Under the Constitution Act (1867), the provinces are responsible for the day-to-day management of waters within their boundaries.
Provincial legislative powers include, but are not restricted to, areas of:
- water levels and flows regulation;
- authorization of water use development;
- water supply;
- pollution control;
- natural hazards; and
- thermal and waterpower development.
Provincial governments are also responsible for
- providing safe drinking water;
- overseeing municipal water and sewer infrastructure; and
- operating and maintaining major irrigation projects.
The provinces also own and operate or license most water development and control projects (e.g., dams). They may also delegate some water resource management functions to local authorities that may be responsible for a particular area or river basin (i.e., Conservation Authorities).
There are some areas of shared federal-provincial responsibility. These include:
- significant national water issues; and
Within the Ontario government two Ministries with significant responsibilities for management of water resources are the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) and the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).
Water management activities also rely on collaborative partnerships with other Ministries including:
- Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH);
- Public Infrastructure and Renewal (PIR);
- Northern Development and Mining (MNDM);
- Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (OMFRA);
- Economic Development and Trade (MEDT); and
- Energy (ENE).
In the context of water, the MOE aims to protect our drinking water and fresh water resources from pollution, from industrial sources, sewage systems, chemicals in use at farms, or any other source – even rainwater containing particulates from polluted air. MOE also actively participates in helping maintain sustainable water supplies by administering the Permit to Take Water Program (PTTW).
The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) strives to maintain a healthy environment that is naturally diverse and supports a high quality of life for the people of Ontario through sustainable development of natural resources, including water.
The MNR mission is to manage our natural resources in an ecologically sustainable way to ensure that they are available for the enjoyment and use of future generations.
In support of this, the Lands and Waters Branch, Water Resources Section is guided by the following four key objectives:
1) to ensure that Ontario’s surface waters and their hydrological functions are sustained through integrated and sustainable management;
2) to support the development of healthy local, regional and provincial economies, and human communities through sustainable use of the Province's water resources;
3) to protect for protecting life, public health, property and natural resources from water-related hazards (e.g., floods, droughts and erosion); and,
4) to safeguard Ontario's interests on shared boundary waters, including the Great Lakes, and to contribute to their sustainable use and management.
The Water Resources Section accomplished these objectives through:
- ensuring a watershed approach to planning and resource management by transferring expertise through guidelines and legislative tools, and a strong working relationship with Conservation Authorities;
- building the capacity of municipalities and other partners to take on legislated or otherwise mandated resource management such as the development and distribution of shoreline, stream corridor, and natural hazards, including flooding and erosion, policies and guidelines;
- providing information management and hydraulic computer modeling expertise and guidance for water and flood management;
- developing policy concerning water control infrastructure;
- protecting Ontario's interest on the Great Lakes through participation in international water boards, international legislation and agreements such as the Great Lakes Charter/Annex and Great Lakes- St. Lawrence Sustainable Water Resources Agreement, and other forums; and
- providing support to science and monitoring needs such as the Federal-Provincial Agreement for hydrometric monitoring.
The Water Resources Program is delivered through a matrixed leadership by the Lands and Waters Branch, Regional staff and engineering services, and districts; MNR's Aviation and Forest Fire Management (AFFM) branch.
Across Ontario there are several other key partners who all play important roles in achieving MNR water management objectives:
- Conservation Authorities;
- Federal departments (Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, Transportation, Parks);
- Other Provincial Ministries- (MOE, OMFRA, MMAH, MEDT, ENE, MNDM); and
- individuals and local organizations.