Ontario’s wetlands framework needs revision

February 3rd, 2012 by Laura Bowman

Ontario Nature, Earthroots, Ecojustice and Ducks Unlimited released a report this week on Ontario Wetlands: Protecting Greenbelt Wetlands: How Effective is Policy.

Many of the report’s suggestions relate to better interdepartmental and intergovernmental decision-making integration.  Others propose more measurable and defensible standards in the approvals process.

The report argues for:

  • Amendments to the Environmental Assessment Act, Aggregate Resources Act and Ontario Water Resources Act approvals mechanisms to include better mitigation standards.
  • A mitigation sequence that clearly ranks avoidance of wetland impacts as the top priority, minimization of impacts as the second priority and compensation as a last resort (where avoidance and minimization are not feasible or adequate).
  • Amendments to the three provincial land-use plans that apply to the Greenbelt and the Ontario Water Resources Act approvals mech­anisms to require that the impacts of water takings, under the Permit to Take Water process, be considered concurrently with land-use planning approvals.

The report highlights the need to amend legislation and other relevant laws and policies to require rigorous post-construction monitoring and reporting for compliance and mitigation effectiveness.

It also argues that Ontario should amend the legal and policy framework to provide an overarching objective to protect and restore wetlands to achieve a net gain in wetland extent and function.

These are all very good suggestions that if implemented would represent a major advance in wetland protection.  Moreover this report is full of very useful information from planners, and a number of very interesting case studies.  In my own experience even in the greenbelt major infrastructure considerations frequently trump wetland protection, particularly with respect to highways and aggregate projects.  Arguments that obvious modifications to projects that could avoid wetland impacts are unnecessary are still too common.  Such arguments need to be clearly precluded by legislation and policy.  Wetlands should take priority over straightforward project modifications.  Information on permits to take water needs to be easily publicly available. Moreover I agree with the reports’ authors that permits to take water should be the first step in the approvals process and that mitigation and follow up standards and resources are badly needed.

Filed in: Environment, Municipal/Planning Law

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