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The Living Water Policy Project
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Ontario Water Policy Data


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Ontario is considered a water-rich province. Nevertheless, it is not immune to water shortages. This is becoming increasingly apparent as a result of climate change.  Transboundary issues continue to be of central importance to the province because of the Great Lakes Basin, which is a shared water source with Québec and eight of the American states.  The Great Lakes Protections Act expected to pass in 2014 has been stalled by the Ontario elections.

Canada-Ontario 2002 Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem and Annexes an important agreement is open for public comment. Ontario is the only province in the country that has an Environmental Commissioner.  Environmental Commissioner of Ontario is the province's independent environmental watchdog.  Appointed by the Legislative Assembly, the ECO is tasked with monitoring and reporting on compliance with the Environmental Bill of Rights, and the government's success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in achieving greater energy conservation in Ontario (Environmental Commissioner, 2010).


Ontario water policy photo essay

Ontario water policy facts
(click any title below to reveal policy details)

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Basic Introduction
1: Central Water Legislation (Jul 07/14)
The Water Opportunities Act (2010), passed in the legislature on November 23, 2010.  The act allows for the creation of new regulation, such as requirements that municipal governments create water sustainability plans.  The act will also establish a capacity building mechanism, the Water Technology Acceleration Project, which will encourage collaboration between government, academia and civil sectors.  Through the act, the government aims to lay the foundation for new Ontario jobs and to make the province the North American leader in the development and sale of new technologies and services for water conservation and treatment.

The Clean Water Act (2006), last amended in 2009, is designed to help communities identify risks to their drinking water and reduce these risks through the work of local, multistakeholder source protection committees. The Ontario Water Resources Act (1990), last amended in 2009, addresses technical management issue of Ontario's waters, such as permitting for discharge of pollution, water transfers, well construction, and sewage works. The Safe Drinking Water Act (2002), last amended in 2009, sets out treatment and testing requirements for water systems and addresses matters concerning distribution of drinking water. The Nutrient Management Act (2002), as part of Ontario's Clean Water Strategy, the act was designed to reduce the potential for water and environmental contamination from some agricultural practices. The Act establishes the framework for best practices regarding nutrient management (particularly manure). The Nutrient Management Act also provides standards for nutrient storage and how nutrients are applied to farmland, in order to reduce the likelihood of ground or surface water contamination. The Safeguarding and Sustaining Ontario's Water Act (2007), which amends the Ontario Water Resources Act (1990), brought in changes to the Ontario Water Resources Act based on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement (2005). Specifically, it addresses Great Lakes Basin cooperative management issues, such as the prohibition on new and increased intra and inter-basin transfers. Other significant legislation that impacts the management of water in Ontario include the: Canada-Ontario 2002 Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem and Annexes-this is not legislation, but it is an important agreement; Drainage Act (1990), last amended in 2006; Environmental Bill of Rights (1993), last amended in 2009; Green Energy Act (2009); Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act (1990), last amended in 2009; Municipal Water and Sewage Transfer Act (1997), last amended in 2006; and the Sustainable Water and Sewage Systems Act (2002), which was last amended in 2006, but is not yet proclaimed in force.


2: Key Ministries & Departments (Jul 07/14)
The Government of Ontario, Ministry of the Environment is charged with regulating water through the Clean Water Act (2006), Municipal Water and Sewage Transfer Act (1997), Nutrient Management Act (2002), Ontario Water Resources Act (1990), Safe Drinking Water Act (2002), and the Sustainable Water and Sewage Systems Act (2007).  There is a Water Policy Branch at the Ministry of the Environment.

The Government of Ontario, Ministry of Agriculture and Food is responsible with regulating water through the Nutrient Management Act (2002), and the Drainage Act (1990), and, while not an Act, the Ontario Low Water Response Plan (2003). Ministry of Natural Resources is mandated with regulating water through the Conservation Authorities Act (1990), Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act (1990), and the Public Lands Act (1990). This ministry is also an integral partner in the delivery of the Clean Water Act (2006), Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (1990), Ontario Water Resources Act (1990), the Planning Act (1990), and the Safeguarding and Sustaining Ontario's Water Act (2002). The Government of Ontario, Ministry of Energy is responsible for promoting the energy supply. The Government of Ontario, Ministry of Infrastructure manages infrastructure planning. This ministry deals with ensuring that government investments are made in key sectors, such as water and wastewater. The Government of Ontario, Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is in charge of regulating water through the Health Protection and Promotion Act (1990). Other key agencies and groups include Conservation Ontario and the 36 Conservation Authorities; Ontario Clean Water Agency, a Crown Agency established under the Capital Investment Plan Act (1993); Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council. 
3: Water Rights (Jul 07/14)
A Permit to Take Water is required for anyone taking more than 50,000 litres of water per day, with some exceptions (e.g., fire fighting, livestock, and domestic use).  According to the Ontario Water Resources Act (1990) and the Water Taking and Transfer Regulation (2007), the Minister of the Environment appoints a director to issue licenses.

