History of Low Water Response in Ontario
In the fall of 1998 and summer of 1999, southwestern and parts of eastern Ontario experienced an extended period of low rainfall and high temperatures. These were the lowest water levels and driest soil conditions recorded in several decades. The Ontario Low Water Response Plan (OLWRP) was prepared in response to deal with low water conditions.
The OLWRP was released in May 2001 in partnership with the Ontario Ministries of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), Environment; Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs; Municipal Affairs and Housing; Economic Development and Trade; the Association of Municipalities in Ontario, and Conservation Ontario. It was updated in 2010.
Its goal was to ensure provincial preparedness, assist in coordination, support local response in the event of a drought and provide a definition and means of quantifying drought and low water conditions. Thus, the OLWRP established local Water Response Teams (WRTs).
Water Response Teams:
- Focus on a specific watershed
- Coordinate local response
- Consist of local water users and local and provincial water managers
- Do not replace the function of provincial agencies, conservation authorities or municipalities but provide coordination of response between the agencies
- Possess no unique legislative authority
- Include provincial, municipal and CA staff with possible representation from other sectors: agriculture, rural private industry, recreation, resource management interests and First Nations.
How it Works:
The MNRF monitors conditions across the province and advises CA’s when it appears that watershed conditions have met criteria for a Level 1 event based on either streamflow, precipitation or both. The CA reviews the MNRF data and if it agrees, declares Level 1 or Minor Drought Condition exist for all or a part of its watershed. The CA will then set up a meeting of the WRT. Members of the WRT advise their local groups of conditions and discuss any potential actions that can be done to mitigate low water conditions. Press releases will be issued advising of current conditions and requesting residents to voluntarily restrict or reduce their use of potable water. Although no agency has legislative power to enforce restrictions, it is in everyone’s best interest to use this resource as wisely as possible to minimize the impact of the drought. Rural well owners are strongly encouraged to reduce usage to prevent wells from going dry. Recreational users (boaters, swimmers, anglers etc.) of surface water (lakes and rivers) are reminded that potential hazards may exist due to lower flows and levels that might not normally exist under normal conditions.
MNRF and the CA continue to monitor conditions to determine if a Level 2 Moderate Drought has been reached. The CA, along with the WRT will declare either the Level 1 Minor condition has passed or a Level 2 Moderate condition exists.
The WRT will continue to request residents restrict or reduce consumption.
MNRF and the CA continue to monitor conditions to determine if the conditions warrant remaining in the Level 2 Moderate Drought, returning to a Level 1 Minor Drought or upgrading to a Level 3 Severe Drought. The CA, along with the WRT will continue to provide updates to the watershed residents advising of the current status and continuing recommendation of reducing water consumption.