Farmers are integral partners in managing the natural environment. They rely on the air, soil and water to conduct their business, and as such, have a vested interest in the sustainability of these resources. Because of the nature of agriculture in Ontario, and the fact that farmers interact intimately with the natural environment on a daily basis, an agricultural perspective to water resource management is critical.
Access to a reliable water supply with appropriate quality and quantity is essential to agriculture and ensuring that future water resources are not compromised is important. Farmers continue to demonstrate their stewardship of the water through ongoing development and implementation of Best Management Practices (BMP) and risk mitigation tools, exhibiting continual improvement as the science and knowledge base changes.
Successful agriculture is based upon encouraging conditions that allow plants and animals to thrive. A critical element of those conditions is an adequate supply of water. Agriculture requires access to supplemental sources of water given our natural rainfall can be variable. For crop agriculture this supplemental supply comes in the form of irrigation. For animal based production a groundwater or surface water source is either directly opened to animals or water is pumped from these sources to the animals. The presence of a reliable water supply with appropriate quality and quantity is essential to agriculture and we want to ensure that future water resources are not compromised.
Guiding Principles for Water-Related Policies and Programs
1. Based on best available science
Legislation and regulations regarding water-related policies must be based on the best available science at the time, not based on speculation or assumptions. Achieving zero-risk to water quality is not achievable. However, risks to water quality can be adequately and appropriately mitigated by applying the best available science to a situation.
2. A degree of consistency across the province, and with other jurisdictions
Ontario businesses must not be placed in a position where they are at a competitive disadvantage with their competitors in nearby jurisdictions as a result of Ontario implementing rigorous laws that far exceed surrounding areas. This is also true for different regions or areas within Ontario.
3. Use existing tools wherever possible to avoid duplication and minimize costs to the farmer
All water-related programs should be linked in some clear and concise manner. Otherwise, it will become too convoluted and difficult for citizens to follow; almost guaranteeing apathy and therefore sure failure of the initiatives
Voluntary programs and education outreach goes much further in the agricultural community than mandatory, regulatory approaches. The agricultural sector supports voluntary stewardship and sustainability initiatives. This sector has a proven success rate in delivering environmental stewardship and sustainability programs. OFA advocates additional resources be provided to these proven delivery methods.
4. Any regulatory impacts that mandate changes on farms beyond normal farm practices, with the goal of protecting the natural environment but do not provide benefits to the agricultural operation, must receive compensation.
OFA advocates for the voluntary use of agricultural BMPs and stewardship programs to ensure that productive farmland is not lost from production, while still working towards the protection of the water. If productive farmland is lost as a result of water protection, then farmers must be compensated for this loss.
Municipal Drinking Water / Source Water Protection
Ensuring safe municipal drinking water is a shared responsibility among all sectors of society. Everyone has a role, including the agricultural sector. Our municipal drinking water sources need to be protected at many different points – from the water sources; to the siting and security of the well; to water treatment and even the emergency protocols in case of contamination. All of these are equally important and need to be considered when looking at municipal drinking water sources.
The agricultural sector has an important role in the protection of municipal drinking water sources simply because of the large tracts of land that the sector manages and the important links between the land and water resources. However, farmers should not and cannot bare the sole responsibility for municipal drinking water protection. It is a shared resource and therefore a shared responsibility. Risks posed to drinking water sources by agricultural practices can be effectively managed and mitigated.
Siting Municipal Drinking Water Systems
Appropriate siting of municipal drinking water systems should be the fundamental component for any consideration regarding drinking water. The siting new municipal drinking water wells in highly vulnerable areas should be prohibited. Similar restrictions must be placed on developing Groundwater Under the Direct Influence of Surface Water (GUDI) wells. There should also be a focus on not only proper siting, but also proper installation and maintenance of municipal drinking water wells.
Permits to Take Water (PTTW)
The province’s current Permit to Take Water (PTTW) program regulates the taking and use of water by municipalities and industry across the province. A permit is required for circumstances that involve removing more than 50,000 litres of water per day from watershed or groundwater sources. However, a permit is not required for water being used directly to water livestock and poultry. Of all of the PTTW permits issued in the province, approximately 63% of them are issued for agricultural purposes.
Agricultural permit holders must be given priority in accessing water over manufacturing, bottling, aggregate and extraction operations. Agriculture does not have the luxury afforded to other industries to plan their activities around summer flow periods. The availability of irrigation water is as essential to production as the land they are grown on. Water required to save a crop, and consequently a farmer’s entire years income, must be given priority. Food production and its availability is an immediate necessity for the well-being of society. This guidance should be included in the PTTW manual.
The Ontario government must recognize its responsibility to determine the requirement of the ecosystem’s natural functions. This will make the determination consistent across the province, and eliminate biased conclusions from proponents and their consultants. Also, applicants should not be asked to provide MOE with information which already exists in MOE databases i.e. local well data, water budget data etc. Permit holders and applicants should have access to the ministerial data held, as water budgets are developed. But, information gaps should be funded by the government – not permit applicants. Understanding the resource is a benefit to all society and as such, information gathering and filling data gaps should be the responsibility of the government, not the permit applicant.
Low Water Response
OFA applauds the recognition of animal (livestock) water needs as an essential use during low water periods. Farm animals must receive the water they require. Other agricultural water uses must also be given a high priority for water access. An entire year’s income for a family can be lost if the crop does not receive adequate amount of water at critical times. This loss cannot be recovered in agriculture as it can in other industries (i.e. by adding extra shifts, etc.). Similarly, while Ontario Low Water Response (OLWR) may not be viewed as disaster relief, it must then serve as a trigger to the Ontario government to provide relief to farmers facing crop damage and decreased production because of drought conditions.
