The State of Stormwater (Ontario Side)

The State of Stormwater (Ontario Side)

By Kevin Mercer, RiverSides Stewardship Alliance

Absent the leadership of federal legislation such as the U.S. Clean Water Act, Canada’s provinces manage the protection of freshwater ecosystems. In Ontario, home to the entire Great Lakes Region in Canada, the new Liberal provincial government is delivering an extensive legislative agenda on: drinking water (Clean Water Act, Bill 43, Province of Ontario.), farm nutrient runoff (Nutrient Management Act, 2002, Ontario Regulation 267/03, Amended to O.Reg. 511/05), managing development in areas north of Toronto on the Oak Ridges Moraine ) Greenbelt Act, 2005, S.o. 2005, chapter 1), and throughout the Greater Toronto Area (Places to Grow Act, 2005.). Despite this gamut of action, stormwater remains the poor cousin in Ontario’s environmental galaxy with no effective standardized regulatory structure to guide the implementation or enforcement of stormwater management or to address the issue of nonpoint (runoff) pollution associated with stormwater flows.

In Ontario, stormwater management is guided by voluntary management plans such as the Stormwater Management Planning and Design Manual (2003) or the Stormwater Pollution Prevention Handbook. Although Ontario’s Planning Act refers to requirements for stormwater management there are no requirements for its design or the end results. This means that stormwater management in Ontario becomes a routine process of developers building almost exclusively end-of-pipe control ponds.

However, it is not for a lack of knowledge that Ontario remains mired in the past in terms of stormwater management. The Great Lakes Cities Initiative has identified stormwater runoff and sewer overflows as the first of the six key priorities for municipalities, and yet even the most advanced Ont a r i o municipalities limit their wet weather management to ponds because there is no requirement for more stringent watershed protection criteria.

It is necessary for watershed protection advocates to ensure that the advancement of Low Impact Development (LID) becomes a primary element of all development, beyond just smart growth and what are being termed ‘green development standards.’

Ontario grassroots groups have an opportunity through good LID to engage their municipalities and the provincial governments to demand standards for lot level measures for true ecosystem management of wet weather. Some municipalities are moving ahead on this front but there remains a limited sphere of knowledge and capacity in the field due to the lack of regulatory requirements.

Connected to the advancement of watershed smart growth through low impact development is the emergence of stormwater utilities in the province. These spin-off utilities allow for the management and financing of stormwater to be hived off from the municipal water rate, which heretofore covered water, sewer and stormwater but had the effect of limiting spending on the latter to a minimum, usually through the support of local Conservation Authorities. Stormwater utilities allow jurisdictions to allot funding on a more dedicated level, and to off load their costs from tax roles or water rates, thus addressing the growing need for stormwater management without the associated political costs.

As more Ontario municipalities move toward wet weather policies and explore the benefits of stormwater utilities, it is hoped that we will be able to close the policy gap at the provincial level by requiring planning authorities to implement lot level LID source protection methodologies. Ontario deserves to have the best development controls over its watersheds and while we applaud the move to source protection of drinking waters, it is well past time that Ontario engaged its municipalities in real stormwater management for the protection of our freshwater ecosystems against the largest source of degradation.

For more information:
Kevin Mercer, RiverSides Stewardship Alliance
511 Richmond St.West, Toronto, Ontario M5V 1Y3
Ph: 416.868.1983 • F: 416.868.1320
E-mail: kmercer@riversides.org

 

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.