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ONE WATER Supporting Watershed Management and Green Infrastructure in Ontario Policy

ONE WATER Supporting Watershed Management and Green Infrastructure in Ontario Policy

ONE WATER Supporting Watershed Management and Green Infrastructure in Ontario Policy Deborah Martin-Downs, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority October 2010


Water Conservation ALLIANCE

Ontario Water Conservation Alliance c/o Rideau Institute 63 Sparks, Suite 608 Ottawa, ON K1P 5A6 tel. 613 565-9449 e.

About the Water Conservation Alliance The Ontario Water Conservation Alliance is a coalition of citizens, non-governmental organizations, businesses, municipalities and labour groups who believe an environmentally sustainable and economically secure province requires a comprehensive water conservation and efficiency strategy. The Alliance is therefore advocating for a Water Conservation and Opportunities Act for Ontario. For more information please visit

ONE WATER Supporting Watershed Management and Green Infrastructure in Ontario Policy


Supporting Watershed Management and Green Infrastructure in Ontario Policy INTRODUCTION Water sustains life. Green infrastructure sustains water

The sustained provision of clean water to meet Ontario’s needs faces numerous challenges, such as: contamination, climate change, population growth, aging infrastructure and inefficiency of use. Investment in the province’s green infrastructure – natural lands, urban forests, manicured and open spaces, watercourses, and green technologies – will protect and conserve the quality and quantity of Ontario’s water resources, while contributing social and economic benefits to the fabric of our communities.

The Ontario Water Conservation Alliance has prepared the following report documenting how green infrastructure, when managed at the watershed scale, can ensure sustainable water resources for current and future generations of Ontarians. It is time for the Province to support green infrastructure in the same way it supports more traditional forms of infrastructure: through funding and legislative tools. The Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act must recognize two crucial things: one, there is only one source of water, from which water is withdrawn, and to which storm water and waste water is returned; two, water must be protected first, conserved second and ultimately treated using innovative technologies.

ONE SOURCE: THE WATERSHED APPROACH As a result of the Walkerton Inquiry, Justice O’Connor identified threats to the quality and supply of Ontario’s waters. O’Connor’s prescription is for watershedbased source water protection as the first barrier in a multi-barrier approach to drinking water safety.1 Inherent in this approach is the recognition that there is but one source of water. In practice, this one source is too often managed in separate streams – natural waterways, potable water, waste water, storm water – and in the process significant opportunities for water conservation are lost. O’Connor states, “The various aspects of water management cannot be separated, because the water involved is used and reused as it passes through watersheds.”2 Water management has been derailed, in part, by “the myth of water abundance.”3 The false expectation of limitless supplies has led to exploitation of natural waterways and neglect of other sources of usable water (e.g., grey water, storm water). In Ontario and across Canada there is a movement from the current fragmentation of policy for water resources management A Watershed is an area of towards a more incluland that catches rain and sive and coordinated snow and drains or seeps approached based on into a marsh, stream, river, the concept of Inlake or groundwater tegrated Watershed 4 Management (IWM). IWM brings together the various “streams” of water by managing human activities and natural resources in an area defined by watershed boundaries. In his recently released Annual Report called Redefining Conservation, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner calls IWM, which is carried out by the many of the province’s conservation authorities, “an excellent example of how natural landscape features can be conserved and protected in Ontario’s land use planning context.”5 1

ONE WATER Supporting Watershed Management and Green Infrastructure in Ontario Policy

Adopting a “watershed lens” and recognizing green infrastructure as the foundation of water management are cornerstones of the ecological governance approach to water management advocated by the POLIS Project:6“the long-term solution requires a fundamental shift to watershed governance—an institutional shift towards ecologically-based water allocation, innovation in planning, managing water use with a ‘soft path’ approach, and ecosystem-based management at the watershed scale.” The watershed scale is recognized internationally as the fundamental management unit for water7 and should form the basis of future water management strategies. Ontario is a leader in watershed management yet these activities are mostly voluntary and not a requirement for land use or infrastructure decisions.

BENEFITS OF GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE Recent advanced watershed studies in Ontario have confirmed the essential role of green infrastructure in maintaining a more natural water balance and conserving water supplies at the source.8,9 These studies have also shown that green infrastructure provides a wealth of benefits relating to biodiversity and habitats, water quality and erosion control, tourism and recreation, improved quality of life and neighbourhood desirability, and greater resilience to the impacts of urban growth and climate change.

