Blog: ACTION ALERT – Ontario’s Conservation Authorities Act At Risk

[Note that the government consultation deadline has now passed]

Ontario’s Conservation Authorities Act Is Under Review (Again) – Please Participate in Support of Maintaining Strong Watershed Protection

Urgent action is needed in Ontario to reverse biodiversity loss and ensure our communities are climate resilient. Now is the time for increased public investment in the province’s conservation authorities. 

The Ontario government has recently released an online survey seeking input on the role of Conservation Authorities with a response deadline of March 13, 2020. Now is the time to make your voice heard. 

Ontario’s Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) is seeking limited input on further changes to the Conservation Authorities Act, despite multiple recent modernization actions.  

Prior modernization actions have already occurred in 2017 and 2019; in both instances changes were made to the Conservation Authorities Act. CELA, with our client communities, submitted comments, which are available on our website (2017 and 2019). In addition to the most recent changes to the Act, Ontario has reduced funding for flood programs by half and requested that programs be wound down prior to creating the regulations necessary to implement changes to funding models, programs and services.

This most recent consultation process includes invitation-only meetings and an online survey.  CELA is concerned that the importance of conservation authorities is not being adequately considered within these constrained consultations, and that governmental action may be taken to further reduce their mandate. 

Environmental voices at MECP’s multi-stakeholder meetings have been very limited. Some participants called for removal of conservation authorities from land use planning processes and for limits to be placed on their mandate and scope.   

Ontario’s conservation authority model is the envy of other jurisdictions, particularly within the Great Lakes – St Lawrence River Basin. A comprehensive, coordinated, and watershed-based regime is critical in protecting drinking water sources, reducing flood risk, and monitoring and data collection.

Unfortunately, the oversight of conservation authorities has been split between two Ministries – MECP and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Further, the current approach on consultation by the province is siloed and uncoordinated. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) has been consulting on the intersection of the Drainage Act with conservation authorities (see the Environmental Registry Notice and CELA’s letter) at the same time that MECP is running their meetings. 

CELA urges those concerned about watershed planning and protection in Ontario to participate in the online survey

Consider the following points in your survey responses and answer however much of the survey you can. Personal experiences with conservation authorities and conservation areas are worth including.

For more information, refer to the backgrounder and meeting presentation from Conservation Ontario, online at:

Issues to consider as you respond to the survey: 

  • The conservation authorities’ (CAs) role in Planning Act and Environmental Assessment Act decisions ensure that floodplains and natural heritage are protected from developments and flooding risks are avoided. CAs must continue to be involved in planning decisions. 
  • In other jurisdictions, such as Ohio, a lack of legislative or regulatory authority over watersheds creates a major barrier to meaningful watershed planning and flood protection. 
  • Watershed scale monitoring and planning support the “core” CA programs of flood mitigation, natural hazards, drinking water source protection, and the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. Monitoring programs are necessary for delivery of these “core” programs as required in provincial law and regulations. Such monitoring also greatly assists broader environmental goals of land conservation, improving water quality, and ecological restoration. 
  • The Flood Advisor’s report showed strong support for the CA model in protecting Ontario from the risks of climate change. This model only works if CAs retain regulatory power to intervene on planning decisions to ensure watershed resilience to climate change and flooding.  
  • CAs partner with local environmental and conservation groups, farmers, and their communities to deliver regionally significant projects including rehabilitating natural heritage, implementing agricultural best practices, and restoring or creating wetlands. They often provide match funding, in addition to the on-the-ground expertise and relationships with the local community. 
  • Added to flood mitigation, other environmental issues need similar watershed scale attention and CAs thus play a key role in environmental sustainability across Ontario. For example, the Canada-Ontario Lake Erie Action Plan relies on the Lake Erie CAs for delivery of several projects, as well as monitoring and modeling phosphorus reductions. 

Please join with fellow Ontario residents in support of maintaining strong watershed planning and protection by our conservation authorities. Ontario’s communities need strong conservation authorities to ensure watershed resilience in the face of climate change, protection of natural heritage, and much more. Respond to the survey by March 13, 2020 and share this action alert widely.