October 19, 2020 – The Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group (MWAG), established by the Ontario Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks in August 2019 has released their report on issues, priorities for protecting the watershed. FOCA contributed to their consultations, recommending the Province consider these management approaches, including integrated watershed management, as a model for use across Ontario.
You can read the extensive 2020 report from the MWAG here (pdf, 76 pages)
October 2020 – Climate change threatens Canada’s dams – but who’s keeping track? A report by engineering firm Greck and Associates Ltd. noted that Ontario alone has more than 5,000 dams and weirs. “Many dams are approaching or have exceeded their normal life expectancy,” the report noted. “They are in poor condition and no longer provide their originally intended function. They present risks to public safety, owner liability issues, and impacts to the natural environment.”(Globe and Mail)
October 2019 – A “win” in eastern Ontario: After considerable effort by local lake associations, First Nations, and other community interests, and with the support of their local municipalities, the MNRF approved a major amendment to the Bonnechere River Water Management Plan. The change lowers the lower operating limit which should allow for increased capacity in the system for the spring freshet. FOCA has been supportive of this effort. The Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) did not provide comments on the original Water Management Plan, but under the terms of the newly revised Fisheries Act, they have subsequently indicated they will be involved – thus delaying any of the changes already approved by MNRF. You can read an update on the situation from the local municipality, here.
What FOCA sees: For several years, FOCA has been vocal about the need to address water management plans and reinstate public consultation. Read below for background.
2016 – Guidance from MNRF is intended to address some of the outstanding concerns expressed by waterfront property owners about the frustrating “behind closed doors” method of updating (or NOT updating) Water Management Plans (WMPs).
On August 31, 2016 MNRF posted their “Maintaining Water Management Plans Technical Bulletin” (PDF, 35 pages) on the Environmental Bill of Rights EBR Registry Number: 012-8537
The new Technical Guidelines affirms that WMPs may require periodic amendments to ensure that the plans remain current, to include adaptive management or simply to provide clarity and certainty on how water levels and flows are managed. FOCA is pleased to see that, according to the Guidelines:
- any party with an interest in the WMP can bring forward issues to the attention of plan proponents, to the Ministry, or members of the Standing Advisory Committee.
- amendment requests can be related to dam safety, public safety, dam operations, the results of monitoring programs, construction of new dams or alterations to existing dams, or in response to local issues related to the management of water levels and flows.
The plan proponent is responsible for assessing amendment requests and preparing the amendment proposal. All amendments require approval by the Ministry. Note that changes to a dam’s operating regime may also be subject to other federal, provincial, municipal, conservation authority or other agency regulatory requirements. WMP amendments may be subject to additional public and First Nations and Métis consultations.
Sept 20, 2016 – Dam Mismanagement? (Water Canada post on class action lawsuit)
Sept 15, 2016 – Group files $900-million class action lawsuit against government over flood damages to Muskoka waterfront properties (muskokaregion.com)
April 25, 2016 – After another spring flooding season, and in the face of ever-changing hydro-climatic conditions in Ontario, FOCA wrote again to request an adequate response from the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, regarding the reinstatement of public consultation into the water management planning process in Ontario.
This unacceptable and ongoing delay undermines public confidence in the water management work of the Province, and may unnecessarily put private property, public infrastructure, and public safety at risk.
August 25, 2015 – FOCA met with MNRF staff from the Crown Lands Branch to discuss our shared interests in Crown Lands, and the Water Management Plan (WMP) process currently under review/on hold.
FOCA remains concerned with the effective “shutdown“ of the obligatory WMP reviews and the current undefined internal review period whereby there is no official process to trigger public or stakeholder input into the plans. FOCA was encouraged to hear that:
1) During the time while MNRF reviews/revises a renewed approach and guidelines for Plan review, existing plans remain the overarching guidance for the respective water management regimes (flow and water levels in the respective watersheds);
2) (While not actively encouraged) with “compelling rationale”, consultations or plan reviews can still be initiated at the discretion of the designated MNRF contact – usually a District Manager or designate;
FOCA Note: It remains unclear how a lake association or a member of a Citizen’s Advisory Committee can trigger a Plan discussion with a proponent or with MNRF, or to prompt a Citizen’s Advisory group meeting:
• in the case of suspected non-compliance with the operating regime or other substantive aspects of an existing plan;
• in the face of new or emerging information or conditions that would necessitate a review of the existing operating regime and guidance (e.g. new Climate information, or changes to infrastructure)?
FOCA is still awaiting a response on this matter.
Example: Muskoka Water Management Plan explained (from Muskoka WaterWeb)
July 2015 – FOCA asks: Why has the MNRF shut down their own process to use local Water Management Plans to consider all the social, economic and environmental aspects of water power operations?
