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November 21, 2022

Letter to the Editor: Proposed Bill 23 presentation

wetland photograph regarding Bill 23

Letter to the editor — Proposed Bill 23 presentation

I was accepted to make an in person presentation to a hearing committee on Bill 23 Wednesday or Thursday, November 16 or17, but was not chosen to attend. I had until 7 pm November 17 to submit. When I tried , my internet was slow, and I was cut off before I could finish. I sent it to the speaker, Ted Arnott, and asked him to forward it to the committee. Meanwhile, I sent it to every MPP because I did not know which ones were on the committee. There are other committees to which I will submit comments.

Good day members of the Committee hearing presentations on the proposed Bill 23.

My name is Peggy Hutchison. I signed up to make a presentation either today or yesterday, to your committee, but I was not chosen. I am submitting a written version of what I would have said.

I address you today because I am very concerned that Bill 23 intends to eliminate the role of Conservation Authorities (CAs) which have expertly managed Ontario’s watersheds since 1946 when the Conservation Authority Act was enacted. These watersheds are mostly located below the Canadian shield and impact food lands and communities across southern Ontario, not to mention lands and communities on the Great Lakes into which our rivers flow.

First, my main concern is that no one seems to understand what exactly CAs do. I will use the analogy of filling a bathtub to explain. I will also summarize my involvement with CAs since 1952.

Second, I will refer to a report commissioned by the Ontario Government in 2019 following severe flooding in Ontario. The 157 page report was prepared by Douglas McNeil, a Winnipeg-based engineer, and published in late 2019. The report recommended the Ontario government support conservation authorities “to ensure the conservation, restoration, and creation of natural green infrastructure (i.e. wetlands, forest cover, pervious surfaces) during land use planning to reduce runoff and mitigate the impacts of flooding.”

Link: http://assets.ibc.ca/Documents?resources?IBC-Natural-Infrastructure-Report-2018.pdf

Third, I will refer to an Insurance Bureau of Canada report: 'Combatting Canada’s Rising Flood Costs'. It is important to note that every watershed is unique in terms of its physical attributes, including its geomorphology, hydrology, topography and climate. Engineering expertise is required to model the baseline scenario and analyze the design alternatives. Such expertise may be available through the municipality, conservation authorities and/or engineering consulting firms. (pg. 27)

Link: http://www.ibc.ca/on/resources/studies/natural-infrastructure-is-an-underutilized-option

You may ask, how do I know so much about CAs?

When I was almost 2 years-old, I sat on the verandah of my home in Richmond Hill and heard everyone exclaim about Hurricane Hazel. I remember the rain, the winds, and looking out over Vaughan covered on gray clouds. Richmond Hill is at the headwaters of the Don River, the same river that regularly floods the Don Valley Parkway, many kilometers away in Toronto where it flows into Lake Ontario. As a child hiking and biking through fields and forests around Richmond Hill, I experienced the many changes in the watershed. One year, I would be playing hockey on a pond normally not there. Another year my parents would not be permitted to water the lawn as the water table was so low.

Richmond Hill is just east of Maple, where a lands and forests research station was located. Many of our friends and neighbours worked there. I would hear them talking about their work at neighbourhood parties. When I played with their children , the parents taught us about the way a watershed operated and how to protect ourselves from unusual events, like Hurricane Hazel.

Whenever my father drove us to Toronto he would point out the height of the Don River at York Mills and Yonge when Hurricane Hazel hit Toronto. He would explain how my grandmother was not able to return to Toronto from Richmond Hill, and how he was not able to return home to his family from downtown Toronto. If we drove down Martin Grove Avenue in Etobicoke, he would point out how high the Humber River rose on the ravine in 1954, how more than 1,000 homes were destroyed and how 81 Ontarians lost their lives.

In the early 1970s, I moved to a farm located at almost the highest point in southern Ontario. The Township of Osprey has the headwaters of four major Ontario Rivers: the Grand, the Saugeen, the Beaver, and the Nottawasaga. My farm is at the headwaters of the Mad River, which flows into the Nottawasaga River and enters Georgian Bay (Lake Huron) at Wasaga Beach. Over five decades I have experienced many iterations of the Mad River depending on the height of the water table, the amount of snow or melted glaciers of ice. Rarely does the river impact a road or a home or a business. Just moving a farm gate, however, can drastically alter the water running through my farm. I have almost 80 acres of Class 1 wetland which acts like a huge sponge. I have many other smaller wetlands which also absorb water. I also have forests and bush and fields which absorb water and mitigate erosion. These features are protected by CAs across southern Ontario, and a couple in northern Ontario, to manage watersheds.

