Promoting Watershed Security in Ontario – Water for People and for Nature

Water is Life

In May, the Ontario government released its preferred direction on the Co-ordinated Land Use Planning Review. The OHI is frankly thrilled with progress in three specific aspects. These are:

  1. The requirement for watershed planning in the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH);
  2. The inclusion of various natural heritage protection targets in the plans (EG – 30% developable area to be retained in natural heritage, disturbed areas to not exceed 25%, 30 M riparian protective zones on both sides of streams, and impervious surface in new development no not exceed 10%); and,
  3. The potential identification and protection of significant surface water contribution areas – ie: headwater areas.

As our regular readers know, the OHI has been articulating for various aspects of these directions for several years, beginning with our 2010 Symposium on Integrated Watershed Management.

We have also called, in submissions on numerous initiatives, for the establishment of provincial targets similar to those in a federal guideline called How Much Habitat is Enough. In fact, the OHI recently became the first organization to suggest targets to protect watersheds under the new Great Lakes Protection Act, including targets and remediation goals regarding watershed areas in natural heritage, riparian cover, and wetlands.

In addition, the OHI has suggested the establishment of indicators of headwater health in our concept paper The Importance of Headwaters to Watershed Health, on both the establishment of indicators of headwater health that should be included in watershed report cards and which might lead to the identification and subsequent protection of significant headwater areas.

On a) and b) above, it is fabulous that the Province is moving forward.

On c), it is heart-warming to see the Province address the clarion call, from the OHI and others, and leap-frog into a position of leadership on the identification and protection of significant headwater areas.

The devil will be in the details. Ontarians need to know how watershed planning will be delivered, and funded. We need consistent policies, and not policies in the GGH different from those in the Provincial Policy Statement. We need both the promised mapping of natural heritage in the GGH and a promised guidance document on watershed planning. We need more transparent and accountable government processes and criteria regarding the proposed addition of lands to the Greenbelt and the establishment of targets under the Great Lakes Protection Act. And more.

But it has been a good spring. While the OHI will seek to continue providing constructive comments to protect our headwaters, their natural heritage and biodiversity, and the watersheds that serve as the foundation of the province’s ecological integrity, we thank the Province for its announced direction.

PS  In May, the government also released its preferred direction on the review of the Conservation Authorities Act. We will have comments downstream.