure the conservation, restoration and responsible management of Ontario's water, land and natural habitats through programs that balance human, environmental and economic needs.


Ensure Ontario's rivers, lakes and streams are properly safeguarded, managed and restored
Because what we do on land is reflected in our water and land ecosystems. Conservation Authorities develop programs that protect natural resources and promote watershed stewardship practices that lead to healthy, sustainable communities and industries.

Protect, manage and restore Ontario's woodlands, wetlands and natural habitat
Conservation Authorities protect, restore and effectively manage impacts on Ontario's water resources. Conservation Authorities also provide advice and counsel to a wide variety of agencies, landowners, businesses, and all levels of government on the responsible management of water. 

Develop and maintain programs that will protect life and property from natural hazards such as flooding and erosion
Conservation Authorities work in partnership with municipalities to protect life and property through the development of programs and services that minimize or prevent the impact of natural disasters such as flooding and erosion. 

Provide opportunities for the public to enjoy, learn from and respect Ontario's natural environment
Through the lands they manage and own, as well as the educational programs they deliver, Conservation Authorities provide opportunities for people to understand and appreciate the value of their natural environment as well as the social and economic benefits of protecting that environment.

Areas of Program Development within Conservation Authorities

  • Network Hydro Generation
  • Tourism
  • Municipal Plan Review
  • Urban Stormwater Management
  • Natural Area Preservation
  • Waterfront Development Flow
  • Wetlands
  • Water Supply/Low Flow
  • Augmentation
  • Environmentally Sensitive Areas
  • Watershed Strategies
  • Flood Control
  • Floodplain Management
  • Flood Warning
  • Forest Management
  • Fish & Wildlife Habitat
  • Great Lakes Shoreline Management
  • Provincial Water Quality Monitoring
  • Ground Water Monitoring
  • Rural Drainage
  • Heritage Conservation
  • Streamflow Monitoring
  • Community Relations
  • Niagara Escarpment
  • Erosion Control
  • Outdoor Recreation
  • Fish & Wildlife Management
  • Private Land Extension
  • Reforestation
  • Soil Erosion/Sedimentation
  • Windbreaks and Shelterbelts
Conservation Authorities contribute to healthy watersheds

Conservation Authorities contribute to healthy watersheds

How Conservation Authorities support provincial priorities

How Conservation Authorities support provincial priorities

What do Conservation Authorities do

What do Conservation Authorities do