04/05/2007

Minister of the Environment, the Honourable Laurel Broten, introduced Bill 198, Safeguarding and Sustaining Ontario’s Water Act (SSOWA) in the Legislature on April 3, 2007.
Background:

In December 2005, Premier McGuinty signed the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement (the Agreement) along with the Province of Quebec and the Governors of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Among other matters, the Agreement commits the signatories to enact stewardship provisions for Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin water sources including establishing strict criteria for transfers of water within and between watersheds. The SSOWA amends the Ontario Water Resources Act (OWRA) to enact provisions that would, if passed by the Legislature, implement the Agreement and institute a water conservation charge for water takings in the Province of Ontario. Specific provisions of the legislation include: 

Consumptive Use – the legislation defines consumptive use of water as the water lost during a water taking and not returned to the source. Subject to certain conditions, the Act requires water taken from a water basin to be returned to the same basin. 

Inter-Basin Transfers – the Act divides Ontario into three water basins (Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River, Nelson and Hudson River) and prohibits transfers of water between these basins.

Intra-Basin Transfers – consistent with the Agreement the Act prohibits, subject to certain exceptions included in the legislation, the transfer of water from one of the Great Lakes and their basins to the others. Transfers over 19 million litres/day are prohibited and the Act sets up a process for regional review by the other parties to the Agreement for input into proposals to take water above this threshold.

Conservation Charges – the legislation sets out regulation making authority that would establish fees for users of water for commercial or industrial purposes, whether or not connected to a municipal system. Fees are anticipated to be phased-in, targeting high volume users first and set at a maximum of $3.71 per million litres. Charges for domestic/residential or institutional uses are not contemplated.

Implications for Municipalities:

All Ontario municipalities will be captured by the legislation. The Act has particular importance for municipal waterworks planning if municipalities are contemplating drawing water from one watershed and returning it to another as defined by the Act. 

Municipalities that bottle water for sale, or supply water bottlers, will also be captured by the regulations establishing the conservation charges. At this point, the government has not settled on whether to charge the holder of the Permit To Take Water (municipalities) or the commercial/industrial user directly. 

The conservation charge proposal contains a reference to recreational facilities facing charges during a subsequent phase of charge implementation. It is not immediately clear whether municipally or third-sector facilities would fall under this regulation once drafted. 

Action: 

Members should review the legislation and supporting material to assess direct impacts. 

Details on the legislation can be found on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry, under the EBR Registry number: 010-0163. Comments are being accepted up to May 03, 2007. While the legislation has received first reading, second reading has not been scheduled. Committee hearings are anticipated. 

Details on the conservation charges proposal can also be found on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry, under the EBR Registry number: 010-0162. Comments are being accepted up to June 04, 2007.