Context and Background

What is a watershed?

What is watershed planning?

  • Watershed planning is typically carried out to assess the overall conditions (i.e., health) of the watershed, and to identify measures to protect, restore and enhance the health of the watershed.
  • Watershed planning provides a framework for establishing goals, objectives, and direction for the protection of water resources, the management of human activities, land, water, aquatic life, and resources within a watershed.
  • Watershed planning is required by Provincial policy and plans, including the Provincial Policy Statement, the Greenbelt Plan and the Growth Plan, to identify and protect natural heritage features and areas, water quality and quantity, and to help inform future land use planning and infrastructure decisions.

Where is the Etobicoke Creek watershed located?

  • The Etobicoke Creek watershed is located at the western end of Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s (TRCA) jurisdiction. It starts in the Greenbelt within the Town of Caledon before flowing through the City of Brampton, City of Mississauga, and ending in the City of Toronto where it enters Lake Ontario.
  • The watershed is approximately 224 km2.
  • The watershed is approximately 60% urbanized.

Is this the first watershed plan for Etobicoke Creek?

  • No, the last watershed plan for EtobicokeCreek was completed in 2002. A technical update of implementation priorities, incorporating new information, was completed in 2010.

Why was an updated watershed plan for Etobicoke Creek necessary?

  • Periodic reviews of watershed plans are an integral component of the watershed planning process and allows for adaptive management to incorporate new scientific approaches and to address emerging initiatives.
  • Since the last watershed plan, the watershed has experienced significant changes associated with urbanization and the impacts of climate change. Since many of the issues identified in the previous watershed plan are still occurring, an updated watershed plan using the latest advancements in watershed science, monitoring programs and computer modelling was necessary.
  • Provincial policies require watershed planning to inform land use and infrastructure decisions.
  • Municipalities are currently reviewing their Official Plans to ensure conformity with provincial policies.

How is the Etobicoke Creek Watershed Plan being developed?

  • The development of the Etobicoke Creek Watershed Plan will be a multi-year, collaborative effort between the TRCA, City of Toronto, Region of Peel, City of Mississauga, City of Brampton, Town of Caledon, Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, and the Greater Toronto Airport Authority. It has included/will include:
    • Field work and technical analyses to identify existing watershed conditions that culminated in the public release of the Watershed Characterization Report in June 2021.
    • Potential future management scenario modelling and analysis of four potential future management scenarios that look at different levels of natural cover, urban forest, and stormwater management/Low Impact Development enhancements.
    • Development of a management framework for the protection, restoration, and enhancement of watershed health. The framework will consist of goals, objectives, indicators and management actions.

What is the timeline to develop this watershed plan?

  • Work on developing the Etobicoke Creek watershed plan commenced in 2020, and watershed characterization was completed in 2021.
  • The future management scenarios stage will be completed in 2022.
  • A final Etobicoke Creek Watershed Plan is expected in 2023.
  • The plan is intended to be in effect for 10 years from when it is finalized and approved.
  • Through regular reporting and adaptive management, the plan may be modified to address changing circumstances.


Roles and Responsibilities

Who is responsible for the development of the Etobicoke Creek Watershed Plan?

  • As outlined in the Growth Plan, upper and single-tier municipalities (in partnership with lower-tier municipalities and Conservation Authorities) are responsible for watershed planning.
  • TRCA is developing a new watershed plan for Etobicoke Creek in collaboration with our municipal partners (City of Toronto, Region of Peel, City of Mississauga, City of Brampton, Town of Caledon), Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, and the Greater Toronto Airport Authority to inform municipal land use planning and infrastructure decisions.
  • TRCA is undertaking the completion of the watershed plan in collaboration with our partners because of its technical expertise and knowledge of the watershed, and its experience in watershed planning.

Who will be responsible for the implementation of the Etobicoke Creek Watershed Plan?

  • TRCA and the area municipalities will all play a role in the implementation of the Etobicoke Creek Watershed Plan. Some of the Plan’s management actions will identify specific stakeholders that will need to implement the management actions.

Does the Etobicoke Creek Watershed Plan decide on future land use?

  • Watershed plans are not land use plans, nor do they constitute a land use planning decision. The data, scientific analysis, modelling, scenario analysis and management actions generated through a watershed planning process are used by municipalities to inform land use planning and infrastructure decisions.


