Conservation authorities

In Ontario, conservation authorities develop and deliver local, watershed-based resource management programs on behalf of the province and municipalities.

Conservation authorities are local public sector organizations established by the Province and governed by the Conservation Authorities Act, which is administered by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

Some legislative provisions, including those related to natural hazard management, are the responsibility of the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry.

Background

Each conservation authority was established by the province so that municipalities in a common watershed could work together on local resource management.

Each conservation authority membership are appointed by these participating municipalities, as set out in the Conservation Authorities Act.

The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) administers the Conservation Authorities Act, its regulations and associated provincial policy to provide conservation authorities with policies and procedures for meeting the requirements in the Conservation Authorities Act

Additionally, under the Clean Water Act, MECP provides funding for conservation authorities for their legislated role as source protection authorities in the provincial drinking water source protection program.

The Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry provides conservation authorities with:

  • policy direction and technical advice on natural hazard management
  • funding for eligible natural hazard management activities and studies/repairs on existing conservation authority-owned or managed flood and erosion control infrastructure (for example, dams, dykes, retaining walls)

Roles and responsibilities

Conservation authorities carry out programs that serve provincial and municipal interests, including:

  • natural hazard management
    • flood and erosion control
    • drought/low water program
  • management of conservation authority owned land
  • drinking water source protection (under the Clean Water Act)
  • surface water and groundwater monitoring programs

They also:

  • provide advice to municipalities on natural hazard management and other matters
  • regulate impacts of development and activities in hazardous land (such as floodplains, shorelines or wetlands) natural hazards and public safety through a permitting process

To apply for a permit, contact your local conservation authority.

To appeal a permit, contact the Ontario Lands Tribunal.

Updating the Conservation Authorities Act

Through legislative changes made in 2019 and 2020, we confirmed the core mandate of conservation authorities:

  • preparing and protecting against the impacts of natural hazards
  • maintaining and managing conservation authority owned lands
  • roles in drinking water source protection
Row boats docked in a lake, surrounded by trees

Through these consultations we heard some concerns that conservation authorities have expanded their programs and services beyond their core mandate.

Based on the feedback we received, the province made amendments to further define the core mandate of conservation authorities to make sure they respond to the needs of the communities they serve.

Some of the changes we’ve made will:

  • provide additional oversight for municipalities and the province
  • improve consistency and transparency of the programs and services that conservation authorities deliver
  • maintain recreation and education programs

Provide additional oversight for municipalities and the province

Our changes require that at least 70% of conservation authority members be members of municipal council. The minister can grant an exception to this rule at the request of a municipality. For example, a municipality may request that a council member not be on the authority due to competing demands on members of council’s time.

Our changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and corresponding regulations mean that municipalities will better understand:

  • what conservation authority programs and services are provincially mandated
  • how and for what conservation authorities can levy municipalities and charge fees, including for non-mandatory programs and services

Ontario has recently finalized the first phase of regulations to implement these changes.

Improve consistency and transparency of the programs and services that conservation authorities deliver

We want municipalities to be able to respond to local needs and priorities.

The Conservation Authorities Act allows municipalities to continue to work with local conservation authorities to:

  • develop and deliver additional local natural resource programs and services
  • have more control over funding of non-mandatory programs and services

The Act also requires conservation authorities to publish information including:

  • audited financial statements
  • meeting agenda packages and minutes
  • municipal agreements on an authority membership
  • municipal agreements on funding for conservation authority non-mandatory programs and services

Making this information available to the public will:

  • increase the consistency and transparency of conservation authority decisions and operations
  • ensure better financial accountability to municipalities and property taxpayers

Streamline conservation authority permitting and land use planning reviews

We want to make sure there is a consistent approach for landowners, the agricultural sector and the development industry. This will allow us to get involved in those limited circumstances, using a science-based approach, where there are matters of provincial interest.