I first became acquainted with employees at the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority (NVCA) when I took my children to visit their sugar bush in March. Hundreds of families and individuals were there from Barrie to Collingwood to Alliston and beyond. Besides demonstrating making maple syrup, there were also exhibits on firefighting, fisheries, forests, wetlands, and wildlife. In conversation with employees I realized that they were able to manage the watershed so well because they not only knew every road, ravine, wetland, and outcropping, but they also knew all the landowners, municipal employees, schools, businesses and so on.

So how is filling a bathtub like managing a watershed?

If you fill a bathtub to a few inches below the rim and turn the water off, you can let someone get in the tub, depending on how big they are and how much water they will displace. If you add some sponges, they will absorb the water and just float. If you add a big rock, the water level may not go over the rim. If you add another rock it might cause a flood. To stop the flood, you can remove the person quickly, or one of the rocks. This is what CAs do when they manage watersheds, but in a much bigger bathtub with an uneven rim. Ensuring all the sponges (wetlands) are there, ensuring no big rocks (structures) are added, ensuring the drain does not get clogged with loose soil (erosion). I hope everyone can picture this analogy.

Now, imagine the bathtub is on the ground floor of a house. If it overflows, it will damage the floor it is on, and maybe the basement if there is one. The damage will be confined to the one dwelling. Will the owner’s house insurance help with the cost of repairs? Not likely.

If, however, the tub is located on the 10th floor of a building, it will damage homes and businesses down below. Who will pay for those damages? Will the other tenants sue the bathtub owner? Likely. Would the owner wish someone had advised them about putting water in a bathtub? Probably. I hope everyone understands my analogy and why CAs need to be authorized to prevent water damage and why planning authorities need to enforce regulations and not over ride them with actions like Ministerial Zoning Orders or the equivalent.

To return to the two reports I cited earlier and provided links to the documents, I would like to read from Doug McNeil’s report.

1.3: Climate risk and flooding affect credit ratings

Global credit rating agencies, including DBRS, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s are beginning to examine climate change risks and potential impacts on ratings of tradable assets, including municipal bonds. The Carbon Disclosure Project predicts that tax base, debt levels and management quality are the three main areas that credit rating analysis for municipal bonds will start to incorporate to determine how well municipalities are addressing climate and extreme weather risks. Indeed, in November 2017, Moody’s Investors Service, the bond credit rating dimension of Moody’s Corporation, outlined four key credit risks associated with climate change that their credit rating analysts look at when examining U.S. local and state government risks:

  1. Economic disruption (e.g. property loss and/or damage, lower revenues, business interruption, increased debt and higher insurance costs)
  2. Physical damage (e.g. property loss and/or damage, loss of utilities, transportation and communication networks)
  3. Health and Public Safety (e.g. loss of life, jeopardized emergency service provisions)
  4. Population displacement (e.g. short-term displacements and longer-term population migration)

Notably, coastal and non-coastal flood risks comprise two of the six total metrics of climate risks assessed.

Quoting from the Doug McNeil report on pg. 113 he notes: Wetlands act as natural stormwater management ponds, slowing the speed of flood waters and storing large quantities of surface water.

I would like to speak on behalf of every taxpayer in Ontario, assuming they value the money they earn and then contribute to the health of our Ontario community. There are many places to build housing without damaging important headwaters of rivers that provide clean drinking water and nurture our food lands and forests, which prevent erosion. There are so many things we want to do with housing, with schools, with health care and hospitals, to name a few. We do not need to waste money cleaning up flood damage. Natural watershed management is the CHEAPEST AND MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO PREVENT FLOODING DAMAGE. For all our sakes, do not change the Conservation Authorities Act, remove any suggestions for change in Bill 23, and do not allow MZOs or any other changes to CA and engineers recommendations.

Thank you,
Peggy Hutchison, Singhampton

 


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