Intervenor: Vol. 25 no. 2 April - June 2000

A Long Term Water Policy Framework for Ontario

Editor's Note: The following is excerpted from CELA's submission to the Ministry of Natural Resources' Water Resources Management Committee (June 14, 2000). CELA's submission advocates a protective and conservationist approach to provincial water policy that is not restricted to Ontario. The entire submission is available from CELA as brief no. 390.

The work that CELA is doing in developing model water legislation includes the following systemic and underlying principles, which we advocate must underlie any approach to protection of Ontario's water systems:

  • The approach must be ecosystem based.
  • It must follow the precautionary principle.
  • Measures and decisions must be specific & targeted; and be measurable.
  • In many cases, the onus of proof for the right to use or access water resources must be upon those whose use or actions could cause harm to those resources.
  • The connections between ground water and surface water systems and interaction with climate change must be incorporated into the long term strategy.
  • A basic premise must be that water systems are finite.
  • The long term strategy must recognize the interconnection between watersheds.
  • Room to grow for development purposes (commercial or residential) must be achieved through conservation savings.
  • Planning must encompass climate change risks.
  • Development and major water users must be appropriately located given the constraints of the water systems.
  • Municipal water protection responsibilities and tools must be enhanced.
  • Cumulative effects of water users and strategies must be assessed.
  • Water supplies and water takings must be, for the most part, interruptible.
  • Water quality protection must be as important as water quantity protection.
  • The need for data, monitoring, establishment of targets and mandated feed-back actions in response to monitoring must be entrenched in the long term approach to protecting Ontario's water resources.
  • Legislation must be effective and enforceable.

Prevention of harm

In order to assure prevention of harm to Ontario waters in the long term, including loss of quantity, loss of functions, and loss of quality, CELA submits that important elements of a preventive approach would include:

  • No large scale diversions of water within or between watersheds.
  • The necessity to keep water within its watershed (except as ecosystems naturally circulate water beyond watersheds).
  • Protection and planning on a watershed basis, where a watershed is defined at the river scale.
  • Linkage of land use development and water protection.
  • The primacy of the principle of water protection in a variety of management and other decisions, including in land use planning.
  • Provision of a method for special areas protection, such as would be needed for the Oak Ridges Moraine, where important water systems are linked across watersheds and municipal boundaries.


CELA advocates that long term water protection must encompass conservation planning for all sectors. Conservation objectives cannot be achieved without comprehensive and advance planning by those whose decisions will most affect water resources. CELA submits that the following measures must be included in a long term conservation approach:

  • Conservation planning must be conducted on a watershed scale, based on an assessment of existing conditions and future uses.
  • Conservation planning must also extend to municipal water services and delivery systems.
  • Water rates must be pursued in ways that provide conservation incentives (and do not provide counter incentives, for example by encouraging use of more rather than less water).
  • Tangible targets must be established for conservation results; those targets must be pursued with a variety of strategies, including prevention of loss of water resources, and achievement of targets must be assessed with water audits, both as to baseline usage and as to reduction of usage.
  • Non-essential uses of water must be regulated in drought conditions. (We note that we have received a copy of the Ontario's May 2000 publication, Ontario Water Response-2000, Draft, dealing with a more short term contingency plan in case of drought conditions. We will be providing separate comment on that draft.)
  • Conservation planning must be carried out by all major users of our water resources, both public and private.


The third principle which must underlie a long-term Ontario strategy is that of restoration of degraded waters. This must include both water quantity and water quality issues, throughout the ecosystem.

Editor's Note: CELA's submission also deals with principles for funding the system, with public input and participation, and with transparency in planning and decision-making. In addition, owing to their Constitutional rights and daily reliance on healthy ecosystems, First Nations' real and meaningful participation must be part of water system governance. In the brief, CELA asserts that water is a basic human right.

Theresa McClenaghan is a lawyer, Sarah Miller is coordinator, both at CELA