Recent Changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and New Ontario Regulation 41/24

On April 1, 2024, changes to sections of the Conservation Authorities Act and a new regulation under the Act, came into effect. The new regulation, Ontario Regulation 41/24, Prohibited Activities, Exemptions and Permits, replaces all previous Conservation Authority development regulations.

What are some impacts of the changes?

Of particular note in the new regulation are some changes that affect previously regulated natural features in our watershed. Specifically:

  • The definition of a watercourse now requires a defined channel with a bed and banks
  • The regulated area adjacent to Provincially Significant Wetlands (PSWs) was reduced from 120 metres to 30 meters
  • Permit “tests” related to pollution and conservation of land have been removed

New Definition of a Watercourse

Smaller watercourses may no longer be regulated due to changes in the definition, but each will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Some headwater streams and drainage features will still be protected by other policies, such as those for floodplains or wetlands. Additionally, there are protections for watercourses in municipal planning processes.

It is of note that HCA’s previous policies on regulated watercourses were not completely restrictive. They did allow for regulated watercourses to be enclosed, relocated, or altered under certain conditions.

Reduced Regulation of Adjacent Lands to Provincially Significant Wetlands

The regulated area adjacent to Provincially Significant Wetlands has been reduced from 120 meters to 30 meters. This change limits HCA’s ability to review and mitigate development impacts beyond 30 meters. It is important to note that this change does not result in any loss of wetlands. Some lands beyond 30 meters will continue to be regulated due to nearby features like ravines, watercourses, and floodplains. Development between 30m and 120m of a wetland was previously allowed under certain criteria.

Click between the images below to see the Provincially Significant Wetlands in HCA’s watershed with the previous 120-metre regulated adjacent lands, and the revised lands reduced to 30 metres.

Local Analysis

  • Wetland regulated area reduced by 37%.
  • Affects only 9% of the total area regulated by HCA.
  • Reduces the number of regulated properties by 6%.
  • Approximately 10% of previously regulated properties have a history of development inquiries with HCA.

Removal of Pollution and Conservation of Land Tests from the Regulation

The regulation no longer includes pollution and conservation of land tests, which previously considered water quality and ecological issues. Only 6% of past permits focused on these considerations alone, while 94% addressed natural hazards. Many permits considered these two tests as part of the review for natural hazards. HCA will continue to evaluate impacts on wetlands and watercourses for natural hazards.

Other changes in the Act and new regulation include:

  • Watercourse definition now requires a defined channel with a bed and banks.
  • Removal of the definition of pollution.
  • The regulated area adjacent to all wetlands was reduced to 30 meters from 120 meters for provincially significant wetlands.
  • Regulated area maps must be publicly available on the authority’s website.
  • Annual review and public updates of mapping; significant updates require 30-day public notice.
  • Exemptions have been added for non-habitable accessory structures, non-habitable garage replacements, detached decks, certain agricultural activities, and road maintenance; subject to size and location restrictions.
  • Pre-consultation is available on request.
  • Detailed application requirements and written notice of complete application within 21 days.
  • No new studies or plans can be requested after an application is deemed complete.
  • 90-day notice of decision for all permits; requests for permit fee reconsideration within 30 days.

  • Remove permit “tests” related to pollution and conservation of land; institutes new tests for unstable soil, health or safety, and property damage.
  • Permit conditions are limited to hazard mitigation and permit administration.
  • Permit validity extended from 24 to 60 months.
  • Ministerial authority to issue permits or direct authorities, with the Minister’s decision final.
  • Officer appointments moved to the Conservation Authorities Act.
  • Minor changes to the power of entry provisions.
  • New Stop Order powers for significant damage cases.
  • Increased fines up to $50,000 for individuals and $1 million for corporations.
  • Authorities must develop policy and procedure documents for permit applications.
  • An annual report on permit statistics and compliance is required.

Moving Forward

HCA has relayed our concerns regarding these changes, and other related changes relating to the environment to the Province of Ontario through comments submitted to the Environmental Registry of Ontario, a letter to the Minister and an Op-Ed piece in the Hamilton Spectator. 

The legislative changes are in effect. We want to assure all residents and stakeholders that HCA remains steadfast in our commitment to conserving our natural areas and maintaining a healthy watershed. HCA will continue to provide all essential services and programs, including flood management, watershed monitoring, land management, and recreational opportunities. We remain dedicated to protecting our local environment, ensuring safe and sustainable water resources, and promoting biodiversity.

We are carefully reviewing the new regulations and aligning our practices to comply with the updated framework.

We encourage community involvement in our conservation efforts through stewardship and participation in public consultations and community events. To learn more about what you can do on your property, visit the Hamilton Watershed Stewardship Program.