OFA believes it is essential for agriculture to have access to a reliable water supply with appropriate quality and quantity. OFA supports voluntary stewardship and sustainability initiatives to protect water sources. If productive farmland is lost as a result of water protection efforts, then OFA believes farmers should be compensated for this loss.
The Drainage Act establishes the process for one or more landowners to obtain an outlet for drainage waters, through the construction of a municipal drain. The ability to safely remove excess waters from one’s fields enables farmers to achieve higher crop yields while also reducing rutting and soil compaction.
Municipal drains are communal projects, benefiting and paid for by those farmers and rural property owners whose lands are served by the drain. Farmers and rural property owners petition their municipality for a drain. Their municipality appoints an engineer who meets with the landowners to learn their drainage needs. The engineer then develops plans to address the drainage needs, including a schedule to assign initial construction costs, as well as future maintenance, to the benefiting landowners. For lands assessed as “agricultural” for property tax purpose, OMAFRA provides grants to offset some of the costs of construction and future maintenance; ⅓ in Southern Ontario and ⅔ in Northern Ontario.
For municipalities with at least 1 municipal drain, OMAFRA provides a grant to offset some of the municipality’s costs in employing a Drainage Superintendent. The Drainage Superintendent is the municipal “manager” of the municipal drains, responsible for ensuring that they’re keep in a good state of repair. Farmers noticing problems with a municipal drain must contact the Drainage Superintendent. Individual landowners are not authorized to undertake any maintenance or repair work on a municipal drain.
Ontario has two other drainage-related statutes, the Tile Drainage Act and the Agricultural Tile Drainage Act.
The Tile Drainage Act provides fixed rate loans to farmers, through their local municipality, for on-farm tile drainage works. The Agricultural Tile Drainage Act licenses the tile drainage contractors, their employees and their tiling equipment.
For more information, visit OMAFRA’s drainage webpage.
Fish Habitat and Drain Maintenance
Municipal drains, constructed under Ontario’s Drainage Act, have legal status. One consequence of that “legal status” is that the municipality is responsible for ensuring that necessary maintenance and repairs to drains are done by the municipality.
Municipal drains are generally open ditches or buried pipes, constructed to improve the drainage of agricultural land by providing a safe outlet for field tiles. Waters collected and carried in municipal drains eventually discharge into rivers, streams, etc. Herein lies the basis for considering municipal drains as fish habitat. The federal Fisheries Act defines fish habitat as, “spawning grounds and any other areas, including nursery, rearing, food supply and migration areas, on which fish depend directly or indirectly in order to carry out their life processes.” Therefore, municipal drains are fish habitat, making them subject to the Act’s fish habitat protection provisions.
In addition, section 28 of Ontario’s Conservation Authorities Act empowers CAs to prohibit or regulate “interfering in any way with the existing channel of a creek, stream or watercourse” along with regulating development which includes “the temporary or permanent placing, dumping or removal of any material”. It’s a common drain maintenance practice to remove soil from the drain bottom or sides, and place it on the bank.
To enable municipalities to fulfill their legal obligations to maintain and repair municipal drains, while also complying with the relevant provisions of the Fisheries Act and /or the Conservation Authorities Act, drainage stakeholders have developed a number of tools.
Municipal drains have been classified based on flow (permanent or intermittent), water temperature (warm, cool or cold) and sensitive fish species present. There are 6 classes; A, B, C, D, E and F. Type F drains are intermittent, meaning they dry up for more than 2 consecutive months. Maintenance on these is the easiest; wait until its dry, do the necessary maintenance, control downstream soil movement and stabilize any disturbed banks. Types D and E have permanent flow and sensitive fish species. Maintenance on these drains requires a specific authorization from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. For type A, B or C drains, some routine maintenance activities, brushing side slopes, cleaning the bottom of the drain or debris removal are sanctioned.
The Drainage Act and Section 28 [Conservation Authorities Act] Regulations Team (DART) was formed in 2008 under a directive from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to propose solutions to the legal liability issues facing municipalities and conservation authorities arising from conflicting provisions in the Drainage Act and the Conservation Authorities Act.
DART representatives include MNRF, OMAFRA, Conservation Ontario, conservation authorities, Drainage Superintendents, Drainage Engineers, ROMA and OFA.
Under the Drainage Act, municipalities have a statutory obligation to repair and maintain municipal drains, in accordance with their original design specifications. These design specifications are found in the Engineer’s Report, which was adopted by municipal by-law, giving the drain its legal status.
Section 28 of the Conservation Authorities Act gives CAs regulatory powers over activities adjacent to watercourses (including drains) and to require permits for these works.
DART developed a series of Standard Compliance Requirements for the following common maintenance and repair activities, which act as stand-alone permissions;
- brushing of bank slope
- brushing of top of bank
- debris removal and beaver dam removal
- spot cleanout
- culvert replacement
- bank repair or stabilization and pipe outlet repair
- dyke maintenance and repair
- water control structure maintenance and repair
- pump station maintenance and repair
- bottom only cleanout
- bottom cleanout plus one bank slope
- full cleanout
The following Standard Compliance Requirements apply within regulated wetland limits (for cases where permits are not required);
- bottom only cleanout
- bottom cleanout plus one side slope
- full cleanout
For more information, read the DART protocol document here.
For additional resources:
Department of Fisheries and Oceans: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/pnw-ppe/index-eng.html
OMAFRA (drainage): http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/landuse/drainage.htm