On Wednesday, September 20, 2017, the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority Board of Directors voted 10-5 in favour of change in policy that would see all wetlands in the Mississippi Valley watershed regulated, not just Provincially Significant Wetlands (PSWs).
The regulation will include wetlands that meet the following criteria:
• Wetlands greater than 0.5 ha (1.2 acres) in size
• Wetlands that have hydraulic connectivity (i.e. connected to a waterbody/watercourse)
The regulation will come into effect October 1, 2017. MVCA staff is dedicated to working with the public and landowners in the event that their property is impacted. Staff will conduct a field visit; assess if the wetland in fact meets the criteria for protection under the regulation; provide guidance on how to proceed; and work with the landowner to arrive at a solution.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry recently posted Wetland Conservation in Ontario: A Discussion Paper, which the Board of Directors has had an opportunity to review. Read Conservation Ontario’s response here.
Changes to Wetlands Policy
Importance of Wetlands
Improves water quality by filtering out suspended solids, absorbing pollutants and removing excess nutrients
Reduces flood damage
Habitat for fish and wildlife
Provides resilience to climate change
Recreation and tourism
Sustainable wetland products
Maintains base flows during dry conditions
What is a wetland?
Wetland means land that…
(a) is seasonally or permanently covered by shallow water or has a water table close to or at its surface;
(b) directly contributes to the hydrological function of a watershed through connection with a surface watercourse;
(c) has hydric soils, the formation of which has been caused by the presence of abundant water; and
(d) has vegetation dominated by hydrophytic plants or water tolerant plants, the dominance of which has been favoured by the presence of abundant water,
but does not include periodically soaked or wet land that is used for agricultural purposes and no longer exhibits a wetland characteristic.
In 2006, regulations allowing the Conservation Authority to regulate wetlands were approved by the province. Each Conservation Authority’s regulation is based on provincial guidelines.
MVCA regulations were applied to wetlands in the watershed that were only provincially significant (PSWs) due to cost, mapping issues and limited staff resources.
An annual report by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (2006-2007), states:
“It was expected that CAs would regulate and protect all wetlands, not just those that are identified as provincially significant. It appears that other CAs are not applying the regulation to many wetlands, either because of a lack of resources or a lack of political will. For example, the Eastern Ontario CAs have “made a policy decision that only wetlands designated as provincially significant and appearing on approved Official Plan schedules are subject to the regulation.” This was reiterated in 2009-2010.
In 2012, MVCA staff made a presentation to the Board of Directors to highlight the importance of wetlands for flood attenuation, filtration and storage. A work plan was developed to determine what wetlands are important within the watershed.
After highlighting to the Board in 2013 which wetlands were under pressure and the most important, MVCA staff was directed to engage and consult with local ecologists, Algonquin College, Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, other Conservation Authorities and municipal staff to identify important wetlands. After exploring several sets of criteria to assess importance, a minimum size of 0.5 ha and surface connectivity were determined to be the most important criteria. These criteria have been used to create the draft mapping.
Under Section 2 (1) of Ontario Regulation 153/06, “Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority: Regulation of Development, Interference with Wetlands and Alterations to Shorelines and Watercourses, development is prohibited within:
(c) wetlands; or
(d) other areas where development could interfere with the hydrologic function of a wetland, including areas within 120 metres of all provincially significant wetlands and areas within 30 metres of other wetlands. O. Reg. 153/06.”
Q. Why is it important to protect wetlands?
A. Wetlands help to: attenuate flooding, reduce erosion, improve water quality, recharge groundwater tables, maintain streamflow during dry periods, reduce the need for costly storm water infrastructure, maintain fish and wildlife habitat and provide recreational opportunities such as birding or hunting. Wetlands also help to maintain the resilience of our natural streams to reduce impacts from more frequent and intense weather events by absorbing heat and buffering against increased flooding, storm water and drought.
This regulation is a key tool in allowing Conservation Authorities to maintain these important natural functions which wetlands provide. This regulation prevents or restricts development in areas where in the opinion of the Authority, the control of flooding, erosion, dynamic beaches or pollution or the conservation of land may be affected by the development.
According to a Ducks Unlimited Canada final report (Southern Ontario Wetland Conversion Analysis-2010), Ontario has lost 1.4 million ha or 72% of the pre-settlement (c. 1800) wetlands. The decline in wetlands since settlement has been most drastic in south western Ontario, parts of eastern Ontario, and Niagara and the Toronto area, where over 85% of the original wetlands have been converted to other uses. Within the eastern half of the Mississippi Valley watershed it is estimated that 65% of the original wetlands have been lost.
In the third edition of “How Much Habitat is Enough?”, Environment Canada’s wetland habitat guidelines state, “Ensure no net loss of wetland area, and focus on maintain and restoring wetland functions at a watershed and subwatershed scale based on historic reference conditions. At a minimum, the greater of 10% of each major watershed should be protected and restored.”
To include current non-Provincially Significant Wetlands’s (PSW’s), MVCA is proposing to protect and restore 8% of the watershed, up from the current 4% (PSW’s only).
Feedback obtained from municipalities and the public will be presented to the Board of Directors for consideration in developing updated policies on how the regulation is to be administered.
Q. Under the changes, my property has been identified as a regulated wetland. What does that mean for me?
A. Nothing, unless you plan to alter the wetland. In that case, compensation measures may be required to offset the impacts to wetland when it’s appropriate. MVCA staff will conduct a field visit; assess if the wetland in fact meets the criteria for protection under the regulation; provide guidance on how to proceed and work with the landowner to arrive at a solution. The maps are used as a guide and a screening tool. Wetlands will be more thoroughly assessed by MVCA staff when a request to alter the wetland is received.
Q. What if I want to alter a wetland?
A. First, contact MVCA to discuss your proposal. MVCA will assess opportunities to mitigate impacts to the function of the wetland and recommend best management practices. For major work, compensation measures may be required to offset the impacts. MVCA will work with the landowner to arrive at a solution.
Q. What sort of activities requires approval within the wetlands and adjacent lands?
A. You can continue to enjoy the activities you currently participate in. Unauthorized construction or alteration of wetlands can result in increased upstream or downstream flooding, reduced water quality, destruction of fish and wildlife habitat or other environmental problems. Therefore, the proposed policies will require approval for certain activities within wetlands and adjacent lands. These activities include:
• construction, reconstruction or placing a building or structure of any kind
• any change to a building or structure that changes its use
• grading of the site
• temporary or permanent placing, dumping or removal of material
• use of heavy machinery in and around the wetland
The following is a list of recommended exemptions:
- Maintenance of public and new infrastructure
- Conservation and recreation use
- Lands or areas that have draft planning approval
- Areas that have completed a Municipal Environmental Assessment
- Existing agricultural use
- Crown land
Have a question or a comment? email Shannon Gutoskie, Community Relations Coordinator.