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Ontario's Special Advisor on Flooding reports

Important role of conservation authorities recognized in independent report.


Ontario’s Special Advisor on Flooding releases new report which recognizes role of conservation authorities
ABCA joins Conservation Ontario in support for report’s recognition of the conservation authority role in flood management in Ontario  

The Province of Ontario’s Special Advisor on Flooding, Doug McNeil, released his report on November 28. Conservation Ontario said, in a news release, they are pleased the report “recognizes the critical role that conservation authorities play in Ontario’s flood management.”

Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA), one of Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities, echoes the Conservation Ontario response. “Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority is pleased the report recognizes the important role of conservation authorities in flood management in Ontario,” said Geoffrey Cade, ABCA Water and Planning Manager. “We are also pleased the report recognizes the challenges smaller conservation authorities face.” The ABCA looks forward to continuing to work with the Province and other conservation authorities to provide effective flood management in Ontario and to build upon and improve the flood management program, Cade said.

After damaging 2019 floods, and a flood season that stretched into the summer, the Province appointed McNeil as Special Advisor on Flooding to conduct an independent review of flood management in Ontario and provide advice to the Ontario Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry. The new report from the Special Advisor on Flooding provides 66 recommendations for flood management in Ontario. The Special Advisor examined Ontario’s flood management framework, exploring the various roles of agencies, such as conservation authorities, which are involved in reducing flood risk. The report also reviewed policies and technical guidance which makes up the policy framework for flood management in Ontario.

Flood management in Ontario is a shared responsibility of the Province, municipalities, emergency management officials, and conservation authorities. Conservation Ontario represents the 36 conservation authorities. Kim Gavine, General Manager of Conservation Ontario, said the report shows that “Mr. McNeil appreciates the collaborative nature of flood management in Ontario.” Conservation Ontario said they were “very pleased” to see that the Special Advisor appreciates Ontario’s “collaborative approach.” On the other hand, Gavine said adequate funding for programs is needed. “Maintaining and making improvements in Ontario’s flood management programs requires resources that include appropriate policy and program support,” she said. “For example, the 50 per cent reduction to conservation authorities’ provincial transfer payments for the natural hazards program affected all conservation authorities and erodes our ability to effectively address issues raised by the Flood Advisor.”

Conservation authorities reduce flood risk through a watershed management approach. The special advisor’s report recognizes the value of the watershed-based conservation authority model. The new report recommends the Province “consult with the conservation authorities on their application of the natural hazards-based approach and risk-based approach to managing flooding.”

Conservation Ontario says it will work with conservation authorities to review the report in more detail and looks forward to continuing to work in partnership with the Province to reduce the risk of flooding in Ontario. Conservation authorities have worked well with the Province of Ontario, said Gavine, and “we look forward to continuing to develop improvements,” to the flood management program, in partnership with the Province. “The mandate of conservation authorities is the conservation, restoration, development and management of natural resources,” Gavine said. “Using a watershed-based approach has effectively protected Ontarians for years and helped to avoid many more millions of dollars in damages and business disruptions,” she said. “It also helps to build resiliency in local watersheds helping our communities to adapt to the growing impacts of climate change.”

In addition to operating $3.8 billion worth of flood control infrastructure, conservation authorities also bring added protection and benefits through various watershed management programs and activities such as: 

  • Watershed-scale monitoring, data collection/management and modelling, 
  • Watershed-scale studies, plans, assessments and/or strategies, 
  • Watershed-wide actions including stewardship, communication, and education and outreach activities. 

Conservation authorities are recommending to the Province that these kinds of foundational watershed management activities be captured in the Conservation Authorities Act regulations which are being developed. 

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