June 28, 2004

Proposed rules toughen safeguards surrounding large-scale water-takings

A proposed new regulation under the Ontario Water Resources Act will ensure that Ministry of Environment (MOE) directors follow stringent safeguards before granting large water-takings. The Ministry is also proposing to exempt portable ready-mix concrete plants from the one-year water-taking permit moratorium (put in place last December) in time for the summer road construction season. This industry uses short-term water takings that do not pose significant threats to watersheds.

The proposed regulation would:

*improve the assessment of the impact of water takings;

*include water conservation as a factor MOE directors must consider;

*set additional conditions for directors to refuse permits;

*require mandatory reporting of water takings by permit holders; and

*require enhanced notification to municipalities and conservation authorities.

Protection of the natural ecosystem would be made a key deciding factor in granting water-taking permits. Ministry directors would have to consider:

*potential impacts of the proposed water-taking on ground and surface water, including potential impacts on water quantity and quality;

*potential impacts of area water-takings on water supply, including impacts on groundwater aquifers in the area; and

*potential impacts of the proposed water-taking on stream flows and water levels, as well as on the habitat that depends upon certain flows and levels.

As a result, permit applicants would have a clearer understanding of what specific expectations they are required to meet.

The proposed regulation would explicitly include water conservation as a factor to be considered in making water-taking decisions, and would authorize the MOE to mandate water conservation when necessary on a permit-by-permit basis (e.g., a water conservation plan).

It would also set out conditions under which Ministry directors could refuse permits for uses that remove water from the watershed, where there are concerns about the sustainability of the watershed. In addition, the MOE would be required to pre-screen applications that remove water from a watershed, based on an assessment of water availability in the watershed. Where there is high water use in a watershed, the director would be required to refuse permit applications for new or expanded uses which remove water from the watershed.

If an application is refused, the applicant could move the proposed water-taking to a watershed with a lower level of water use, or restrict the water-taking activity (i.e. not operating during the summer or any other period when water flows are low).

Permit holders would be required to report water-takings on an annual basis. This information would be available for use by the MOE and others involved in watershed planning and water management activities. The reporting requirement would be implemented on a priority basis, starting with municipal drinking water systems, major industrial dischargers and users who remove water from the watershed. Most of these users are also in a better position to begin reporting their water use. Other users would be required to report based on a priority sequence currently under review by the Ministry.

The proposed regulation also provides for enhanced notification to municipalities and conservation authorities of water-taking permit applications: the MOE would notify all affected municipalities and conservation authorities regarding such applications.

Proposed amendments to Ontario regulation 285/99, the water-taking and transfer regulation, have been posted to the Environmental Bill of Rights registry for a 60-day comment period ending August 17, 2004 (www.ene.gov.on.ca, registry reference No RA04E0011).

At the same time, the Ministry is reviewing options for charging for water-takings in the context of comments received from stakeholders during consultations on the Source Protection Planning White Paper, released this past February. Its plan is to propose, this fall, a framework for water-taking charges. The first stage of such a framework will likely be an administrative fee for water-taking permit applications to recover the Ministry's costs associated with reviewing these applications.

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