Ontario cuts payments to conservation authority flood management by half

Conservation authorities in Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent have heard from the province that they will receive only 50 per cent of what they used to get for flood management programs.

‘I think it’s maybe a little near-sighted,’ says Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority

In February, Chatham-Kent saw flooding when the Thames River levels significantly rose because of an ice jam. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

A day after the PCs tabled their first budget, the government notified conservation authorities that the province will be reducing payments to flood management programs by half.

Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) is losing around $100,000 and the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority (LTVCA) is losing about $76,000.

That money would have gone to programs that deal with flood warnings, flood response and floodplain management.

"The program is under-resourced in the beginning," said Richard Wyma, general manager at ERCA.

High water levels on Lake Erie have resulted in more flood messages in 2018. (Frank J. Shepley)

The program at ERCA is matched by municipal funding, totaling around $404,000. The province contribution is reducing from $202,000 to just over $100,000.

Wyma said the provincial payouts to this municipally matched program hasn't seen an increase in funding for decades. According to Wyma, payments used to be a lot higher before they were cut in 1996.

In a statement to CBC News, the director of communications with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said the province is doing a public consultation for 45 days on how conservation authorities can improve service delivery.

Justine Lewkowicz wrote that the province also plans to update the Conservation Authorities Act.

"Ontario's current fiscal challenge requires public sector organizations at all levels to find ways to make government spending more effective and efficient," said Lewkowicz. 

ERCA will be looking internally to see how to continue to fund that program, without cutting flood management services, or going to municipalities to make up the difference, Wyma explained.

'Near-sighted' decision

At LTVCA, chief administrative officer and secretary treasurer Mark Peacock said the flood management program is more than just flood response, but ensuring the community is resilient against floods before anything happens.

He understands the province has some financial challenges, but he doesn't agree with the province's move to cut funding from environment-related programs.

"I think it's maybe a little near-sighted," said Peacock.

According to Lewkowicz, in general, less than 10 per cent of funding for conservation authorities come from the province.

However,  for Peacock, conservation authorities are small line items on the provincial budget and cutting from that doesn't send a good message to the public.

He said smaller conservation authorities will take this 50 per cent hit harder than larger ones with multi-million dollar budgets.

There were strong winds on Lake Erie this past weekend after the province announced cuts to conservation authority funding. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

LTVCA is a medium-sized organization and should be able to adjust, said Peacock, but it seems like it may go over budget this year because of the work staff have put in early this year.

"We need to be doing work on dikes and dams and flood warning and all those things. We can't step back from that responsibility," said Peacock.

For now people don't need to be too concerned, said Peacock, but he expects the conservation authority to be hit again financially.

"I think people should be concerned if more cuts happen."

With files from Robin Brown and Sonya Varma


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