June 11, 2007

New Ontario law makes Great Lakes diversions illegal, will allow water charges for industrial users

Passage of the Safeguarding and Sustaining Ontario's Water Act was announced by provincial Environment Minister Laurel Broten and Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay just prior to the end of the legislative session. Introduced in April (EcoWeek April 9-16, 2007), the act enshrines in law a bilateral agreement banning diversions from the Great Lakes basin. The legislation will also permit commercial and industrial users to be charged for the water they use.

The act implements the Great Lakes-St Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement, signed by Ontario, Quebec and the eight U.S. Great Lakes states in December 2005. The province's existing ban on diversions of water out of the Great Lakes-St Lawrence River, Nelson and Hudson Bay basins is now part of the act rather than just being in regulation.

The act also prohibits new or increased diversions of water from one Great Lakes watershed to another, subject to strictly regulated exceptions.

The act goes beyond the agreement by giving the province the ability to pass more restrictive regulations requiring that water transfers smaller than those stipulated in the agreement be returned to the Great Lakes watershed from which they were taken. Other new provisions would let the province require water conservation plans for water transfers and takings, and enhance consideration of climate change and cumulative impacts.

The province will, following the development of a regulation, start to charge commercial and industrial users for the water they take and use. Revenue will go toward the province's costs of managing water quantity.

Prior to passage, the Ontario government amended the draft legislation to respond to stakeholder calls for even stronger protection. The following are some of the more significant amendments.*The agreement requires that transfers involving a consumptive use of 19 million litres per day or more be returned to the source Great Lake watershed. The legislation was amended to permit a regulation to be made requiring other transfers from one Great Lake watershed to another to return water to the source watershed.

*The province may require water users to prepare and implement water conservation plans.

*The Environment Minister is required to seek public comment on what actions the government should take in response to periodic, basin-wide assessments of cumulative impacts, including climate change, and to make a statement that summarizes the actions that the government intends to take in response to the assessment. This goes beyond the commitments under the agreement related to assessing these impacts.

The act also enables Ontario to develop a regulation requiring historical water takings (i.e. those that began on or before March 29, 1961) to obtain a Permit To Take Water (PTTW). Such water takings currently do not require a permit. This authority will be phased in and subject to full consultation.

PTTWs will be required for any water taking over 50,000 litres per day except watering of livestock if the water taking is less than 379,000 litres per day or water taking for domestic purposes, other than by a municipality or by a company or public utility, if the taking is less than 379,000 litres per day or a lower amount that may be specified by the regulations.

Finally, the act clarifies and updates the types of conditions that can be imposed through PTTWs, including requirements for water conservation and water use efficiency measures.

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