|ED GAZENDAM, P.Eng.
Water Resources Engineer,
Watershed Resources Planning Section,
Grand River Conservation Authority
|GUS RUNGIS, P.Eng.
Senior Water Resources Engineer,
Watershed Resources Planning Section,
Grand River Conservation Authority
Senior Resource Planner,
Planning And Resource Coordination Section,
Grand River Conservation Authority
The Conservation Authorities Act allowed for the formation of Conservation Authorities by municipalities within a watershed. Support would be shared by the member municipalities and the Province of Ontario through the Ministry of Natural Resources. Under the terms of the Act, the Grand Valley Conservation Authority was formed in 1948 and later amalgamated with the Grand River Conservation Commission in 1966 to establish the existing Grand River Conservation Authority. The broad goal and objectives of all Conservation Authorities is to conserve, restore, develop and manage the natural resources of the Watershed other than gas, oil, coal and minerals.
Through partnerships with its member municipalities, the Province and other agencies and groups, the Grand River Conservation Authority has facilitated, coordinated and managed a wide range of programs and projects and has played an essential role in promoting public conservation awareness since its inception. Increasing demands on water and other natural systems have led to the realization that more comprehensive and coordinated practices that preserve and restore diversity and sustainability of the watershed are imperative. Erosion and Flood Control continue to be the primary focus. The Authority operates seven major dams to reduce flooding in downstream communities but also to augment low flows during the summer months.
To-day the core programs of the Grand River Conservation Authority include construction of local erosion control and flood control projects, rehabilitation of local streams and ponds, an extensive flood warning system, flood plain management including the regulation and restriction of new development within the flood plain, preservation of wetlands and watershed planning.
Given the size of the Grand River Watershed this has been quite an undertaking. The Grand River Watershed has a drainage area of 6,800 square kilometres and contains the largest inland river system in Southern Ontario. The watershed supports a population approaching 700,000. The Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, Guelph Area, located in the central portion of the watershed and known as Canada's Technology Triangle, is considered one of the fastest growing areas in Canada. In order to plan effectively for this increasing development we must understand the characteristics and inter-relationships of the natural resources within a drainage basin. Appropriate development areas can then be identified and measures established to prevent adverse impacts upon the natural systems.
Watershed planning and land use planning consider the same environmental issues but from differing viewpoints and differing levels of detail. A land use planning decision for a site specific development can influence many watershed management and land use planning issues. The input of environmental objectives and management recommendations to the land use planning process at appropriate stages should promote informed decision making, which will in turn lead to greater efficiency and effectiveness of both processes. Watershed and subwatershed studies do not determine land use; instead these plans establish constraints, opportunities and approaches for input into land use planning decisions. It is the purpose of the watershed/subwatershed plan to identify areas of concern and requirements for additional study at latter stages in the planning process.
Watershed/subwatershed studies have evolved over time from simple assessments which focus on remediating existing environmental problems to more complex multi-disciplinary studies which focus on protecting and enhancing the environment. Figure 1 illustrates the evolution of Subwatershed planning from Master Drainage Plans, generally focusing on drainage and Stormwater Management solutions to fully integrated environmental protection Subwatershed Plans.
Given that Conservation Authorities are the only agencies in Ontario with surface water drainage boundaries, they are particularly well suited to coordinating watershed management activities including watershed planning.
One of the first Subwatershed studies within Regional Municipality of Waterloo was the Strasburg Creek Master Watershed Plan. Towards the end of the development of this plan, and in part at the initiation of the Steering Committee of the Strasburg Creek Master Watershed Plan, an ``ad hoc" Watershed Master Plan Committee was struck.
This Committee, which continues today, consists of senior agency resource planners, consultants, and developers from within the Regional Municipality of Waterloo. The role of the Committee shifted from steering the Strasburg Creek Master Watershed Plan to identifying priorities for planning future Watershed and Subwatershed Plans within the Regional Municipality of Waterloo. Recognizing the importance of Subwatershed planning and also a lack of resources to complete all the work at once, a watershed prioritization process was initiated. Criteria included development pressure, resource significance, environmental sensitivity, flood hazard, and also lead agency responsibility (local, regional, provincial).
To-date approximately a dozen watershed/subwatershed plans have been completed or are in progress. The priority list for watershed planning extends beyond the boundaries of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo to include all areas within the Grand River basin. The schedule for watershed/subwatershed plan development is influenced by budget constraints and hence extends well into the next century.