Note: a new cap on domestic uses and livestock and poultry will be introduced when amendments to the Ontario Water Resources Act (1990) are proclaimed in force. While domestic uses, and watering of livestock and poultry do not currently require a Permit to Take Water, withdrawals over 370,000 litres per day will require a permit.  The maximum duration of a license is for a period of 10 years, at which point the permit holder will have to apply for renewal. The Ministry of the Environment determines the duration of each permit according to the known or predicted level of risk to the environment. Using an adaptive management approach, the director considers several factors such as the purpose of the taking, watershed conditions, and sensitivity of the environment (Ontario Water Resources Act, 1990, § 34). When applying for a Permit to Take Water, the Ministry of the Environment Director will review the application and consider a variety of factors. Different levels of review exist based on the classification of risk (there are 3 categories). The Ontario Regulation on Water Taking (2004) outlines the factors to be considered according to section 34 of the Ontario Water Resources Act (1990) when considering granting an application, or cancelling, amending, or imposing conditions on a permit. The Ontario Water Resources Act (1990) allows the director to require studies to support the application to ensure that the quantities being allocated and withdrawn by users promote ecosystem protection and sustainability.  A Permit to Take Water is not transferable without the director's written permission. The Environmental Bill of Rights (1993) requires proposed water takings to be posted on the Environmental Registry for public comment. These comments are to be considered when evaluating the application.  Penalties may be issued for taking more than 50,000 litres of water per day without a permit, failing to comply with the terms and conditions of a permit, or failing to comply with a director's notice or order (Ontario Water Resources Act, YEAR, § 109). Penalties can range from the cancellation of a permit, to fines of up to $6,000,000 and/or imprisonment for an individual and $10,000,000 for corporations. For spills and unlawful discharges in water by "regulated persons" (Ontario Regulation Environmental Penalties, 2007, § 1) the Ontario Water Resources Act (YEAR) sets the relevant environmental penalties. Historically, Ontario follows the riparian tradition of water allocation, but an administrative permitting system has largely taken over. First Nations rights to water are not yet explicitly and legally acknowledged in any provincial or federal legislation. The 1987 Federal Water Policy (Environment Canada, 1987) acknowledges Native interests in water but this has not generally been reflected in provincial allocation decisions. 
4: Data Collection/Monitoring (Jul 07/14)
Various strategies exist to monitor water in Ontario. The Water Resources Information Program (2008) is one such strategy established in 2000 that works with a variety of partners to collect, manage, and use digital information about water. It is designed to encourage information sharing among agencies engaged in water management.

The Provincial Groundwater Monitoring Network (Government of Ontario, 2006) consists of 465 monitoring wells that characterize the location, quality and sustainable yield of groundwater (Conservation Authority, 2009). The information collected by these monitors is limited by the fact that they are intentionally located away from major local influences, like large municipal water takings, to establish ambient monitoring. The Provincial Water Quality Monitoring Network (Government of Ontario, 2006) collects surface water quality information around the province at 400 plus monitoring stations (Conservation Authority, 2009). There they monitor for contaminants such as pesticides, chloride, and trace metals. Despite these efforts, it is still difficult to obtain coherent data on water quantity and quality in Ontario. Beginning in 2005, the Ontario Regulation Water Taking (2007) has been phasing in requirements that Permit to Take Water holders must collect and record data on the volume of water taken daily. This requirement should help close the existing gaps in data collection. There are no provincial or territorial programs to monitor drinking water or water resources in First Nations communities. 
5: Transboundary Issues (Jul 07/14)
Ontario's transboundary issues are dominated by concerns over the Great Lakes Basin and St. Lawrence River. Ontario signed the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement (2005), which committed the province to various protective measures, such as prohibiting interbasin water transfers.

The Canada-Ontario Agreement - Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem (Government of Canada and Ontario, 2002) has committed the governments of Ontario and Canada to coordinate resources and work to clean up hotspots and to protect and restore biodiversity and health ecosystems. It is available for public comments There are also Lakewide Management Plans, which involves binational cooperation in identifying and dealing with environmental issues in the Great Lakes. The ultimate goal of the Lakewide Management Plans is to restore and enhance the Great Lakes' ecosystems. There are no agreements between any levels of government acknowledging First Nations water rights, except those delineated under land claim or self-government agreements, such as the Nisga'a Agreement.