Our changes streamline the land use planning process through a one-window approach for appeals of Planning Act decisions. This increases accountability, consistency and transparency, but will still allow conservation authorities to provide advice and support to municipalities and the province for appeals.

Maintain recreation and education programs

We know that many conservation authorities provide valuable recreational and educational programs and services that are important to the local community, such as camping and outdoor education.

Conservation authorities can continue providing important recreational opportunities, such as hiking trails and picnic areas, as mandatory programs and services. Educational and cultural heritage programs and services would continue as long as they are funded through a conservation authority’s self-generated revenue or have support from the local municipality that funds the authority.

Consultations

In spring 2021, we consulted with stakeholders and the public on the first phase of a series of regulatory proposals to implement changes to Conservation Authorities Act.

Following the consultations and valuable input received, the regulations were finalized. The regulations encourage and empower conservation authorities to focus more on programs and services that support their core mandate, such as:

  • preparing for and managing natural hazards
  • conserving and managing of lands owned or controlled by a conservation authority, including any interests in land registered on title and maintaining self-directed trails, facilities, and other related amenities
  • implementing the provincial drinking water source protection program under the Clean Water Act, 2006
  • implementing the provincial stream and groundwater monitoring program
  • developing a core watershed-based resource management strategy
  • delivering on Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority duties, functions and responsibilities under the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008
  • implementing on-site sewage system approvals by North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority

The regulations also give municipalities greater control over what conservation authority programs and services they will fund by requiring CAs enter into agreements with participating municipalities to fund non-mandatory programs and services with municipal dollars and setting out the transition period to establish those agreements.

In addition, the regulations consolidate the existing “Conservation Areas” regulations on the public use of conservation authority-owned land into one regulation.

Read more about the consultation feedback and the final regulations on the Environmental Registry.

Next Steps

We are now consulting on a second phase of proposals under the Conservation Authorities Act to implement changes to conservation authority operations, affecting both conservation authorities and municipalities, including:

  • details on municipal levy provisions related to mandatory and non-mandatory programs and services
  • details on the proposed budget process
  • classes of programs and services that the Minister would approve for the charging of user fees by conservation authorities
  • Requirements to increase transparency of conservation authority operations

Conservation Authorities Working Group

We created a working group to make sure conservation authorities and other stakeholder groups have a stronger voice at the table when it comes to implementing recent changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and improving conservation authority governance.

Working group members are drawn from:

  • Conservation authorities
  • Association of Municipalities of Ontario
  • Conservation Ontario
  • Development and agriculture sectors

The working group members are:

  • Chair Hassaan Basit, President and Chief Executive Officer of Halton Region Conservation Authority
  • Kim Gavine, General Manager, Conservation Ontario
  • John MacKenzie, Chief Executive Officer, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority
  • Sommer Casgrain-Robertson, General Manager, Rideau Valley Conservation Authority
  • Chris Darling, Chief Administrative Officer, Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority
  • Rob Baldwin, Chief Administrative Officer, Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority
  • Brian Tayler, Chief Administrative Officer, North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority
  • Samantha Lawson, Chief Administrative Officer, Grand River Conservation Authority
  • Amber Crawford, Senior Advisor, Association of Municipalities of Ontario
  • Scott McFadden, Mayor, Township of Cavan Monaghan
  • Jason Sheldon, Vice-President, Land Development, Remington Group
  • Gary Gregoris, President, Land Development, GTA, Caivan
  • Josh Kardish, Vice-President, EQ Homes
  • Michelle Sergi, Commissioner of Planning and Development, Region of Niagara
  • Leslie Rich, Policy and Planning Liaison, Conservation Ontario
  • Barb Veale, Director, Planning and Watershed Management, Halton Region Conservation Authority
  • Laurie Nelson, Director, Policy and Planning, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority
  • Mark Wales, Past President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

The working group worked closely with the ministry to provide advice on the first phase of proposed regulations that impact conservation authorities and their participating municipalities and is now focused on the second phase of regulations and policy in development.