This proposal notice has been updated on September 15, 2022 to advise the public that this proposal is still under active review. The original proposal date and comment period have not been altered.
This consultation was open from:
October 6, 2020
to November 20, 2020
We are proposing to remove the need for certain types of dams to obtain a permit to take water. The construction and alteration of dams will continue to be regulated under existing provincial regulatory requirements and approval processes so that we can continue to protect lakes, rivers and waterways in Ontario.
We are proposing to streamline provincial approvals for dam owners by removing the need for certain types of dams to obtain a permit to take water. Our government will continue to regulate the construction and alteration of dams under the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act, and in some cases the Class Environmental Assessment process, so that we can continue to protect lakes, rivers and waterways in Ontario.
Proposed exemption for dams
We are proposing to amend the Water Taking and Transfer Regulation (Ontario Regulation 387/04) under the Ontario Water Resources Act to remove the requirement for certain types of dams to obtain a permit to take water for water takings that exceed 50,000 litres of water on any day, with limited exceptions:
- dams for mine tailings – tailings dams are used to store the waste by-products (i.e. tailings) of mining operations
- dam construction, dewatering of, alteration or repair projects where there is groundwater dewatering involved (groundwater dewatering is the drawing down of the groundwater table to allow for dry conditions in excavated areas during construction)
Dams for mine tailings would continue to require a longer-term operational phase permit to take water.
Dam construction, alteration or repair projects where groundwater dewatering is involved would continue to require a shorter-term construction phase permit to take water or registration on the Environmental Activity and Sector Registry (EASR).
Construction phase permits to take water are currently issued for dam construction, repair and alteration projects to monitor and mitigate the potential impacts of removing groundwater for construction purposes and the quality of water discharged back to the environment. Registration on EASR applies where construction involves groundwater dewatering of less than 400,000 litres per day.
The proposed change will:
- remove the regulatory burden associated with permits to take water
- provide some cost savings for dam owners and operators
The province will continue to maintain oversight of the construction of new dams and alterations to existing dams through the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act and, in some cases, Class Environmental Assessment process, to continue to provide protection for lakes, rivers and waterways in Ontario.
The proposed regulatory amendment would take effect on January 1, 2021.
Minister’s regulation revoking permits to take water
The Ontario Water Resources Act gives the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks the authority to specify a date by regulation when a permit or class of permits are deemed to be revoked. This authority can be exercised where a water taking or a class of water takings is exempted from the requirement to obtain a permit to take water.
If the proposed exemption of dams from permit requirements is approved, the Minister would use this regulation-making authority to create a new regulation that would revoke all existing permits held by dam owners or operators. The revoking regulation would take effect 30 days from the date amendments to the Water Taking and Transfer Regulation (Ontario Regulation 387/04) are approved and filed. This would exempt dams from requiring a permit to take water.
The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry currently each have statutory responsibilities for regulating dam facilities in Ontario.
Ontario Water Resources Act: Permits to take water
The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks administers the permit to take water program under the Ontario Water Resources Act. A permit is required for surface water or groundwater withdrawals or diversions that exceed 50,000 litres on any day.
There are two types of permits issued for dams:
- construction phase permit to take water (shorter-term): issued to monitor and mitigate impacts of removing water for construction purposes (including groundwater) and the quality of water discharged back to the environment
- operational phase permit to take water (longer-term): issued to monitor and mitigate impacts related to the operation of a dam
Operational permits to take water are used to manage potential impacts related to stream flows and water levels that affect the natural functions of downstream ecosystems and water users. Impacts related to stream flows and water levels are also currently addressed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry through approvals under the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act.
Permits are also used to administer monitoring and reporting requirements for dams. As a result of the proposed regulatory amendment, dams would no longer be required to report their daily water taking data or water monitoring and survey data associated with permit applications and conditions to the ministry.
The following types of dams or water control structures are currently exempt from requiring a permit to take water:
- waterpower dams
- in-operable weirs
- in-stream diversions associated with in-water construction activities
- dams constructed solely for the conservation, development, restoration, or management of a wetland
- dams built before 1961 that have not been subsequently modified
Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry administers the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act (LRIA), which governs the design, construction, operation, maintenance and safety of dams in Ontario.
Under LRIA Section 14 and 16, no person shall construct, alter, improve or repair a dam in any lake or river in the circumstances set out in Ontario Regulation 454/96 without prior approval for:
- location of a dam and/or
- the dam’s plans and specifications
As part of plans and specification approval for the construction of a new dam or alteration, improvement or repair to an existing dam, dam owners are required to prepare and amend an operating plan to provide clarity and certainty to how water levels and flows will be managed throughout the year.
Environmental Assessment Act: Class Environmental Assessments
The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks administers several Class Environmental Assessment (Class EA) processes under the Environmental Assessment Act. A Class EA is a document that sets out a standardized planning process for classes or groups of activities. It is a planning tool that applies to projects that are carried out routinely and have predictable environmental effects.
Some dam activities are subject to Class EA processes. There are five Class EAs that are used by different proponents (listed in brackets below) that are relevant to dam activities:
- remedial flood and erosion control projects (used by conservation authorities)
- resource stewardship and facility development projects (MNRF)
- municipal infrastructure projects (used by municipalities and private developers in some circumstances)
- waterpower projects (used by waterpower producers)
- activities of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines under the Mining Act (relevant to rehabilitating mining dams)
We are seeking feedback on this proposed regulatory amendment from:
- dam owners and operators
- the public
- Indigenous communities and organizations
- conservation authorities
- affected industries
Related water taking postings on the Environmental Registry of Ontario
We are currently consulting on two other proposals related to the province’s permit to take water program on the Environmental Registry of Ontario.
1. Proposed Amendments to Regulations under the Environmental Protection Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act to make modifications to Environmental Activity and Sector Registry requirements and exemptions for low risk short-term water taking activities
We are proposing to:
- expand the Environmental Activity and Sector Registry (EASR) regulation (Ontario Regulation 63/16) for low-risk, short-term water taking activities such as water pumping tests and certain construction dewatering activities
- amend the Water Taking and Transfer Regulation (Ontario Regulation 387/04) to update exemptions for low-risk water taking activities
You can find more information or submit a comment on the proposal notice 019-2525 - Proposal amendments to Regulations under the Environmental Protection Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act to make modifications to Environmental Activity and Sector Registry requirements and exemptions for low risk short-term water taking activities.
2. Proposal to Require Municipal Support for New or Increased Bottled Water Takings
We are proposing legislative amendments to the Ontario Water Resources Act that would give municipalities more direct input on allowing bottled water companies to withdraw new or increased amounts of groundwater in their communities. You can find more information or submit a comment on the proposal notice 019-2422 - Proposal to require municipal support for new or increased bottled water takings.
Regulatory impact statement
The proposed regulatory amendment is not expected to have a negative impact on business. It is anticipated to benefit dam owners by removing the regulatory burden associated with permit to take water related approval processes, including some cost savings for dam facilities. Permit requirements will remain for mine tailings dams and dam construction projects involving dewatering of groundwater.
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Some supporting materials may not be available online. If this is the case, you can request to view the materials in person.
Get in touch with the office listed below to find out if materials are available.
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