Hydroelectric dams affect water levels on many of our rivers and lakes. For their part, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has been working with dam owners and others since 2006 to identify ways to modernize regulatory requirements for dams under the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act (LRIA). The MNRF subsequently proposed to update the requirements for Location Approval and Operating Plans for new dams, as well as changes to the amendment process and implementation of operating plans at existing dams. In November 2013, Technical Guidelines for Operating Plans as well as the Approval of new Dam Locations was posted to the Environmental Bill of Rights. While some provisions of this update (those related to dam location) have been updated recently, there has been no resolution of a reformed Water Management Plan review process.
ACTION: This prompted the following letter, sent by FOCA in late July, 2015 to senior staff at MNRF.
FOCA requests, and anyone affected by these plans should be insisting, that the MNRF declare how they will be incorporating new information and science, and the concerns or input of lake groups and other stakeholders – especially in this era of changing water regimes that require more nimble and adaptive management.
The LRIA provides the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) with the authority over the design, construction, operation, maintenance and safety of dams in Ontario.
The LRIA also gives the MNRF the authority to order dam owners prepare and maintain Water Management Plans related to the operation and maintenance of the dam. These plans are intended to ensure dams manage flows and levels in such a way as to balance social, environmental and economic interests.
The guidance governing the content of these Plans has always included a role for a steering committee, and also a provision for a regular review process, to consider new information, new concerns or conditions. This process has been discontinued – at least temporarily – while the rules around WMP’s are updated.
Many concerned stakeholders, and notably lake advocates covered by the Muskoka River Management Plan, and the Mississippi River Management Plan, have been frustrated by this reform process which has eliminated the role of the respective steering committees, and removed public transparency.
More Background – changing water regimes need new approaches
New Report (From Partners for Action, P4A) July 4, 2016
- Flooding is a major source of socio-economic vulnerability in small and medium-sized Ontario communities, placing unnecessary strain on municipal resources
- Communities are acting to manage vulnerability to flood, but these efforts are fragmented, creating uncertainty about their effectiveness. Communities also lack institutional and financial capacity to enforce, update and further invest in these actions to improve resiliency
- Federal and provincial policy and funding to reduce vulnerability and improve capacity of our communities to prepare and recover from flood are underutilized and underdeveloped
- There is a strong divide in capacity to understand and address flood risk between urban and rural communities
- Municipalities need funding, capacity, technical and scientific support, regulation, and community and political buy-in to address the present and future risk of flood
- Provincial and federal governments should address the current leadership gap and prioritize community resiliency to flood by supporting communities in understanding and communicating risk and opportunities to reduce this risk.
“Coordinated leadership, sound adaptation research, and applied solutions are needed now to manage the risks associated with a changing climate.” Shawna Peddle, director of Partners for Action
Note: FOCA is part of the P4A “Stakeholder Group”, as part of our interest in making our communities stronger in the face of climate change.
As stated by Adrian Wyld, Dec 2015, (Canadian Press), “whether it’s 1.5 or 2 degrees C, it’s not only about the numbers. It’s about the commitment and starting to take serious action.”
The commitment to action is on both the mitigation side (lowering greenhouse gases) but also on the adaptation side, and ensuring the continuity of our communities by adapting the way we do business, mindful of the changes that are afoot.
Tackling the specific challenges faced in different regions, and finding solutions that are reasonable and practical for the community, will allow all the partners involved to participate in the conversation to better understand what is facing the community, who is playing what roles, and how these plans will be reviewed/revised as new information arises or as conditions change.
In January 2016 as reported in CBC (http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/british-columbia/water-security-canada-1.3409338 ) Zafar Adeel, director of the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (which bills itself as “the United Nations’ think tank on water”) said water issues like scarcity and contamination are no longer issues that only affect developing countries. “As our climate patterns shift, the water cycle shifts. We’re seeing that there are water problems in areas where we didn’t expect them before or didn’t encounter them before,” Those problems can be seen in the droughts on the west coast of North America, the 2013 Calgary floods (at the peak of the flooding, the Bow and Elbow rivers were flowing through Calgary at three times the peak levels reached in a 2005 flood that itself caused C$400 million in damages), and Toronto’s $850 million (insured losses) flood the same year.
The Ontario Centre for Climate Impacts and Adaptation Resources (OCCIAR) is dedicated to assisting communities and sectors adapt to climate change through the provision of climate science and adaptation tools. The Background section of the OCCIAR Community Adaptation Initiative describes the links between increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, rising global temperatures, increases in the frequency and magnitude of climate-related extreme events and the associated trend in damage to infrastructure and assets (depicted by exponential increases in the value of insurance claims associated with natural disasters). In doing so, it demonstrates the need for communities to better understand their potential vulnerability to impacts from climate-related extreme events.