Tag Archives: Grand River Conservation Authority

Take Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot: Ford Government Taking Away the Science of Conservation Authorities.

The rural neighbours complained about the property. Fill from a road project was filling up parts of the owner’s property. It caused water problems for the neighbour’s land. A bulldozer was destroying a wetland that drained into a tributary of Cedar Creek and then onto the Grand River. https://www.exchangemagazine.com/morningpost/2011/week40/Monday/100304.htm

In one of the few cases prosecuted by the GRCA, the owner was fined $10,000 and made to clean up the fill. This was a long and drawn out case. The owner hired a lawyer associated with a group who feel they can do what ever they want on the land they own. This is a similar philosophy to the anti-maskers.

A few years ago, a GRCA staffer did a study for an advanced degree. She looked at flood damage in a similar river system in the United States that did not have the Ontario rules and regulations that restrict building on flood plains and inside flood lines. The GRCA looks after flooding along the Grand and its tributaries. People complain about the restrictions, saying in this time of climate change, “It has never flooded here.” The study found that the system that allowed building suffered millions of dollars of damage, GRCA lands had very few problems. Some floods on the Grand do cause damage, but this is mostly to properties that were already in flood prone areas before Hurricane Hazel in the 1950s. The flooding caused by Hurricane Hazel is the bar for flood control in Ontario.

Conservative governments in Ontario don’t seem to like conservation authorities, which is odd since the original GRCA was founded by business owners disgusted with the state of the river. In the mid 1990s, conservation authorities were mostly funded by the province. The conservative Harris government took that money away and many GRCA staffers were laid off. The GRCA turned to the municipalities with a levy that funds the dams and flood control. Permit fees cover the work of dealing with building and property concerns. The GRCA works with property owners, developers and municipalities, using science, to keep our watershed and ground water safe and available and to prevent flood and drought damage.

While the present conservative Ford government has made a few good last minute changes to schedule 6 of bill 229, thank you, there are still some pressing problems with it. The association of large municipalities and many others have asked that schedule 6 be removed from a bill dealing with COVID relief. David Crombie, a Conservative and former federal cabinet minister, resigned as the Chair of the Greenbelt Council in protest over any changes to the present Conservation Authorities Act. He says schedule 6 will cut environmental protections in the province.

Schedule 6 will strip powers from local conservation authorities and expand ministerial authority on zoning and other potentially sensitive environmental issues. A conservation authority must now allow a development if the province issues a minister’s zoning order. The minister’s zoning order will bypass public input and force a zoning change. The conservation authority must allow the development but can include conditions. These conditions can be appealed by the permission holder. The conservation authority and the permission holder must enter into an agreement for requirements that the holder must complete to compensate for ecological impacts. This would mean that the owner dumping fill from a provincial road project on his property would just pay money to continue if the minister felt what he was doing was fine, despite the objections of the GRCA.

Apparently this change is due to the objections of the Toronto Conservation Authority to a development project that would destroy an important wetland. In a pro-development government with a minister who has been openly hostile to conservation authorities, this is a disaster.

The good news if this change goes forward, is that in a democracy, governments and government ministers inevitably change. It always amazes me how the government of the day seems to think they will always be in power. Imagine a future where the minister’s zoning order is controlled by a member of the Green Party.

However, this is a power that is not necessary. Conservation Authorities and municipalities are at the forefront of scientific environmental protection. Schedule 6 should be abandoned.

For more information on the Grand River Conservation Authority, the Region of Waterloo and environmental protection, read my paper presented to the International Making Cities Liveable Conference here: https://wordpress.com/post/janemitchell.blog/1943

A good summary of this situation is outlined in an article by Leah Gerber in The Record on Fri. Dec 4. https://www.therecord.com/news/waterloo-region/2020/12/04/province-reveals-last-minute-changes-to-the-conservation-authorities-act.html

Sadly, Schedule 6 has been passed and our wetlands and sensitive environmental areas are at risk.

