A watershed moment for Simcoe County conservation authorities
Province may grant new powers, funding channels to the environmental agencies
By Chris Simon Barrie Advance
Local conservation authorities will have the power to stop any construction that doesn’t comply to their regulations under a proposed set of rule changes being considered by the Ontario government.
Officials from the Lake Simcoe Region and Nottawasaga Valley conservation authorities are applauding the draft amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act introduced by the province recently. If passed, the updates will better define the roles and responsibilities of conservation authorities, change the appointment process for board members and allow the government to conduct program and operational reviews of the agencies.
“A few of the positive standout actions are the plans to enable conservation authorities with the ability to issue stop work orders,” LSRCA CAO Mike Walters said. “Allowing our enforcement officers to employ this measure will mean we can immediately stop work that is not in compliance with our regulations. That’s critical and it’s a big change from the current situation.”
From monitoring floods to reviewing development applications, conservation authorities play a significant role in the lives in Ontario municipalities. However, the act that created the agencies in the mid-1940s often fails to address modern realities, NVCA watershed management director Chris Hibberd said.
If approved, the changes will also give the government the ability to update conservation authority responsibilities to deal with emerging challenges.
“We’re pleased with the changes; they confirm the significant role conservation authorities play in managing natural resources in the province,” Hibberd said, noting more provincial money may be allocated toward programs like wetland conservation and climate change adaptation. “We’re all interested in making sure we have the flexibility to deal with those challenges as they come up.”
The proposed changes will also allow for greater communication between conservation authorities, farmers, developers, environmental advocates and First Nations communities, among other groups, he said.
There are 36 conservation authorities in the province, and 90 per cent of Ontarians live in a watershed managed by a conservation authority.
Locally, LSRCA jurisdiction roughly runs from Orillia and most of Barrie to Durham and York regions. NVCA covers much of the eastern portion of Simcoe County between Collingwood and Adjala-Tosorontio.