The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) and Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) released a draft watershed planning guidance for municipalities and other planning authorities in Ontario. Watershed planning is an opportunity for municipalities and other planning authorities to work collaboratively towards watershed objectives by creating a framework for the management of human activities, land, water, aquatic life and resources within a watershed, and for the assessment of cumulative, cross-jurisdictional and cross-watershed impacts.
MWC submitted the following in response to the request for input:
April 6, 2018
Nisha Shirali, Senior Policy Analyst
Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change
Policy and Program Division, Environmental Policy Branch
40 St Clair Avenue West, Floor 10
Toronto, Ontario M4V 1M2
Dear Ms. Shirali,
RE: Watershed Planning Guidance (EBR Registry Number 013-1817)
Muskoka Watershed Council is strongly supportive of the Province’s interest in developing watershed planning guidance for municipalities and other planning authorities in Ontario, and we commend the Province for undertaking this exercise. We offer our response below for your consideration.
Muskoka Watershed Council (MWC) is a volunteer-based non-profit organization with the mandate to champion watershed health. MWC is comprised of representatives from a wide range of stakeholders, including municipal, provincial and federal governments; lake associations; academia; and other community interests from across our watersheds. In Muskoka, where there is no conservation authority, MWC provides a coordinated and science-based voice on issues affecting the environmental quality of our watersheds.
MWC has a long-standing interest in watershed planning and we welcome the Province’s proposed approach for watershed-scale planning in Ontario through the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC)’s recent release of its “Draft Watershed Planning Guidance” document. More specifically, MWC is pleased to note that the “Guide” seeks to provide a framework for establishing goals, objectives, and direction for the protection of water resources, “the management of human activities, land, water, aquatic life, and resources within a watershed for the assessment of cumulative, cross-jurisdictional, and cross-watershed impacts”.
MWC understands that the Guide primarily acts as an implementation vehicle for the watershed planning requirements of the four major provincial land use plans (the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe 2017, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan 2017, the Niagara Escarpment Plan 2017, and the Greenbelt Plan 2017). While The District Municipality of Muskoka (the District) is not bound by the requirements of these plans, the Guide also supports the Provincial Policy Statement, which identifies the watershed as the ecologically meaningful scale for integrated and long-term planning, a perspective which is aligned with that of Muskoka Watershed Council and our work. In particular, MWC acts as the District’s Planning Advisory Committee, and we inform local decision-makers and also area residents and visitors about the importance of considering our area from a watershed-wide perspective.
More specifically, since 2004, MWC has developed and delivered four Muskoka Watershed Report Cards (with our fifth expected to be released later this year), and these consider the environmental health of our watersheds through trends in the condition of terrestrial and aquatic habitat, wetlands, and biodiversity across Muskoka’s watershed. As the Guide itself notes, watershed report cards are an important communication tool beyond simply monitoring and reporting.
As Muskoka Watershed Council embarks on several diverse projects and programs, we note that all would benefit generally from watershed planning and more specifically from increased local data. In order to recognize emerging watershed health issues, our knowledge of our existing wetlands, forests, flood plains, nutrients, habitats and other critical components of our shared ecosystems must be expanded. In Muskoka, effective watershed planning and building resiliency to multiple environmental stressors will require a significant increase in local scientific data collection and evidence-based analysis. Ontario needs to significantly increase its investment in well-targeted environmental research from its various ministries including the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, in partnership with universities, to address this need. Given its ongoing and innovative watershed management approaches, Muskoka would be an appropriate location in which to invest in this specific and needed research.
Muskoka Watershed Council looks forward to working collaboratively with all levels of government, and with the area Lake Associations and the broader community to deliver watershed management projects and programs, and to do this successfully we must have a stronger scientific foundation. In the meantime, MWC commends the Ontario government for its intention to clarify and support approaches to watershed planning. MWC appreciates the provincial effort to engage Ontarians on this issue and we look forward to continue to work collaboratively with all levels of government and with the community to deliver watershed management projects and programs.
We thank you for the opportunity to contribute our considerations.
Kevin Trimble, Chair