| Apr 24, 2019

It’s a busy week for technicians working for Conservation Authorities (CA) in Eastern Ontario.

Of the 37 such entities in Ontario, 4 are located in this corner of Eastern Ontario; Mississippi and Rideau Valley Conservation, in the Ottawa River watershed, and Quinte and Cataraqui, in the Lake Ontario watershed.

They have put out notices this week about spring flooding and its impact on some of the lakes within their systems.

They also all received notification that the portion of their funding that the Province of Ontario provides for natural hazard management is being cut this year.

In the case of the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) for example, the allocation is dropping from $242,000 last year, to $125,000 this year.

The $242,000 annual payment, which had remained the same since 1996, was the Province’s contribution towards the RVCA’s efforts to mitigate against flood erosion, maintain infrastructure such as the Bolingbroke dam, and monitor stream flows, maintain a flood watch and generate flood warning messages, and produce mapping of flood plains.

“These are core functions,” said Sommer Casgrain-Robertson, General Manager of RVCA, “which the Province has always supported. “The $242,000 was about 2% of our annual budget, and it is now about 1%. The municipalities within the watershed provide about 50% of our funding, and the rest comes from user fees, application fees and fundraising. The Province, through the Ministry of the Environment, also contributes funding towards source water protection for drinking water.”

Flood water protection and monitoring had been a direct service of the Ministry of Natural Resources before it was downloaded to the Conservation Authorities in the 1990’s and at first the Province provided a significant share of the funding, but with inflation and other cost increases over 23 years, that share had diminished over that time to 2% until it was cut in half last week.

“We are not going to change our flood mitigation and monitoring operations, said Casgrain. “Over the next few months our board will decided how to handle the financial implications.”

We know the Province was up against a significant financial hurdle, and we knew the budget would contain cuts, we were waiting to see if our funding would be cut, but since our funding is so limited it was not a cut we were expecting. And when you consider that with climate change, we are definitely seeing an increase in extreme weather events, this is coming at a time when we probably should be looking at doing more in this area.”

The RVCA board is made up of appointees from member municipalities. One of the options they could consider would be to make up the shortfall by increasing the contribution from member municipalities towards natural hazards, which would lead to decreases in other municipal services or increases in municipal taxes.

The Mississippi Valley Conservations Authority (MVCA) is seeing a provincial funding cut from $248,000 to $128,000.

In a written statement, MVCA staff talked about the scope of the program that is supported by provincial funding.

“Through our watershed planning, programs and services, we put as much effort into preventing flooding as we do into responding when weather conditions overwhelm the system. Examples, particularly at this time of year, include: monitoring water levels and weather forecasts, operating water control structures, providing advanced notice of flooding to area municipalities and residents, and coordinating with emergency responders. We operate five Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry, 11 smaller MVCA dams, and 2 facilities on behalf of Ontario Power Generation. Our on the ground presence throughout the watershed and daily monitoring of water flows, levels and weather conditions, allows us to understand and predict how water is coming off the land.”

They also said that they are not contemplating making any changes to their core operations in the short term in response to the sudden cut in provincial funding.

“We will look internally and at existing programs and reserves to compensate while continuing to work on the ground, maintaining the same level of service that member municipalities and other partners have come to rely on,” said Sally McIntyre, General Manager.

On a province-wide basis, the funding envelope for Conservation Authority natural hazard funding has been decreased from $7.4 million to $3.7 million.

The Ministry of Natural Resources, under Minister John Yakabuski, who represents the riding of Renfrew, is also undertaking a review of the Conservation Authorities Act, with a view towards improving “public transparency and consistency” according to a government news release.

The release quotes Minister Yakabuski: "Our government is putting people first to help communities and families prepare and respond to climate change," said John Yakabuski, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry. "Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our regulations is a critical component of our government's strategy for strengthening Ontario's resiliency to extreme weather events."

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