Green infrastructure

means natural vegetation and vegetative technologies, including but not limited to urban forests, natural areas, greenways, streams and riparian zones, meadows and agricultural lands; green roofs and green walls; parks, gardens and landscaped areas, community gardens, and other green open spaces; rain gardens, bioswales, engineered wetlands and storm-water ponds. Green infrastructure also includes soil, in volumes and qualities adequate to sustain leafy green infrastructure and absorb water, as well as technologies like porous paving, rain barrels, cisterns and structural soils.


Taking a green infrastructure approach to water management allows water sources of appropriate quality (e.g., storm water) to be matched to uses (e.g., irrigation), enabling conservation of treated drinking water and associated energy savings. This approach is consistent with the Soft Path advocated by the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance,10 balancing social, economic and ecological sustainability.

Environmental Benefits

➤ Green infrastructure performs the ecosystem

services and functions that maintain the flow of clean water into our rivers, lakes and aquifers. Forests and wetlands, woodlots and urban trees intercept rainfall, reduce runoff and sustain water supplies. Low-impact development storm-water management technologies, such as vegetated bioswales and permeable pavements, filter pollutants and allow water to infiltrate back into the ground to replenish supplies.

➤ Rain harvesting technologies, such as rain barrels

and cisterns, allow use of rainwater instead of potable water for certain needs. Water-efficient landscaping conserves water by using native and other plants with lower watering needs. These approaches conserve water supplies and energy associated with water treatment and distribution. Investment in green infrastructure will offset costs of investment in traditional “grey” infrastructure (i.e., conventional water, waste-water and storm-water infrastructure).

➤ Taking a green infrastructure approach facilitates water conservation target-setting for water conservation by placing water demand and use in its ecological context.

➤ Green infrastructure contributes to mitigation of

climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide and reducing air temperatures. Green infrastructure will help us to adapt to changing conditions by creating robust natural and urban systems better able to withstand floods, droughts and the urban heat island effect.

ONE WATER Supporting Watershed Management and Green Infrastructure in Ontario Policy

Economic Benefits

➤ Investment in green infrastructure moves beyond single-purpose projects, leveraging funds to solve multiple problems.

➤ A Ryerson University study estimated the benefits of a Toronto-wide green roof retrofit program to be $313 million in storm water, combined sewer overflow, air quality, building energy and urban heat island benefits, with an additional operating cost saving of $37 million per year.11

➤ The “natural capital” (e.g. wetlands, forests, wa-

tercourses) of the Credit River provides services worth more than $371 million to area residents each year including water filtration and regulation of water supply. It was estimated that services provided in this watershed by “natural capital” save taxpayers $100.5 million in water supply costs every year – by protecting groundwater supplies and deferring the need to pump water from Lake Ontario.12 In a similar study underway in the Greater Toronto Area the benefits of implementing green infrastructure (e.g., permeable pavements, bioswales, protection and expansion of greenspace/forest cover, protection of natural drainage, application of green roofs, retrofit of storm-water systems to current standards) to existing and future communities are being evaluated and initial results suggest that the benefits to watersheds and communities throughout the Golden Horseshoe Area substantially outweigh the costs to implement these solutions

➤ R  esearch and innovation in green infrastructure

is a growth sector,13 providing ample opportunities for green job creation and technology development. Green industries supporting the urban forest landscape in the United States have an estimated annual economic impact of US$ 147.8 billion.14 The United States Environmental Protection Agency promotes green infrastructure to prompt growth in green jobs.15,16


1 Give integrated watershed planning legal standing in water management instruments, including the Planning Act and Provincial Policy Statement, the Water Resources Act, Clean Water Act, and Conservation Authorities Act. 2 Set ambitious, achievable performance measures and targets on a watershed and aquifer basis. Targets are key to the effectiveness of the new, innovative, and conservation-based approaches to water that the proposed bill would enable. 3 Adopt a new paradigm for water management that recognizes there is just one source of water. Soft Path principles should be used to set water conservation and management in an ecological context and match the quality of waters delivered to that needed by the end uses. 4 Require land use planning and building decisions to incorporate innovative water conservation, green infrastructure and low-impact development approaches 5 Include conservation and efficiency, and green infrastructure in the Act’s definition of infrastructure, thus allowing infrastructure funding to be allocated for protecting, expanding, monitoring and maintaining greelistn infrastructure 6 Provide enabling language for storm-water management rates (or other incentives) to support low-impact development techniques, such as rainwater harvesting, green roofs (that are not irrigated with potable water), tree preservation and planting, permeable surface requirements, and others.


