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LID SWM Planning and Design Guide β

Integrated stormwater management planning: Supporting policies

Within the Province of Ontario, we are fortunate to have a number of pre-existing policies, protocols and guidance documents which directly and/or indirectly support various elements related to water management. This wiki is one such guide. The following policies are also relevant to integrated water management decision making:

Provincial Policy Statement

The Provincial Policy Statement states “the watershed is the ecologically meaningful scale for integrated and long-term planning.” This guide puts forward the watershed and/or subwatershed as an incredibly useful boundary to consider for water sustainability planning. The Provincial Policy Statement also emphasizes that planning authorities should consider the potential increased natural hazard risk associated with climate change.

Provincial Water Quality Objectives (PWQO's)

Water management in Ontario is, in part, guided by the policies outlined in this document, also known as the “Blue Book.” This document provides direction on management of surface water and groundwater from a quality and quantity perspective. These are the stated goals of the document:

  • Ensure water quality is satisfactory for aquatic life and recreation, to preserve groundwater quality to a quality protective of the greatest number of beneficial uses.
  • Manage surface water and groundwater quantity to ensure a fair sharing among users, water conservation, and sustainability of the resource.

The Blue Book outlines the Provincial Water Quality Objectives (PWQO), which are numerical and narrative criteria which serve as chemical and physical indicators representing satisfactory level for surface waters and where it discharges to the surface water and groundwater of the Province. The PWQO are a set at a level of water quality that is protective of all forms of requirements aquatic life and recreational use of surface waters.

The Safe Drinking Water Act

Under Section 19 of the Safe Drinking Water Act, decision makers for municipal drinking water systems can be held personally liable for failing to act in a reasonable way to ensure the safety of drinking water system user. A water sustainability plan considers potential impacts to drinking water sources and services, and puts forwards a plan to limit those impacts to promote safe and sustainable drinking water services into the future.

The Ontario Water Resources Act

The Ontario Water Resources Act includes provisions for controlling discharge of pollutants into waters that could result in impaired water quality. Section 53 the Ontario Water Resources Act requires environmental compliance approvals for sewage works (including stormwater and wastewater works).

The Environmental Protection Act

The Environmental Protection Act governs the discharge of contaminants into the natural environment where that discharge could cause an adverse effect.

The Environmental Assessment Act

The Ontario Environmental Assessment Act provides a process by which the environmental impacts of infrastructure projects, including municipal infrastructure, can be considered and approved by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. Water, wastewater and stormwater master plans are typically carried out following the class environmental assessment (Class EA) process. If the infrastructure project follows the planning process outlined in the Class EA, it does not need additional approval under the Environmental Assessment Act.

The roadmap to completing a water sustainability plan. (Source: CVC)

The Water Opportunities Act, 2010

The purposes of the Water Opportunities Act are to foster innovative water, wastewater, and stormwater technologies, services and practices; to create opportunities for economic development and clean-technology jobs in Ontario; and to conserve and sustain water resources for present and future generations. The Act provides a framework for municipal water sustainability plans, which include asset management, financial, and water conservation plans, as well as risk assessment, and actions to maintain and improve water services.

The Endangered Species Act

Many municipalities and watersheds in Ontario provide habitat for endangered species. This habitat may include aquatic species that can be impacted by water management activities, such as municipal and wastewater discharge, groundwater taking, and land use changes resulting in altered hydrology. A water sustainability plan should identify sensitive habitats that may require protection to ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act and create a plan for water management activities that enhance and protect that habitat.

Legal support

In addition to policy, there are legal considerations that influence water management decisions. Liability with respect to water can also come under common (tort) law, the most important of which is negligence, where a duty of care is owed to others, and liability results from a standard of care not being met. Typically, those who construct, operate, and maintain water systems can be found negligent and liable for their actions if they do not meet a standard of care. Recent lawsuits in Canada highlight that policy decisions do not attract negligence, but operational decisions can be seen as negligent. For example, in 1996, a case again the City of Thunder Bay resulted in a finding of negligence over an operational decision. The plaintiffs had experienced basement flooding during a storm event and alleged that the City had known about the problems but acted negligently. The City had passed a by-law requiring downspout disconnection from the sewage system to alleviate capacity issues; however, the City was found negligent for failing to enforce the by-law.