Bill 198 – Will It Drive Georgian Bay Water Levels Even Lower?

Bill 198 – Will It Drive Georgian Bay Water Levels Even Lower?
By Judith Grant

Recently, the Ontario government introduced Bill 198, the basis for the legislation needed to support the Great Lakes-St Lawrence Sustainable Water Resources Agreement among Ontario, Quebec and the eight American Great Lakes states.

Bill 198 is long and complex, but one aspect of it is of particular importance to the health of Georgian Bay. The main body of the Bill takes a firm stand against diversions of water out of the Great Lakes basin and between Great Lakes watersheds, as the Agreement was supposed to achieve. This is important since several cities in the Lake Erie and Lake Ontario watersheds already want to pipe water from Georgian Bay or Lake Huron to serve their communities’ water needs. Some dry areas of the USA are also casting covetous eyes on Great Lakes water.

But, unfortunately, one clause – 34.6 (1) – in the Bill as presently drafted allows huge exceptions to this principle of no inter- watershed diversions. And these have the potential to lower the already low level of Georgian Bay.

We would be reassured if clause 34.6 (1) stopped at point (a). For then it would read:

Water transfers: Great Lakes watersheds
34.6 (1) A permit shall not be issued or amended under section 34.1 so as to authorize the taking of water from a Great Lakes watershed if,
(a) any of the water would be transferred [ie diverted to another watershed].

Unfortunately, that clause goes on to list a series of Exceptions which allow “transfers”. The key one is that a transfer is permitted if it “is always less than 19 MILLION LITRES, or the lower amount prescribed by the regulations, PER DAY.” [Capitals added.]

For example, we have learned that York Region has plans underway to draw water from the Lake Simcoe-Georgian Bay watershed to serve more development in the northern parts of the Region and pipe the sewage effluent out of the watershed to a treatment plant on Lake Ontario. York Region views its sewage pipe as conforming to the Exceptions provision.

We are appalled at such a precedent, which raises the prospect of a series of applications meeting the Exceptions criteria. For then, the water levels in Georgian Bay and Lake Huron would surely fall, as massive volumes of water were piped down to other watersheds.

Bill 198 has already had first and second reading. Enough concerns were raised during the Legislature’s discussion during second reading, that the Bill was referred to Committee for consideration, and members of the public were able to raise their concerns to the Committee.

FoTTSA and the Georgian Bay Association both made presentations on May 9. Public input is to be reviewed and decisions made about changes on May 16, after which the Bill will return to the Legislature for the final vote.

We urge you contact your Ontario MPP – especially if he/she is a Liberal – to let your views be known about the Exceptions written into clause 34.6 (1) of Bill 198.