Integrated Resource management is carried out at various levels of scale and detail. The Laurel Creek Watershed Study set the context and framework at an overview scale for further planning exercises at the more detailed level. These include the Laurel Subwatershed Plans, District Plans, Environmental Assessments for infrastructure, and finally draft plans of subdivisions. Targets which were designed within the framework of the Watershed Study, are implemented in these more detailed planning and design exercises. Targets established during the Laurel Creek Watershed Study provided guidance for water quality and quantity control criteria to be used in the design of urban areas, (see Appendix A of the Laurel Creek Watershed Report). These targets included:
In particular, the Grand River Conservation Authority Stormwater Management Policy has been in effect since 1982. This document detailed the objectives of the Authority in 1982. These objectives, i.e.: watershed planning, flood control, water quality, groundwater recharge, natural channel design techniques, and public education, among others, are still current and applicable today.
The Provincial document entitled "Stormwater Management Practices Planning and Design Manual" (Ministry of Environment and Energy, June 1994) was prepared to provide a holistic approach to Stormwater management, beginning at the watershed and subwatershed level and extending to the subdivision and site plan level. This document provides technical guidance to the designer and the reviewer with respect to Best Management Practices (BMPs), such as wet ponds, wetlands, typical dry extended detention ponds, and infiltration facilities. The manual also describes a methodology (or erosion impulse) for assessing erosion impacts on receiving streams. This aspect of the manual is currently under review by a technical committee.
Recently, the City of Kitchener initiated a review of their Stormwater management guidelines. Representatives from all municipalities within the Regional Municipality of Waterloo in addition to staff from the City of Guelph and the Grand River Conservation Authority, were participants in this review. The result has been a design document for Stormwater management facilities which has been accepted, or is currently in the process of being accepted, by the member municipalities. The final document follows the design guidelines presented in the Ministry of Environment and Energy (1994) Planning and Design Manual and will provide a consistent storm water management approach among the various municipalities which is supported by the development industry.
Agency representatives will be meeting soon to discuss an interim stewardship strategy and possibly prepare an educational brochure. In the meantime the stakeholders are encouraged to develop interim stewardship guidelines with emphasis on land owners and tenant farmers implementing agricultural Best Management Practices.
There are many sites in the watershed where landowners, individuals and community groups could carry out projects to enhance buffers prior to development taking place. Trees could be planted, temporary construction control fences could be erected, and plantations could be thinned to improve the buffering capacity of buffer strips and lands adjacent to trails or sites of future trails. The landowners are encouraged to work with the municipalities, agencies and other stakeholders to take advantage of opportunities to enhance buffers and potentially reduce buffer widths in exchange for buffer quality.
There has been very little response to the existing financial incentives to improve farming practices and enhance wildlife habitat within the Beaver Creek sub-basin, a tributary of Laurel Creek. This is largely due to the number non-farm landowners within the sub-basin who are holding the lands for future development. These landowners often rent their land to farmers and often are not aware of the best management practices that should be implemented to reduce erosion and improve habitat. Consequently there is no investment in erosion control or stream buffers in these areas.
Despite the low response, the program has provided a great deal of information to landowners and some projects have been implemented. Several buffer strips and stream rehabilitation projects have been established. The Conservation Authority is planning to survey landowners in the watershed to determine their attitudes toward the program and reasons for not participating. This should also help to define some of the issues. Unfortunately this program is scheduled to terminate in March 1997.
The Grand River Conservation Authority is actively involved with the City of Waterloo, the University of Waterloo, and the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, among others, in creating such a monitoring program. At this time this group is in the process of completing a draft report of the Watershed Monitoring Program. This team effort is being coordinated by the City of Waterloo.
In addition, sediment concentrations may provide estimates of other pollutant loadings since many pollutants adhere to sediment particles. The sediment concentration target specified for the Laurel Creek watershed is 25 mg/L based on event mean concentrations and flow proportional sampling.
Stream management is a multi-disciplinary approach and utilizes a variety of tools. These tools include flood plain management, vegetative buffers, runoff controls, sediment controls, rehabilitation of degraded stream sections, groundwater protection, land use planning, land stewardship, and volunteerism.
The Mission Statement of the Laurel Creek Watershed Study was "to achieve sustainable development which is aimed at maximizing benefits to the natural and human environments on a watershed basis." Utilizing stream management tools and implementing the Laurel Creek Watershed Study targets and monitoring programs will maintain, or perhaps even improve, the health of the watershed. The key to achieving sustainable development is the implementation of an ecosystem approach.
Grand River Conservation Authority. 1992. Current programs and activities of the grand river conservation authority 1991/1992. GRCA, Cambridge, Ontario.
Grand River Conservation Authority. 1993. Laurel creek watershed study. GRCA, Cambridge, Ontario.
Ministry of Natural Resources. June 1994. Natural channel systems: an approach to management and design. Ministry of natural Resources. Toronto, Ontario.
Riley, J.L. and P. Mohr. 1994. The natural heritage of southern Ontario’s settled landscapes: a review of conservation and restoration ecology for land-use and landscape planning. Ministry of Natural Resources, Southern Region. Aurora, Ontario.