Natural Heritage and Water Resource Systems

What is the Water Resource System and why is it important?

  • The Water Resource System is all the groundwater and surface water features, areas and hydraulic functions within the watershed that provide the water resources necessary to sustain healthy aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and human water consumption.

What is the Natural Heritage System and why is it important?

  • The Natural Heritage System is all the natural heritage features and areas (i.e., wetlands, forests, meadows, etc.), and linkages intended to provide connectivity and support biodiversity and ecological functions.


Existing Watershed Conditions

What are the significant issues in the watershed?

  • Based on the technical assessments completed by TRCA as part of watershed characterization (i.e., existing conditions), the following are the key issues in the Etobicoke Creek watershed:
    • Water Resource System: the aquatic ecosystem is sensitive with high annual runoff, degraded aquatic habitat, low levels of natural cover within the riparian corridor (i.e., within 30 metres of streams), and in-stream barriers preventing the movement of species.
    • Natural Heritage System and Urban Forest: There are low levels of natural cover and urban tree forest canopy cover, and degraded terrestrial habitat quality.
    • Water Quality: Surface water quality is generally poor compared to other TRCA watersheds and contaminants of particular concern include chlorides, Phosphorus, E. coli bacteria, and metals.
    • Natural Hazards: The flow of water through the watershed is out of balance and there are flooding and erosion issues.
  • See the watershed characterization report for more information.

What are the Etobicoke Creek Flood Vulnerable Clusters (FVCs)?

  • There are six FVCs within the Etobicoke Creek watershed with a total area of 508 hectares (2.3% of the area of the watershed) including Brampton Central, Avondale, Little Etobicoke, Dixie/Dundas, Longbranch, and West Mall.
  • There are 41 FVCs within TRCA’s jurisdiction that have been ranked based on hazard (i.e., flooding and its probability), exposure (i.e., what is in the way of the hazard) and vulnerability (i.e., how severely the hazard impacts people or property) data.


Scenario Analysis

What is scenario analysis and why is it valuable?

  • Scenario analysis is a technical exercise typically undertaken when developing watershed plans to ensure management actions are based on the best available science.
  • Examines different potential future management scenarios to assess the implications of climate change and different land use changes and interventions on the health and conditions of the watershed.
  • Scenario analysis does not result in land use decisions but can inform them.
  • Scenario analysis helps to guide potential management actions and inform future land use and infrastructure decision making.
  • For the Etobicoke Creek Watershed Plan, four potential future land use scenarios were assessed:
    • Scenario 1 (Urban Expansion with Minimal Enhancements), which assumed further urbanization in the headwaters (upper portion of the watershed), and no enhancements to natural cover or stormwater management.
    • Scenario 2 (Urban Expansion with Mid-Range Enhancements), which had the same assumptions as Scenario 1 with some enhancements to stormwater management, urban forest, and natural cover. This Scenario includes the potential GTA West Highway.
    • Scenario 3 (Urban Expansion with Optimal Enhancements), which had the same assumptions as Scenario 1 with a greater level of enhancements to stormwater management, urban forest, and natural cover than Scenario 2.
    • Scenario 4 (Existing Urban Boundary with Optimal Enhancements), which had the same assumptions as Scenario 3 except the current urban boundary is maintained in the headwaters.

How were the future management scenarios developed? Why were certain assumptions made?