ONE WATER Supporting Watershed Management and Green Infrastructure in Ontario Policy

Core principles of the soft path ➤ Treat water as a service rather than an end in itself.

➤ Make ecological sustainability a fundamental criterion.

➤ Match the quality of water

delivered to that needed by the end use.

➤ Plan from the future back to

the present (i.e., “backcasting” to identify policies and programs that will create the desired sustainable future).

CONCLUSIONS Watersheds are the key scale for managing water, both for quality and quantity. Stewarding water at the community scale is not simply a municipal matter. What is needed is further integration of the roles of municipal water professionals and others with the roles of watershed-scale water managers, such as conservation authorities. As it has done in the Clean Water Act, the Province has the opportunity to better reflect in the Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act the importance of watersheds as the fundamental water management scale which must underlie all water decisions and activities in the community and give watershed planning the support it needs to contribute to the governance of water management than currently exists.


Changed approaches to storm-water management are an integral part of preserving our clean water resources, and the incorporation of green infrastructure techniques is one of the most cost-effective, efficient and maintainable methods of effecting these necessary changes. These technologies and practices not only address water infrastructure needs, but have the added benefit of providing green space for community health, providing habitat, cleaning air and water, and addressing climate change effects. By taking the step to integrate Integrated Watershed Management and Green Infrastructure into the Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act, the Province will be entrenching its leadership in watershed management and innovative technologies to meet the demands of sustainable water for future environmental protection and growth.

ONE WATER Supporting Watershed Management and Green Infrastructure in Ontario Policy

Author Deborah Martin-Downs, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority

Notes 1 O’Connor, D.R. (2002), Part Two Report of the Walkerton Inquiry: A Strategy for Safe Drinking Water (Queen’s Printer for Ontario). 2 O’Connor, D.R. (2002), Part Two Report of the Walkerton Inquiry (Queen’s Printer for Ontario), p. 95. 3 Bakker, K. (ed.). 2006. Eau Canada: The Future of Canada’s Water (Vancouver: UBC Press). 4 Conservation Ontario (2010), Integrated Watershed Management. Navigating Ontario’s Future, Overview of Integrated Watershed Management in Ontario (Newmarket, Ontario). 5 Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (2010), Redefining Conservation, Annual Report 2009/2010 (Toronto, Ontario). 6 Brandes, O.M., K. Ferguson, M. M’Gonigle, and C. Sandborn (2005), At a Watershed: Ecological Governance and Sustainable Water Management in Canada (Victoria: POLIS Project on Ecological Governance, University of Victoria, May), p. iv. 7 de Loë, R. (2008), Toward a Canadian National Water Strategy: Final Report, prepared for the Canadian Water Resources Association (Guelph, Ontario: Rob de Loë Consulting Services). See also Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (2010), Redefning Conservation. 8 Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (2007), Rouge River Watershed Plan: Towards a Healthy and Sustainable Future, Report of the Rouge Watershed Task Force (Toronto, Ontario). 9 Credit Valley Conservation (2007), Credit River Water Management Strategy Update (Mississauga, Ontario). 10 Brandes, O.M., and D. B. Brooks (2006), The Soft Path for Water: A Social Approach to the Physical Problem of Achieving Sustainable Water Management, Horizons 9(1):71-74. 11 Banting, D., H. Doshi, J. Li, P. Missios, A. Au, B.A. Currie, and M. Verrati (2005), Report on the Environmental Benefits and Costs of Green Roof Technology for the City of Toronto, prepared for City of Toronto and Ontario Centres of Excellence – Earth and Environmental Technologies, (Toronto, Ontario: Ryerson University). 12 Marbek (2010), Assessing the Economic Value of Protecting the Great Lakes: Rouge River Case Study for Nutrient Reduction and Nearshore Health Protection, submitted to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (Ottawa, Ontario). 13 Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (2005), “Sustainable technologies evaluation program: Water/land component,” discussion paper (Toronto, Ontario). 14 Deloitte & Touche and Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance (2009), The Impact of Ornamental Horticulture on Canada’s Economy. 15 Testimony of Benjamin H. Grumbles, Assistant Administrator for Water U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, before the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation Committee on Science and Technology, United States House of Representatives, May 10, 2007. 16 United States Environmental Protection Agency (2009), Green Jobs Training: A Catalogue of Training Opportunities for Green Infrastructure Technologies, Managing Wet Weather with Green Infrastructure.


ONE WATER : Supporting Watershed Management and Green Infrastructure in Ontario Policy  

This report documents how green infrastructure, when managed at the watershed scale, can ensure sustainable water resources for current and...