The Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA), like all 36 Conservation Authorities across the Province of Ontario, works proactively with the development industry and all levels of government to ensure that well-planned development can happen safely while ensuring the safety of people and property from the dangers of flooding and erosion, and maintaining the integrity of the watersheds within its jurisdiction.
The housing legislation introduced last week outlines Ontario’s next phase of the plan to build more homes faster. According to the proposed legislation, conservation authorities will be prohibited from commenting on conservation and environmental matters, except for flooding and erosion. This means that ERCA and other conservation authorities will not be able to offer expertise on ecology, natural heritage, wetlands and biodiversity for development proposals.
In the Windsor-Essex-Pelee Island region, there is only 8.5% natural cover. The bulk of these remnant natural heritage features are situated within floodplain valley land corridors that are currently regulated. Eliminating Conservation Authorities’ ability to consider the significance of natural features could further eradicate the minimal natural heritage of the region.
As well, proposed changes to the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System remove the review and approval role of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and significantly alter the criteria used to evaluate wetlands and wetland complexes. This could make it more difficult for new wetlands to meet the criteria for identification as Provincially Significant Wetland (PSWs) and easier for existing PSWs to be re-evaluated as not significant. Wetlands play a critical role in mitigating floods. In a region where nearly 98% of the wetlands have disappeared, providing an easy mechanism like offsetting could alter this region’s risk profile and make our residents more vulnerable to flooding, erosion and the effects of climate change.
“The proposed changes to the Planning Act and Conservation Authorities Act will diminish ERCA’s well-established role in protecting our communities from flooding and supporting our municipalities in protecting the natural environment,” said Tania Jobin, ERCA Chair. “This is a direct departure from recent provincial amendments to the Act that allow municipalities to choose whether to seek technical advice from conservation authorities based on their specific needs. This is particularly concerning for many municipalities that may not have the capacity and expertise to independently consider all of these matters when reviewing planning applications, which could elevate municipal risk and liability.”
Across the region, municipalities rely on ERCA’s expertise to inform environmental assessments and provide input on official plans, studies, and development applications. This process ensures a watershed-based approach and enables connections to be made between flood control, wetlands and other green infrastructure, ensuring safe development. In fact, ERCA was a key contributor in recent efforts to ensure the new Stellantis EV battery plant could be safely sited in such a way that it did not negatively impact downstream development.
“We certainly support the province’s effort to build more homes faster,” Jobin says. “But it’s critically important that conservation authorities can continue to collaborate with municipalities to facilitate development while protecting natural features. The watershed-based approach is recognized globally as the best management tool for ensuring we take into consideration a wide range of competing interests and impacts on natural resources. When downloading these kinds of responsibilities to municipalities, we need to consider how development in one jurisdiction can impact downstream municipalities.”
The Essex Region Conservation Authority is a public sector organization established by the Province in 1973, and governed by local municipalities to deliver programs and services that further the conservation, restoration, development and management of natural resources in watersheds in the Windsor-Essex-Pelee Island region.