  • The future management scenarios were developed collaboratively with TRCA, our municipal partners, Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, and the Greater Toronto Airport Authority using the key issues identified during the watershed characterization stage (baseline for comparison are current conditions identified during the characterization stage).
  • The enhancement assumptions (including natural cover enhancements, urban forest enhancements and stormwater retrofits/Low Impact Development implementation) enabled testing of different management interventions to see how watershed conditions will respond under the different future management scenarios.
  • In summary:
    • Scenarios 1, 2 and 3 assume urbanization of the remaining whitebelt lands in the headwaters of the watershed (i.e. the remaining land in the headwaters between the outer boundaries of the urban settlement area and the inner boundary of the Greenbelt Plan Area is urbanized consistent with growth projections/typical development patterns)
    • Scenario 4 assumes the current urban boundary is maintained in the headwaters.
    • Scenario 1 assumes no enhancements to natural cover or stormwater management.
    • Scenarios 2, 3, and 4 assume a gradual progression in the level of interventions focused on natural cover and urban forest enhancements and improvements to stormwater management.
    • By comparing Scenario 1 (with minimal watershed interventions) to current conditions and Scenarios 2, 3 and 4 (with watershed interventions) to Scenario 1, the relative benefits of the enhancements/interventions could be determined.
  • The four future management scenarios were designed to:
    • Project potential future land use change based on growth forecasts by examining different land use and infrastructure scenarios to 2051 (i.e., the planning horizon for municipal Official Plans).
    • Assess the effects of different levels of ecosystem restoration and enhancement (e.g., increase natural cover quantity and quality) on watershed conditions.
    • Assess the effects of different levels of stormwater control on watershed conditions.
    • Assess the potential impacts of climate change on watershed conditions, where possible.
    • Climate change was incorporated quantitatively (and qualitatively) into certain modelling and technical analyses based on available data, available resources, and expertise.
  • The management framework will be developed in the next stage of the watershed planning process (Implementation Planning) based on the results of the future management scenario analysis, combined with watershed characterization, to identify measures to protect, restore, and enhance watershed conditions.


Engagement Process

What is the public engagement process for the Etobicoke Creek Watershed Plan?

  • Since project initiation, the development of the Etobicoke Creek Watershed Plan has been a highly consultative and collaborative process. Effective and meaningful engagement can lead to improved watershed planning outcomes by ensuring community buy-in, support from key landowners and stakeholders, political support and facilitate effective implementation by relevant partners.
  • The goals of our engagement for the Etobicoke Creek Watershed Plan are:
    • To build partnerships with key stakeholders and landowners within the watershed to maximize opportunities to improve watershed conditions through strategic resource-sharing.
    • To build community awareness on the importance of watersheds and identify opportunities for improved community stewardship of the Etobicoke Creek Watershed.
    • Achieve broad based endorsement of watershed plan goals, objectives and management actions to increase the likelihood of effective implementation.
  • There are key intervals when TRCA seeks input from the public and stakeholders on the Etobicoke Creek Watershed Plan. We have attempted to provide a diversity of methods of receiving feedback to make it easier for different groups to provide their input. Here is a brief summary of our engagement methods to date:
    • Our landing page provides ongoing project updates.
    • We provide progress updates and engagement notifications to our subscribers/stakeholders list, and post to TRCA’s social media channels.
    • In September 2020, we administered an online survey about issues and key components of a watershed vision.
    • In 2021, we continued to engage with the public through email correspondence and presentations with stakeholders.
    • In Spring 2022, we will be hosting in-person open houses and virtual webinars on the outcomes of watershed characterization and future management scenarios, and will be looking for feedback on the priorities for action to address the key issues facing the watershed, as well as input on the objectives and indicators for the Etobicoke Creek Watershed Plan.
    • We will be soliciting public feedback on the draft management framework/draft watershed plan later in 2022/early 2023.
    • Information on engagement activities undertaken to date is available on the Reports and Resources tab of the project webpage.
  • We encourage you to sign up for updates to find out when these engagement opportunities arise.


General Planning Process

What are the changes to the Conservation Authorities Act, and how has this impacted TRCA?

