January 5, 2004

Moratoria provide Ontario breathing space to consider land use, water permit policies

Two moratoria announced in mid-December will give the Ontario government time to consider, in consultation with the public, more environmentally sound land use and zoning policies and allocation of surface and groundwater resources to industrial and other users.

A new moratorium on zoning changes within Ontario's Golden Horseshoe would be a first step toward the creation of a permanent, 600,000-acre greenbelt in the region encircling the western end of Lake Ontario.

The moratorium was announced in conjunction with proposed legislation aimed at managing growth, protecting the environment and improving quality of life in the Golden Horseshoe. Introduced jointly by Municipal Affairs Minister John Gerretsen and Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky, Bill 27, the Greenbelt Protection Act, 2003 would:

-- create a greenbelt study area in the Golden Horseshoe including the Oak Ridges Moraine, the Niagara Escarpment and the Niagara tender fruit lands. The area would be the subject of extensive future consultations aimed at determining which lands should be included in the greenbelt.

-- establish a moratorium which would temporarily prevent new urban uses outside existing urban boundaries on rural and agricultural lands within key portions of the study area. The moratorium would not cover land already protected by legislation, such as the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Niagara Escarpment.

-- allow the Minister of Municipal Affairs to stay proceedings relating to sensitive lands within the study area; and

-- strengthen protection of the Oak Ridges Moraine by clarifying provisions of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, 2001 and extending the authority of the government to stay Ontario Municipal Board appeals on the Oak Ridges Moraine.

The proposed greenbelt legislation would also enable the government to prevent site alteration, such as grading or removal of topsoil, as well as tree cutting or removal within the greenbelt study area. The government is imposing a Minister's zoning order on the greenbelt study area to provide immediate protection while the government considers the legislation.

Pending a final decision on the lands to be protected, the legislation, if passed, would prohibit new urban development on rural and agricultural land for up to a year unless it had already been zoned for development.

The proposed Greenbelt Protection Act, 2003 would also provide for extensive public consultations to ensure smart and sustainable growth in the future.

The greenbelt initiative is being complemented by proposed amendments to the Planning Act. Provisions of Bill 26, Strong Communities (Planning Amendments) Act, 2003, are intended to prevent developers from forcing unwanted urban expansions and to ensure that provincial planning policies are not ignored.

The Golden Horseshoe grows by more than 115,000 people every year. Within 15 years, it will be the third largest urban region in North America, after New York and Los Angeles.

Comments on the proposed Greenbelt Protection Act 2003 are due by January 23, 2004; comments on the Planning Act amendments are due by March 15, 2004. Both regulatory proposals may be viewed on the Environmental Bill of Rights registry, www.ene.gov.on.ca, reference numbers AF03E0002, AF03E0001.

The second moratorium, announced by Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky, runs from December 18, 2003, until December 31, 2004 and applies to new and expanded permits to take water (PTTWs) for products such as bottled water, and for other uses that remove water from the watershed.

This moratorium is part of a move to ensure sound, effective protection of Ontario's sourcewater resources. Currently, PTTWs do not fully consider the effects of the water taking on the whole watershed. The moratorium is intended to put a stop to this practice while new rules are being developed. It will provide time to review Ontario's groundwater supplies and draft new rules for water taking. Ontario will not grant new permits of this kind until there are new rules in place to provide better protection of the province's water resources.

The moratorium applies in southern Ontario and in those northern Ontario watersheds that are covered by a conservation authority. There are five conservation authorities in northern Ontario: Lakehead, Mattagami Region, Nickel District, North Bay-Mattawa and Sault Ste Marie Region. These are areas where population density is greater, there are more competing demands for these types of water takings and there is a water management authority in place.

"We will use this year to review our groundwater supplies and draft new rules for water taking," Dombrowsky said. "We will not grant new permits of this kind until we have new rules in place that will help us better protect our water resources,"

The moratorium would prohibit the issuance of new or expanded PTTWs for the following purposes:

-- beverage manufacturing, including the manufacturing or production of bottled water or water in other containers;

-- fruit or vegetable canning or pickling;

-- ready-mix concrete manufacturing;

-- aggregate processing where the aggregate and the water taken are incorporated into a product in the form of a slurry; and

*the manufacturing or production of products where more than a total of 50,000 litres of the water taken is, or will be, incorporated into a product on any day in the normal course of manufacturing or producing the product.

The moratorium does not affect municipalities or PTTWs for agricultural purposes. It would not apply to:

-- water taken for agricultural purposes, including aquaculture, nurseries, tree farms and sod farms;

-- water taken for municipal water supplies or sewage treatment plants;

-- dewatering of pits and quarries, and aggregate washing;

-- renewals of existing permits for the same volume from the same location and for the same purpose;

-- existing PTTWs; the amount of water a permit holder may take, however, will be frozen at the current amount of water being permitted. Therefore, permits allowing for an increase for future water takings will be revoked and new permits will be issued to implement the freeze.

The Ontario government has also indicated its intention to begin charging water-bottling companies and other permit holders who remove water from watersheds. "Companies that want to take oil from the ground or trees from the forest have to pay for that privilege and have to follow provincial regulations," Dombrowsky noted. Similar levies have not previously been applied to water, however. "The days of taking water away for free are over," she stated. "Water bottlers and others who remove water out of a watershed cannot be permitted to just take more and more water. We need to fully understand the consequences of takings on both the watershed and local water supplies. Nothing is more basic to life-and the quality of life-than an adequate supply safe and clean water."

The government will release a White Paper in February to consult on the planning aspects of source protection legislation, including the preparation, roles and responsibilities and approval of source protection plans. The document will also seek input on strengthening the PTTW program. New rules will be developed to define how water takings are to be assessed and by what means.

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