Water Quality
1: Drinking Water Laws (Jul 07/14)
The Safe Drinking Water Act (2002) is designed to protect Ontarians' drinking water. The Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council was created under this Act in order to advise the Government of Ontario, Ministry of the Environment on drinking water standards, legislation, regulations, and issues, to protect the water that Ontarians drink. This Act created various new requirements, such as the mandatory use of accredited laboratories for drinking water testing and certification of operators of drinking water systems.

The Clean Water Act (2006) is designed to protect drinking water sources by requiring local communities to look at existing and potential threats to their water and set out and implement actions necessary to reduce or eliminate significant threats. For the most highly used watersheds under this Act, water budgets are being developed. This Act will also help private water users by identifying aquifers and recharge areas vulnerable to contamination.  Three tiers of water budgets are being worked on across the province. The Ontario Water Resources Act (1990) requires each municipality to be responsible for ensuring that water of adequate quality is delivered to the consumer. The Sustainable Water and Sewage Systems Act (2002) has received Royal Assent but not yet been proclaimed in force. Its purpose is to ensure clean and safe drinking water by making it mandatory for municipalities to assess the costs of providing water and sewage services and to recover the amount of money needed to operate, maintain, and replace them. The Government of Ontario is currently working on regulations necessary to implement the Act such as financial plan regulations. First Nations communities are located on Federal Reserve land, which falls within Federal jurisdiction. Provincial drinking water legislation does not apply to these communities. 
2: Source Water Protection (Jul 07/14)
The Clean Water Act (2006) requires the creation of source protection committees for source protection areas. These committees must prepare an assessment report and source protection plan. Policies set out in the source protection plan may prohibit land use or other activities if the activity constitutes a significant drinking water threat.  Under the Clean Water Act (2006) the source protection committees are also required to investigate potential threats. 

Source water protection policy does not address protection of First Nations water. 
3: Wellfield Protection (Jul 07/14)
Ontario's Wells Regulation (1990) under the Ontario Water Resources Act (1990) sets rules regarding where wells can be constructed and who can construct or work on a well. For drilled wells, a Ministry of the Environment licensed well contractor or technician must construct the well. There are set construction standards for all new wells. If a well supplies water to multiple residents, the owner or operator may be subject to the Drinking Water Systems Regulation (2008).  As of 2003, new drinking water wells must be affixed with a well tag.

Source water protection applies to both groundwater and surface water. 
4: Groundwater Permitting (Jul 07/14)
The permitting process for groundwater follows the same Permit to Take Water process as surface water. Groundwater takings are divided into Category 1, 2, and 3, as are surface water takings. Category 1 applications are for takings not likely to have adverse environmental impacts (there are various further specifications for the bodies of water to be considered category 1). Category 2 and 3 applications require the submission of scientific evaluations, technical screening and Ministry evaluations. See the Ontario Water Resources Act (1990), and the Permit to Take Water Manual (2005).

Like surface water, a Permit to Take Water must be obtained in order to withdraw more than 50,000 litres per day, subject to the exceptions. Terms and conditions are set out in the Permit to Take Water Regulation (2004). One general right for groundwater users is if new takings interfere with existing uses, the new permit holder is required to restore the supply or reduce the taking so as to alleviate the interference. Provincial permitting processes do not apply to Federal lands such as First Nations reserves and communities.

5: Storm/Waste Water Management (Jul 07/14)
The Ontario Water Resources Act (1990) applies to stormwater and wastewater management. A Certificate of Approval is required for direct discharges into lakes and rivers. There is a Stormwater Management Planning and Design Manual (Government of Ontario, 2003) available with technical and procedural guidance on stormwater management practices and treatment and technology approaches. Municipalities are left to turn these guidelines into strategies for their communities.

