Ontario's Conservation Authorities - Our Grass Roots Beginnings

The conservation movement in Ontario began in the late 1920's and 1930's. Drought and deforestation, with resulting erosion and other water-related problems, sparked several grass root conservation organizations and individuals to lobby government for change in natural resource management. The discussions and conferences that ensued led to a new approach - an integrated approach -- to resource management, to be undertaken using natural watershed boundaries. With co-operation from the Province and local governments, the Conservation Authorities Act of 1946 was passed.

This Act provides the legislative basis for establishing and administering a Conservation Authority. The Act reads:

The objects of an Authority are to establish and undertake in the area over which it has jurisdiction, a program designed to further the conservation, restoration, development and management of natural resources other than gas, oil, coal and minerals.(R.S.O. 1990, Chapter 27, Section 20)

Both the founding principles of the legislation, and the legislation itself, embody three fundamental strengths of every Conservation Authority:

Local Initiative

Local or community initiative is the strength and success of every Conservation Authority. Without this local motivation, a Conservation Authority cannot be formed. People must first recognize the need for environmental action and request the provincial government to form a Conservation Authority. In making the request, watershed residents must be willing to contribute financially to the works of the agency and face the responsibility of directing it.

Cost Sharing

Municipalities within a Conservation Authority's watershed, together with the provincial government, share project costs for local conservation and resource management works and programs. This means that a Conservation Authority flourishes only when the local people have enough enthusiasm and conviction to support it financially.

Watershed Jurisdiction

A watershed -- the area drained by a watercourse and its tributaries -- is a natural geographic unit that crosses municipal boundaries. Conservation Authorities can have jurisdiction over one or more watersheds. Since decisions and actions made in one location can affect upstream and downstream areas in other locations (or even other municipalities), watersheds are ideal units for protecting and managing the natural environment.