October 24, 2005

Ontario amends nutrient management regulation, creates standards committee

The Ontario ministries of Environment (MOE) and of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) have filed final amendments to the nutrient management regulation, O Reg 267/03. The amendments are part of the government's continuing implementation of Justice Dennis O'Connor's recommendations from the Report of the Walkerton Inquiry, as well as the advice of the Environmental Commissioner's Office. Other recent activities have included: establishment of a Nutrient Management Standards Science Committee; a commitment to funding research through the nutrient management joint research program; and a proposal to prescribe the Nutrient Management Act under the Environmental Bill of Rights.

The nutrient management regulations, under the Nutrient Management Act, 2002, reflect the province's science-based approach to drinking water protection. Key changes to the rules will:

*increase the number of farms practicing nutrient management, in part by making smaller expanding farms subject to the regulation;

*maintain priority standards for the protection of streams and wells;

*refine requirements for the approval and registration of strategies and plans;

*simplify regulations and streamline the requirements for farmers by allowing more flexibility in the design of their nutrient management strategies and plans;

*impose additional requirements for some farms under the regulation that are within 100 metres of a municipal well; and

*require approved plans for farms applying non-agricultural source material (eg. biosolids), with an exemption existing for smaller farms that have a valid certificate of approval, unless they are within 100 metres of a municipal well.

A number of technical changes to the regulation have been made, such as:

*changes to some construction and siting requirements for small manure storage facilities;

*a general prohibition for phased-in farms for agricultural source material application on slopes 25% or greater and removal of rate restrictions for application of liquid agricultural source materials on lesser slopes;

*record-keeping requirement to retain a nutrient management strategy and nutrient management plan (if required) on the farm for compliance purposes;

*elimination of requirements for application of agricultural source materials on saturated soils;

*removal of requirements for sampling and analysis of soil and agricultural source material;

*refined certification and licensing requirements for those who prepare plans and strategies;

The mandate of the five-member Nutrient Management Standards Science Committee will be to advise the Ministers of Environment and of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs on a short list of risk-based nutrient management standards to be applied to farms of all sizes. A risk-based model will be used to develop the list, takng into account the relative risk of the agricultural activity as well as the geographic, environmental and health risks. The model will also assess the type of farming activity and the type of nutrient applied, including agricultural material, non-agricultural source material and commercial fertilizers.

Committee members, who will be named shortly, will include experts from various relevant disciplines, including agriculture, hydrogeology, land use planning, risk management and risk assessment.

The commitment to nutrient management research is being backed up by funding of up to $1 million per year for a three-year joint research program being conducted at the University of Guelph. Focusing on the impact of nutrient management practices on the environment, the purpose of the program is to ensure that future government decisions regarding land application standards are based on the most up-to-date scientific information available.

Finally, the government is proposing to prescribe the Nutrient Management Act under Ontario's Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR). This would require that the MOE and/or OMAFRA post any proposed changes to the legislation and its existing regulation, as well as any new regulations, on the EBR registry for a comment period of at least 30 days. This proposal may be viewed on the registry, www.ene.gov.on.ca, reference No RA05E0007. More information is also available on OMAFRA's Web site, www.omafra.gov.on.ca.

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