  • Since 2015, the Conservation Authorities Act (CA Act) has been amended three times to provide further clarity and transparency surrounding the programs and services provided by conservation authorities (CAs) and the governance and operations of CAs. These amendments were undertaken through the Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act, 2017 (Bill 139), the More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019 (Bill 108), and the Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act, (Budget Measures), 2020, (Bill 229). As a result of these amendments to the CA Act, CAs will need to execute Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with partner municipalities to govern the funding of municipally requested non-mandatory programs and services.
  • TRCA staff participated in the Province’s Conservation Authorities Working Group (CAWG), announced December 16, 2020, to discuss implementation of some of the CA Act amendments and help inform aspects of the enabling regulations. Also represented on the CAAWG were other conservation authorities, Conservation Ontario, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, municipalities, and land development and agricultural sectors.
  • In October 2021, the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) released the first phase of regulations for implementing the Act’s amendments regarding “Defining Core Mandate and Improving Governance, Oversight and Accountability of Conservation Authorities”. TRCA staff provided a detailed analysis of the new regulations in a report to its Board of Directors, “Finalized Phase 1 Regulations Under the Conservation Authorities Act, Environmental Registry of Ontario Posting (ERO #019-2986)” on October 22, 2021.
  • Building on the Phase 1 regulations, further consultation with the CAWG, and through an Environmental Registry posting, MECP released Phase 2 regulations in April 2022. The regulations focus on the CA budget process, the apportionment (formerly referred to as “levy”) and determination of amounts to participating municipalities, and the public sharing of governance related information. A Policy was also released that sets out the Minster’s published list of classes of programs and services for which CAs may charge a fee.
  • The new regulations do not have substantial implications to TRCA’s current operations and best practice, as TRCA has excellent working relationships with its municipal partners characterized by transparency and accountability. TRCA continues to deliver programs and services in accordance with its mandate under the Conservation Authorities Act. With the Phase 1 and Phase 2 regulations now complete, TRCA continues to move forward with fulfilling the associated requirements, including ongoing consultation with our partner municipalities to update existing, or to develop new MOUs, to govern the delivery of municipally requested programs and services. TRCA staff are regularly updating its Board of Directors on this process.

What is TRCA’s position on Greenbelt Expansion?

  • The role of TRCA is to provide scientific information and analysis to guide the development of management recommendations, which help inform future municipal land use decisions. Municipal governments decide where and how development occurs. Currently the provincial government is not considering an expansion of the Greenbelt in the Etobicoke Creek Watershed.
  • TRCA supports the protection and expansion of natural areas for the long-term health and resiliency of the watershed. The Greenbelt is one part of Ontario’s land use planning framework. The recommended enhanced NHS is another planning tool that allows municipalities to decide, at the local level, the extent and distribution of natural areas.

What is TRCA’s position on the proposed GTA West Highway?

  • On May 3, 2021, the Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced that the GTA West Highway would be a designated project under the federal impact assessment process.
  • Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) has reviewed the rationale for the Federal government’s designation, which builds upon and is consistent with our historical position and that of many of our municipal and conservation authority partners in the GTA West Study Area regarding the need for more detailed study and mitigation for sensitive habitats to help avoid and reduce potential negative impacts.
  • TRCA is hopeful that this Environmental Assessment (EA) process will define alternative route alignments as narrowly as possible to reduce impacts on watersheds and ecosystems.
  • TRCA’s Board of Directors has previously asked that this EA be coordinated with other projects, including a planned hydro transmission project in the same study area, to minimize negative impacts to natural and socio-economic environments. TRCA is requesting that the proponent (the provincial Ministry of Transportation) work more closely with TRCA as part of this provincial and newly announced federal EA process so that we can continue to provide technical and scientific advice so as to minimize negative environmental impacts where possible, and to ensure appropriate ecological compensation where negative impacts are unavoidable.

What is an Official Plan (OP)?

  • An Official Plan (OP) describes a municipality’s policies on how land should be used. An OP deals mainly with issues such as:
    • where new housing, industry, offices and shops will be located
    • what services like roads, watermains, sewers, parks and schools will be needed
    • when, and in what order, parts of your community will grow
    • community improvement initiatives (Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, 2021)

What are Municipal Comprehensive Reviews?

  • The Municipal Comprehensive Review (MCR) is a specific planning process initiated by an upper- or single-tier municipality used to bring municipal OPs into conformity with the policies and schedules in the Growth Plan (2020), including new or modified policies and intensification and density targets, and updated, longer-term growth forecasts. During the MCR process, municipalities carry out background research, public consultation, and policy formulation with input from the Province, and key stakeholders and agencies, including conservation authorities.
  • Throughout this provincially legislated process, municipalities must also ensure their OPs conform to other provincial policy updates (e.g., Provincial Policy Statement, 2020) and other applicable plans (e.g., source protection plans, Greenbelt Plan, etc.). Municipalities may also incorporate other additional OP policy matters that may need to be reviewed and amended, as part of their MCR. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing have the authority to approve OPs through the MCR and have established a deadline of July 1, 2022 for municipalities to update their OPs to achieve Growth Plan conformity.