Let’s Not Forget About Our Wetlands

Do you remember when Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, was passed in Ontario in 2022? City Council recently examined the bill’s implications in regard to wetlands.

To get you up to speed on the bill’s contents, the More Homes Built Faster Act was enacted by the Ford government in November of 2022. It is a part of the provincial government’s Housing Supply Action Plan, which proposes to build 1.5 million homes by 2032. 

In the middle of a housing crisis, the prospect of building homes faster seems like a positive step forward, but Bill 23 cut several crucial environmental corners. (Image: Stittsville wetlands. Credit: Jessie Lozanski, Stittsville Central.)

 

Shortly after Bill 23 was first announced, Ottawa’s City Council released a series of memos on the provincial legislation and related projects stating that it does not support the proposed (now legislated) removal of wetland complexes or the inability to revaluate existing complexes. 

Ontario’s wetlands will be affected by Bill 23. Site plan control, the development review process that regulates major developments, is now limited to lots with more than ten units. 

Waterfront development almost entirely consists of units of less than ten. Shorelands and freshwater areas are, therefore, less protected.

Wetlands are also less likely to gain protective status as “Provincially Significant Wetlands” (PSW) through the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System (OWES) because Bill 23’s evaluation criteria do not recognize wetlands as groups/complexes (wetlands less than 750 metres apart). Instead, wetlands are now evaluated individually, greatly reducing the chance of gaining protective status because smaller wetlands struggle to meet evaluation criteria (e.g., biodiversity, species at risk, groundwater storage, flood prevention, water quality protection, and recreation).

The topic of wetland protections was most recently addressed by Councillor Gower, who made an inquiry to staff as to how the changes to OWES affect Ottawa. City staff intend to mitigate the impact of the new amendments made to OWES by requiring the conservation of wetlands included in the Natural Heritage System (NHS), a system of core natural areas and linkages designated by the city. According to staff, almost all of Ottawa’s existing significant wetlands fall within the Natural Heritage System core areas. Council also created a new Natural Heritage Planner position focused on wetland conservation, restoration, and enhancement. (Image: The endangered Blanding’s turtle. Credit: Sylvie Sabourin/Ontario Nature.)

 

Despite the integration of the NHS, wetland re-evaluations in Ottawa have resulted in several smaller wetlands losing significant status under the Provincial Policy Statement, according to the report made in response to Councillor Gower’s inquiry. Meanwhile, the number of wetlands evaluated as significant has increased overall since changes were made to OWES.

The elimination of wetlands can cause erosion, biodiversity loss and exacerbate local flooding, something Ottawa is no stranger to. A lack of regulation affects the city’s ability to impose stormwater management requirements to control the quantity and quality of surface runoff, manage flooding and erosion impacts, and the retention of natural heritage features, putting a greater strain on programs like Rain Ready Ottawa.   

While the City has implemented measures to mitigate the effects of Bill 23, the momentum to protect Ottawa’s wetlands cannot cease because the consequences of the destruction of wetlands are dangerous and costly.

Grace McGrenere is a freelance journalist, content writer and volunteer for Council Watch. 

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