Ontario’s Environment Commissioner (ECO), Gord Miller, released his annual report, Managing New Challenges, on October 7th to the public.

The ECO report looked at over fifteen areas of interest of which two have a direct relationship to municipal government.

Growth Plan and the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB):
The ECO Report reflects on infrastructure costs as it relates to the density of development. The denser the development the fewer kilometers of pipeline required to serve the development. However, growth is not taking place at the densities originally anticipated in the Growth Plan. Specific reference is made to an OMB decision which overturned the Region of Waterloo Official Plan. In his review, the Environmental Commissioner suggests it is time to revisit the idea of limits to growth in certain areas.

In responding to the Commissioner’s comments, the Province pointed to the Provincial Policy Statement as the guidance on reducing greenhouse gas, developing lands wisely to protect natural heritage, and the environment. There is no direct response pertaining to the Growth Plan recommendation.

However, the recent mandate letters direct the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to work with Ministry of Attorney General to review the effectiveness of the OMB. This issue has been a matter of AMO advocacy for some time.

Full Cost Recovery for Municipal Drinking Water
In the 2002 Walkerton Commission Report, it was recommended that municipal governments move their drinking water systems to full cost recovery through user fees to ensure local governments had sustainable resources to finance operations, maintenance repairs, and expansion or replacement. The ECO in his report recommended the Province require municipalities to recover the full cost of their drinking water systems. Post-Walkerton the Province has brought in strong legislation and innovative programs to protect Ontario’s drinking water and to support municipalities in assessing the financial sustainability of their drinking water systems. Municipal governments have varied approaches to managing their drinking water systems as it is up to each municipality to determine the best approach to achieve financial sustainability for their systems.

In the ECO report, the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change noted that since the Walkerton Report the Ministry has implemented a strong regulatory framework and that municipal drinking water systems are licensed, meet quality standards, and must develop multi-year plans for financing their systems. The Ministry also noted that municipal systems must meet operational processes that meet regulatory requirements and obtain approvals for design and construction. It noted that the Water Opportunities Act provided a framework for financial as well as environmental sustainability planning and that progress is being made in assisting municipalities towards the goal of long-term infrastructure planning through operational capacity building, knowledge transfer, and incentive funding. Asset management planning was also mentioned as helping to move towards these goals.

Our members, local governments, understand the importance of clean, safe, and affordable drinking water for their residents and have been working toward sustaining drinking water systems. Municipalities have consistently met the requirements of the government’s compliance regime on drinking water quality, and financial planning and operational capacity have been increased.

In our view, current work to develop and deepen asset management plans will help municipalities understand the condition of their infrastructure and what it will take to finance it, including full cost recovery through user fees, and the transition to this. At the same time, there are other assets competing for needed investment. That is why asset management is important work and is supported by the Province through various means of assistance. For more information, please see AMO’s report Towards Full Cost Recovery for Water and Wastewater.

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