The Top Ten Reasons You Should Support the Grand River Conservation Authority

  1. Permits and regulations that stop you from building where it floods or erodes.
  2. Recreation. Trout fishing and canoeing on the Grand River. Camping, picnicking, running a race in the conservation areas.
  3. The GRCA helps mitigate climate change by updating the limits of flooding on flood plain maps.
  4. The Rural Water Quality Program and Sewage Treatment Plant Optimization Program reduce the amount of phosphates and nitrites going into the Grand and its tributaries, preventing algae blooms in Lake Erie.
  5. The osprey nest web cam at Belwood Lake. Return of vanished animals and plants to the river.
  6. The new Water Management Plan that tackles future population growth, continuing intensive agriculture and climate change.
  7. Educating children through the Water Festivals in Haldimand, Brant and Waterloo-Wellington. School visits to our nature centres.
  8. Dams that stop the Grand and its tributaries from flooding and release water when the rivers are low. Turbines that produce renewable hydro-electric power.
  9. The Grand has gone from being a sewer in the 1930s to an award winning Heritage River today that won the Thiess International Riverprize for one of the best managed rivers in the world.
  10. A healthy watershed inheritance for our children and grandchildren, down to the seventh generation.

You can find the osprey web cam, camping site registration, and current river flows, among other things, here: www.grandriver.ca.

You can like the GRCA on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/grandriverconservation

Dams and Dykes More Important with Climate Change

Sometimes it seems like those of us who deal with climate change are shouting, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling. We must run and tell the King!”

The reality is, the sky is falling. In the form of increased, localized rain storms. We had one just this past week. These storms are becoming more frequent as the ice caps melt and the planet warms. The water must go somewhere and part of somewhere is the atmosphere. Climate change is complicated. It can lead to more rain and more drought. We need to look beyond one cold winter and spring to the trends going back one hundred years.

In the 1900s, Niagara Falls froze and people would go out onto an ice hill below the falls. The falls froze partially this past winter for the first time in many years but that doesn’t mean that climate change isn’t happening. Our memories of the weather in past years are very fallible and it is fortunate that the staff at the GRCA keep accurate statistics on the river.

This spring, the Grand River dodged a bullet. The cold winter meant a snow pack two to three times higher than usual. Combined with a lot of rain and ice jams, the spring melt would have meant flooding much worse than the 1974 flood in Cambridge. Fortunately a slow melt of warm days and cool nights and warmish weather and cold spells (perfect maple syrup weather), meant everything went well. The reservoirs were full at one point but the experts at the GRCA made sure it was properly released.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the great flood of May 1974. Since that time, as outlined in the May 17th, Waterloo Region Record article, stopping flooding is a full time job at the GRCA. It should be pointed out that the Galt flood happened after the spring melt and was caused by a half month’s worth of rain falling on already sodden ground. Sounds a lot like this May. We can only hope to dodge another bullet.

Since that time, dykes and the river wall by the School of Architecture plus vigilant work at the Grand River dams, have prevented severe flooding in Waterloo Region. On December 28, 2008, it is estimated that without the reservoirs, the flow of the Grand River in Cambridge (Galt) would have reached the flow  at Galt during the 1974 flood.

This leads me to point out that, other than transit, the three main parties in this election are silent on Climate Change.

The GRCA recently got grants from the province to pay for half the cost of fixing the dykes in Cambridge. However, the program the money came from, the Water and Erosion Control Infrastructure Program, was recently cut back, though the province has said they will return the funds next year.

Conservation Ontario’s flood business case highlights needed investments in aging infrastructure, Conservation Authority flood operations, floodplain mapping and asset management strategies.

Conservation Ontario and the GRCA have been lobbying the opposition parties and the present government about the importance of conservation authorities for a number of years. Hopefully all parties will understand the importance of preserving dykes and dams in a time of climate change.

