Updating Ontario’s Water Quantity Management Framework

ERO number
019-1340
Notice type
Regulation
Act
Ontario Water Resources Act, R.S.O. 1990
Posted by
Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
Notice stage
Decision
Decision posted
Comment period
June 18, 2020 - August 2, 2020 (45 days) Closed
Last updated

This consultation was open from:
June 18, 2020
to August 2, 2020

Decision summary

We are moving forward with enhancements to Ontario’s policies, programs and scientific tools for managing water takings to ensure water resources in the province are protected and used sustainably.

Decision details

Enhancements to Ontario’s water taking program

The Ontario government is moving forward with enhancements to the province’s water taking program as part of its Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan commitment to ensure our water resources are protected and used sustainably, now and for future generations.

After many years of public consultations and an extensive, review of the province’s water taking policies, programs and science tools, we have finalized enhancements to Ontario’s water taking program as we continue to ensure we are prepared to adapt to changing circumstances.

These changes include:

  • establishing priorities of water use in the province that can guide the ministry’s water taking decisions on how water should be shared among permitted water users when there are competing demands for water;
  • replacing high use watershed policies with a more flexible and practical area-based approach to assessing and managing multiple water takings together in areas of the province where water sustainability is a concern;
  • making water taking data available to the public to increase transparency of how Ontario manages water resources.

Regulatory changes

To enable these actions, we made regulatory amendments to:

  1. The Water Taking and Transfer Regulation (Ontario Regulation 387/04) under the Ontario Water Resources Act, 1990 to:
    • establish priorities of water use to be considered in water taking decisions
    • replace rules governing permit decisions in high use watersheds with a new, more adaptive area-based approach to manage the cumulative effect of water takings in water quantity-stressed areas
    • make water taking data more accessible to the public to increase transparency and enhance water management
  2. The Registrations under Part II.2 of the Act - Water Taking Regulation (Ontario Regulation 63/16) under the Environmental Protection Act, 1990 to make water taking data more accessible to the public to increase transparency and enhance water management.

The amendments to O. Reg. 387/04 and O. Reg. 63/16 were filed on March 31, 2021 and come into effect on April 1, 2021, to coincide with the expiry of the bottled water moratorium.

Legislative changes

The legislature also passed amendments to the Ontario Water Resources Act in December 2020 to require water bottling companies to have the support of their local host municipality for a new or increased groundwater taking in their community. The amendments to the Ontario Water Resources Act have been proclaimed and come into effect on April 1, 2021. For more details, please view the Decision Notice posted on the Environmental Registry ERO# 019-2422

New Implementation Guidance

To help permit holders understand the new rules and to assist in implementing the new regulatory amendments, we are also providing new guidance on managing water takings in areas where water sustainability is a concern and establishing provincial priorities of water use to guide decisions where there are competing demands for water. The implementation guidance has been finalized and can be viewed at https://www.ontario.ca/page/guidance-support-area-based-water-quantity-management
https://www.ontario.ca/page/guidance-support-priorities-water-use

With these new rules and guidance in place, Ontarians can be confident that water resources in the province are protected by strong policies and will be managed sustainably under the enhanced water-taking framework.

Comments received

Through the registry

268

By email

5,015

By mail

0
View comments submitted through the registry

Effects of consultation

What we heard

We received a total of 5,283 written comments, including comments from individuals and organizations, as well as two letter writing campaigns.

We received comments from:

  • municipalities
  • water bottling industry
  • environmental non-government organizations
  • conservation authorities
  • Indigenous communities and organizations
  • professional society/associations
  • agriculture sector
  • industry
  • academia
  • members of the public

The majority of comments support updating Ontario’s water quantity management framework, the regulatory changes, and the ministry’s efforts to protect vital water supplies and ensure the long-term sustainability of water resources now and into the future.