The Government of Ontario, Ministry of the Environment and a number of other organizations developed the Stormwater Pollution Prevention Handbook (as cited in Government of Ontario, Ministry of the Environment, 2008) in order to provide municipalities, conservation authorities, community groups, businesses and individuals with information on implementing pollution prevention and flow reduction programs for stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows. The Licensing of Sewage Works Operators Regulation (2004) sets out the licensing of sewage works operators and operating standards. When the new Sustainable Water and Sewage Systems Act (2002) is proclaimed in force, municipalities will be able to finance essential water and sewer services and ensure clean and safe drinking water. This Act makes the cost recovery for providing water and sewage services mandatory. For now, the Financial Plans Regulation (2002) is being used in place of the Sustainable Water and Sewage Systems Act (2002). It is unclear whether this is just a transitional regulation until the province is ready to proclaim Sustainable Water and Sewage Systems Act in force. Provincial or territorial policies and strategies do not apply or include First Nations reserves or communities. 
6: Ecosystem Quality Needs (Jul 07/14)
The Stormwater Management Planning and Design Manual (Government of Ontario, 2003), includes many considerations regarding ecosystem quality needs in the discharge of water. More generally, direct or indirect discharges into water that impair the resource are offences under the Ontario Water Resources Act (1990).  Section 1(3) of the Ontario Water Resources Act (1990) outlines the various factors that determine whether the quality of water is deemed impaired by a discharge of any sort. Such factors include determining whether any living organism is injured by the discharge, if the discharge is scientifically considered toxic, and if peer-reviewed scientific publications indicate that the discharge will interfere with organisms dependent on aquatic ecosystems.  Any discharge also requires a certificate of approval under the Ontario Water Resources Act (1990).


Water Quantity
1: Water Conservation Strategy (Jul 07/14)
A policy proposal addressing water conservation strategies is currently up for public comment on the Environmental Registry. The Government of Ontario, Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources have developed proposals under the Stewardship, Leadership, and Accountability: Managing Ontario's Water Resources for Future Generations Policy (2009). These proposals are designed to improve three key elements of water management in Ontario, specifically by: (a) developing a water conservation and efficiency strategy for Ontario, (b) strengthening the regulation of new and increased intrabasin transfers, and (c) implementing phase two of the province's water charges program that would extend existing charges to more commercial and industrial users. This policy is meant to implement commitments made under the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement (2005).

Ontario already has in place a drought response strategy. The government has created the Ontario Low Water Response Plan (Government of Ontario, 2003) to ensure local response strategies are in place. Water Response Teams are developed to respond to low water conditions by determining relative importance of users in accordance with the plan. This response plan is currently being reviewed, and there is a proposal on the Environmental Registry.  The Government of Ontario also requires water conservation plans under the Oakridges Moraine Act (2001) and the Lake Simcoe Act (2008). Provincial or territorial policies and strategies do not apply or include First Nations reserves or communities. Learn more about Ontario's conservation initiatives and requirements from the Alliance for Water Efficiency.atives and requirements from the Alliance for Water Efficiency.

2: Ecosystem Quantity Needs (Jul 07/14)
The Environmental Bill of Rights (1993) requires government ministries engaged in environmental management to develop Statements of Environmental Values, which is the framework used by the ministry when making decisions affecting the environment. The Government of Ontario, Ministry of the Environment, for example, "adopts an ecosystem approach to environmental protection and resource management" (Ministry of Environment, 2010, online) the ministry has also committed to considering the cumulative effects on the environment and implementing the precautionary principle. Such values are supposed to apply as the ministry develops Acts, regulations, and policies.

Those Annexes under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement are specifically designed to protect aquatic ecosystem health.  Protection for aquatic ecosystems is also to be considered in the Permit to Take Water application process.   The Lake Simcoe Protection Act (2008) has a goal of watershed protection and to protect cold water fisheries. 
3: Interbasin Transfers (Jul 07/14)
Since 1999, water transfers out of Ontario's three main basins (Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin, Nelson Basin, and Hudson Basin) have been prohibited subject to several exceptions. The exceptions are outlined in section 34.3(3) of the Ontario Water Resources Act (1990):

  • the water is in a container of 20 litres or less;
  • the water is incorporated into a product, which is then transferred out of the basin;
  • the water is necessary for the operation of a vehicle, vessel or other form of transport, or for the passengers or livestock on board;
  • the water is used for fire-fighting or other emergency purposes;
  • the transfer commenced before January 1, 1998 and the annual volume of water transferred does not exceed the highest amount of water transferred annually prior to 1998; or
  • the water is transferred pursuant to the 1913 Order of the Lieutenant Governor in Council respecting the Greater Winnipeg Water District.
  In addition to existing interbasin restrictions, intrabasin restrictions will also come into effect when Ontario Water Resources Act (1990) amendments are proclaimed-pursuant to the Safeguarding and Sustaining Ontario's Water Act (2007).  This Bill implemented the terms of the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement (2005).  
4: Climate Change Linkage (Jul 07/14)
Climate Ready: Ontario's Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan 2011 - 2014 (2011) focuses significantly on adaptation of Ontario's water infrastructure, management and emergency responses to water resources.