Useful Links

 GRCA website


May 1974 Flood

The Record article,

Youtube part one

Youtube part 2

One Day in May

Climate Change

Arctic ice is shrinking

new report shows that the Antarctic glaciers are calving.

into the atmosphere. As the temperature increases, more moisture is absorbed.

Climate change denied

Niagara Falls 2014

Niagara Falls 1900

Watch Out for that Flood!

One of the main jobs of the Grand River Conservation Authority is flood control. Two major events helped create the GRCA we know today, Hurricane Hazel and the Cambridge flood of 1974. Here’s some great footage from Youtube of the 1974 flood.

Since that time, dikes and dams have been built to stop the flooding. Here’s a picture of the river in Galt in 2008.


 The GRCA also stopped people from building on the flood plain and requires permits for anything built in an area that might be flooded in a 100 year flood.  There is also a flood warning and forecasting system.

Today I attended the flood coordinator’s meeting of the people including police, fire, GRCA, and municipal who receive the fan out of a flood warning for areas like New Hamburg, Ayr, and Dunnville. Dunnville ended up with a flood in 2009 due to an ice jam that ran right up the river, for kilometers. the ice breaker Griffin was able to dislodge some of the ice and help reduce the flooding

It was timely to hear how flood warnings go out, as we are now in the middle of a thaw of the large amount of snow accumulated over the last few weeks combined with rain. The icebreaker, Griffin, is heading to the mouth of Lake Erie to break up an ice jam again. With climate change, we must be ready for 100 year floods that now come every few years.

Here is a video shown at the coordinator’s meeting from the floods in Australia. It was pointed out that we have had sudden large amounts of rain in the watershed and this could happen here.

After the meeting, one of the staff commented to me, “This is why we need permits, even for parking lots.”

I’m Chair of the Grand River Conservation Authority!

Just elected Chair of the Grand River Conservation Authority. But what is the GRCA, you ask and what does it do?

Here is the answer right from the website: “The Grand River flows 300 kilometres through southwestern Ontario from the highlands of Dufferin County to Port Maitland on Lake Erie.

The Grand River Conservation Authority manages water and other natural resources on behalf of 38 municipalities and close to one million residents.”

If you live in Southern Ontario you may know the GRCA best through it’s many parks such as Elora, Pinehurst, Rockwood and Byng Island. World wide you may know of it through its world class fly fishing.

http://www.grandriver.ca  A great website that includes realtime water flows.

Here are some of the issues facing the GRCA, that I raised during my acceptance speech.

The GRCA is a Canadian Heritage River and won the Theiss Riverprize as one of the best managed watersheds in the world. We have excellent staff who work hard with limited resources to keep our river system sound.

The health of our river system both in water quantity and quality is a pressing issue as we prepare for the effects of climate change and population growth.

Staff and stakeholders are presently working on the Grand River Watershed Management Plan and  Source Water Protection is moving ahead. We must remain vigilant that it includes a strong mandate to improve the health and safety of our river system. 

Climate change, as we can see from other places in the world, should concern us all. We need to make sure our governments understand the dangers of ignoring our infrastructure of  dams and flood controls. Population growth means more sewage with its problems. 

The next four years will bring continuing concerns about our budget .  We need more money from other levels of government as well as a hard look at our own budget.  We cannot protect the watershed without a viable budget.

The GRCA is now on Twitter and Facebook and we have many publications and contacts with the media. But more needs to be done to raise our profile and get our residents to understand the importance of the river  and our environment and the importance of our expensive water and wastewater systems. I have attended meetings on water with my constituents and have had to remind them that the Grand River is not the polluted river of the past.  One of the ways we can do this is by involving the public in our Strategic Planning Process.

Our Strategic planning process is key for the next four years. To simply lower or raise our budget is not enough. We need to have defined goals and objectives for the watershed, then a plan to fund it.  Not only do we need to hear from staff, board members, the public and stakeholders but we also must have ways of reporting back and measuring our success in meeting our outcomes. I have several ideas on how this may be done, as I know many of you do also.

Together we can keep the GRCA one of the best managed watersheds in the world.