Below is a summary of the main themes heard during the engagement period:

  • generally supportive of the proposed changes and believe that these actions have the potential to improve water quantity management in the province
  • supportive of establishing provincial priorities of water use and prioritizing the environment and drinking water among the highest priorities. The agriculture sector is supportive of agricultural uses being prioritized among the highest water uses
  • general support for replacing static high use watershed maps and the rules governing the issuance of permits in those high use watersheds with a flexible and adaptive area-based approach and increasing consideration of cumulative effects
  • supportive of area-based approach being applied as a tool of last resort
  • generally supportive of the proposal to give municipalities more input into water bottling decisions
  • very supportive of the ministry sharing water taking data online and making this data easily accessible and understandable
  • supportive of the ministry developing guidance to provide clarity on the implementation of the proposed regulatory changes

While the majority of comments were supportive of the proposal, a few concerns were raised:

  • concerns about the water bottling industry related to the commodification and privatization of water for profit, water security and the implications of climate change, and plastic waste. Many submissions advocate for a permanent moratorium or outright ban on bottled water permits
  • concerns that industrial and commercial uses on municipal supply would be captured in the highest priority. Some municipalities were concerned that the priority of use policies cannot be used to ‘reserve’ water for long-term future municipal needs
  • while most stakeholders have said that Ontarians deserve access to the information on how our water is being managed and how much is being used by permit holders, some agricultural stakeholders had concerns with the sharing of daily water taking information that may identify an agricultural water taking permit holder
  • Ontario should recognize Indigenous treaty rights to water, and Duty to Consult obligations and the need to reflect/consider traditional knowledge/Indigenous cultural/ spiritual values in water polices and water decisions

For comments regarding the ministry’s proposal to require water bottling companies to have the support of their local host municipality for a new or increased groundwater taking in their community, please view the Decision Notice posted on the Environmental Registry ERO# 019-2422

Throughout the consultation period, we heard the need for more clarity on how the proposals would be implemented. As a result, in Fall 2020, the ministry extended the bottled water moratorium until April 1, 2021 to give us time to thoroughly review and consider the feedback received on our proposed enhancements to Ontario’s water taking program, as well as to further engage the public, stakeholders and Indigenous communities on how to implement those proposed enhancements before the moratorium ended.

Response

All of the comments received during the Environmental Registry posting, as well as comments received during our engagement meetings were considered. No significant changes have been made to the original proposal.

The ministry thoroughly reviewed the province’s water taking policies, programs and science tools and had an independent third-party review the findings on bottled water takings, which was completed by a panel of experts from Professional Geoscientists Ontario.

The review confirmed that:

  • we have a strong foundation of policies, programs and science tools to manage water takings
  • groundwater takings for water bottling are being managed sustainably in the province

We have identified opportunities to improve how we manage water takings in parts of Ontario where water availability is or could become a concern. The updates to Ontario’s water taking program will help to sustain water resources that support our ecosystems and communities and provide greater water security to water users.

Also, to address some of the feedback we received on the proposed enhancements to the water taking program, we clarified the implementation guidance with respect to:

  • when an area-based approach may be used to manage water takings in a water quantity stressed area
  • the importance of engagement throughout area-based strategy development, including direct notification to water users, Indigenous communities and organizations, municipalities, and others of intent to develop a strategy and seek input on a draft strategy
  • how area-based strategies align with other provincial and local water management programs, including drinking water source protection
  • the consideration of the drinking water portion of water uses and certain essential water uses that must be maintained to protect health and safety (e.g. food safety) and maintain food security in the province (e.g., continuing processing of locally grown products) regardless of the priority level of a particular user

For more details on the implementation guidance, please view the Decision Notice posted on the Environmental Registry ERO#019-2017

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Contact

Naomi Herold

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Office
Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks - Environmental Policy Branch
Address

40 St Clair Avenue West
Floor 10
Toronto, ON
M4V1M2
Canada

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Original proposal

ERO number
019-1340
Notice type
Regulation
Act
Ontario Water Resources Act, R.S.O. 1990
Posted by
Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
Proposal posted

Comment period

June 18, 2020 - August 2, 2020 (45 days)

Proposal details

Our government is committed to taking action through our Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan to protect lakes, waterways and groundwater supply in Ontario, now and for future generations.