The new Green Energy Act (2009) does tie energy efficiency saving to water conservation. In August 2007, the Ontario government released a climate change strategy entitled Go Green: Ontario's Action Plan on Climate Change. The Ontario Government is planning provincial greenhouse gas reduction targets.  The Government of Ontario, Ministry of Natural Resources nor the Ministry of the Environment has produced an approved climate change adaptation strategy. Under the 2007 Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem (Government of Canada and Ontario, 2002) there is a focus on determining the impacts of climate change.  This agreement has been extended to 2011. The Clean Water Act (2006) requires conservation authorities to consider threats to water quality and quantity by such things as climate change. 


References (Jul 07/14)

Document Disclaimer:

Every effort has been made to ensure complete accuracy of the content of this briefing note but this document is only a summary and should not be considered legal or planning advice.  Please refer to the relevant legislation and regulations for further information.

References

Capital Investment Plan Act, 1993, S.O. 1993, c.23.   Clean Water Act, 2006, S.O. 2006, c.22.   Conservation Authority. (2009). Watershed Reporting. Retrieved online March 29, 2010   from, http://www.conservation-ontario.on.ca/watershed_monitoring/index.html   Drainage Act, R.S.O. 1990.   Small Drinking Water Systems, O. Reg. 318/08, (Health Protection and Promotion Act)   Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993, S.O. 1993, c.28.   Environmental Commissioner. (2010). Environmental Commissioner website. Retrieved    March, 29, 2010 from http://www.eco.on.ca/eng/ Financial Plans, O. Reg. 453/07, (Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002)   Government of Canada and Government of Ontario. (2002). Canada-Ontario 2002 Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem and Annexes. Retrieved March 29, 2010 from http://www.on.ec.gc.ca/coa/agreement_e.html   Government of Ontario. (2003). Ontario Low Water Response Plan. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from             http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/environment/facts/low_waterbr.htm   Government of Ontario. (2007). Go Green: Ontario's Action Plan on Climate Change.      Retrieved March 29, 2010 from http://www.ene.gov.on.ca/publications/6445e.pdf Government of Ontario. (2010) Speech from the Throne. Retrieved March 29, 2010 from            http://www.premier.gov.on.ca/news/event.php?ItemID=11282&Lang=En  

Government of Ontario. (2011) Climate Ready: Ontario's Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan 2011 - 2014. Retrieved April 25, 2011 from http://www.ene.gov.on.ca/environment/en/resources/STDPROD_081665.html

  Great Lake States and Province of Ontario and Quebec. (2005). Great Lakes-St.    Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement. Retrieved March   29, 2010 from, http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/200040.pdf   Green Energy Act, 2009, S.O. 2009, c. 12   Health Protection and Promotion Act, R.S.O. 1990, c.H.7.   Health Protection and Promotion Act (O.Reg.  319/08).   Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act, R.S.O. 1990, c.L.3.   Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008, S.O. 2008, c. 23   Licensing of Sewage Works Operators Regulation (2004).   Ministry of the Environment. (2005). Permit to Take Water (PTTW) Manual. Retrieved     March 29, 2010 from http://74.125.93.132/search?q=cache:B5doyGutTjkJ:www.ene.gov.on.ca/envision/gp/4932e.pdf+Permit+to+Take+Water+%28PTTW%29+Manual&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a.   Ministry of the Environment. (2009).  Stewardship, Leadership, Accountability:      Managing Ontario's Water Resources for Future Generations. Retrieved March             29, 2010 from http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-  External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTA2Mjcx&statusId=MTU5Mzc3   Ministry of the Environment. (2003). Stormwater Management Planning and Design         Manual. Retrieved March 29, 2010 from              http://www.ene.gov.on.ca/envision/gp/4329eindex.htm.   Ministry of the Environment. (2010). Statement of Environmental Values. Retrieved March 29, 2010 from, http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/content/sev.jsp?pageName=sevList&subPageName=10001   Municipal Water and Sewage Transfer Act, 1997, S.O. 1997, c.6.   Nutrient Management Act, 2002, S.O. 2002, c.4.   Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, 2001, S.O. 2001, c. 31   Ontario Water Resources Act, R.S.O. 1990, c.O.40.   Ontario Water Resources Act (O.Reg. 129/04).   Ontario Water Resources Act (O.Reg 223/07).   Water Taking, O. Reg. 387/04, (Ontario Water Resources Act)   Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002, S.O. 2002, c.32.   Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002 (O.Reg. 170/03).   Safeguarding and Sustaining Ontario's Water Act, 2007, S.O. 2007.   Sustainable Water and Sewage Systems Act, 2002, S.O. 2002, c.29.   Water Transfer Control Act R.S.O. 1990, CHAPTER W.4   Water Taking and Transfer Regulation (O.Reg. 387/04)   Wells Regulation (O.Reg. 903)    
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