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Commissioner concerned over drought protection


October 3, 2012
By administrator

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Oct. 3, 2012, Toronto – Ontario's environmental commissioner said
yesterday in a press release that the Ontario government is not doing
enough to protect our water resources against the threat of continued
dry spells and drought.

Oct. 3, 2012, Toronto – Ontario's environmental commissioner said yesterday in a press release that the Ontario government is not doing enough to protect our water resources against the threat of continued dry spells and drought.

Gord Miller made the comments during the release of part 2 of his 2011-2012 annual report, Losing Our Touch. "Despite Ontario's reputation for being water-rich, we are not immune to the threat of drought. This summer, several parts of Ontario saw exceptionally dry conditions, creating challenges for farmers, businesses and communities, and placing stress on the natural environment. The government can't control the weather," Miller said, "but it does have a duty to ensure that water-takings are being managed carefully, and not making dry conditions worse."

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He pointed out that sizeable removals of water – by municipalities, industries, farmers and golf courses – can contribute to, and exacerbate, low water conditions. "The Ontario government's 'Permit to Take Water' and 'Low Water Response' programs are supposed to prevent water-takings from harming our aquatic ecosystems," he said. "Yet, both programs lack key elements to protect our lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers."

The Ministry of the Environment's (MOE) Permit To Take Water (PTTW) program is intended to regulate water-takings in a way that protects the natural environment and ensures the fair sharing of our water resources. While several aspects of the program have been improved in recent years, Miller says the PTTW program still lacks some necessary tools to adequately protect the long-term needs of the aquatic environment, especially in times of drought.

Miller also examined recent updates by the Ministry of Natural Resources to its Ontario Low Water Response Plan (the strategy for responding to severe low water conditions). He said the plan has too many barriers preventing an effective drought response, particularly the heavy reliance on voluntary efforts rather than requiring permit holders and other users to reduce water usage during low water conditions. He also said it is extremely difficult to get a provincial declaration of a "Level III", the most serious low water condition, which would trigger actions to force reductions in water use. "The end result is that low water conditions may persist for weeks or months before crucial drought response measures such as restricting non-essential water uses are activated."

"When a drought hits a region, time is of the essence," said Miller. "I am extremely concerned that the province will not respond swiftly and appropriately when the next severe drought hits Ontario. And with climate change likely to cause more severe weather events – like droughts – in coming years, it is even more pressing that the province fix this program quickly."

For more information, visit www.eco.on.ca.