Last fall, we extended the moratorium for new and increasing bottled water takings so that we could complete a thorough review of the province's water taking programs, policies and science tools. This review, which includes assessments done by independent experts, found that the government's current approach to managing water takings is effective.

The review:

  • determined that bottled water takings in Ontario are not impacting the sustainability of groundwater resources and that groundwater takings for bottling are managed sustainably in the province under existing legislation, regulation and guidance
  • identified opportunities to build on our current framework to ensure our water resources are protected and used sustainably in the face of a changing climate and population growth

The ministry also retained a third-party water expert, BluMetric Environmental Inc., to:

  • assess water resources in select areas of the province
  • review aspects of the ministry’s water quantity management framework

BluMetric’s findings, as well as the ministry’s own review, have informed the development of four key areas for action. The ministry’s findings, which included BluMetric’s analysis, on water bottling were independently validated by a panel from the Professional Geoscientists Ontario. Their report, along with a summary of BluMetric’s findings, can be found in the supporting materials section of this Proposal Notice.

Four key areas for action

The attached proposal paper outlines four key areas for action:

  1. Establish clear provincial priorities of water use to guide decisions where there are competing demands for water.
  2. Update our approach to managing water takings in water quantity-stressed areas.
  3. Make water taking data, including data the ministry collects from permitted water takers, more accessible to the public.
  4. Give host municipalities more input into water bottling decisions.

To enable these actions, we are proposing regulatory amendments to:

  • the Water Taking and Transfer Regulation (Ontario Regulation 387/04) under the Ontario Water Resources Act, 1990 to enable all four proposed areas of action
  • the Environmental Activity Sector Registry (EASR) - Water Taking Regulation (Ontario Regulation 63/16) under the Environmental Protection Act, 1990 to enable action three (making water taking data more accessible to the public)

The proposal paper also includes:

  • a summary of conclusions from the review
  • questions to better inform our proposed changes

We are seeking feedback on these proposed actions from:

  • the public
  • Indigenous partners and communities
  • municipalities
  • industries
  • stakeholders

Your input will help the province move forward with updating Ontario’s water quantity management framework to help protect and sustain water resources in Ontario now and into the future.

Regulatory impact statement

With these proposed changes, Ontarians can have the added confidence that the ministry's programs, policies and science protect vital water resources and ensure we have sustainable water resources now and into the future. While the proposed regulatory changes are not expected to have a direct negative economic impact on most water takers, the proposal includes enabling regulatory provisions that may impact some water takings in water quantity-stressed areas or large new or increasing water bottling takings.

The proposed regulatory changes and complementary activities are enabling provisions that are expected to ​benefit people, households, businesses and communities in Ontario including rural, urban, northern and Indigenous communities, in a number of ways:

  • protecting the sustainability of water resources to support ​healthy ecosystems and the economic and social well-being of Ontarians
  • providing greater transparency about how water takings will be managed in periods of scarcity, to allow businesses, farms and rural and urban municipalities to better plan for the future
  • removing the regulatory burden associated with current static regulatory high-use watershed maps and policies and updating our approach to managing water takings in water-quantity stressed areas, focusing actions in priority areas to allow resources to be directed where they are needed most
  • facilitating the use of water taking data to support water quantity management decision making and promote water security in the province
  • giving host municipalities more input into water bottling decisions before proposed new or expanded water takings for water bottling are considered in their jurisdiction

While the proposed amendment includes a requirement for water bottling companies to report whether they have support from the host municipality when applying for a Permit to Take Water for a new water taking or increased amount of water, an exception is proposed for smaller groundwater takings by water bottling companies that are below a limit of 379,000 litres per day in total within a municipality.

The proposed enhancements are not expected to have a negative impact on businesses. They are intended to be used only as needed and to add more flexible and adaptive water management tools and policies to Ontario’s water taking framework.

Supporting materials

View materials in person

Important notice: Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, viewing supporting materials in person is not available at this time.

Please reach out to the Contact listed in this notice to see if alternate arrangements can be made.

Comment

Commenting is now closed.

This consultation was open from June 18, 2020
to August 2, 2020

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