City’s watershed planning moves into final phase

Peterborough’s advisory committee on the environment receives a report on the status of the City’s watershed plan.

In November, members of the Peterborough Environmental Advisory Committee (PEAC) sat for the final session of the year to hear reports and provide feedback on the City of Peterborough’s work on the environment. The committee is made up of residents who have expertise in different environmental issues and one city councillor, currently Otonabee Ward councillor Kim Zippel.

Peterborough Currents attended the November 17 meeting. At the meeting, the key topic for consideration was progress on the City’s watershed plan.

What is the watershed plan?

The watershed plan will be a comprehensive plan that details how people in the city of Peterborough interact with and manage water resources, as well as determine activities needed to reduce floods and to maintain human activity while minimizing environmental impacts. 

The document will guide the City’s policies and infrastructure plans by laying out appropriate land use. The plan will state what land should be protected or rehabilitated in order to balance watershed health with city development and services. The plan also will include best management practices for watershed quality and quantity of flood reduction measures. 

Phase one of the watershed plan involved determining what is present in the watershed, providing background information and determining goals and objectives. Phase two involved technical aspects of watershed planning including maps and models. 

During the committee meeting, the City’s senior watershed project manager Ian Boland spoke about phase three, which is concerned with drafting the plan document and planning for implementation. It is the final phase before the watershed plan is presented to city council.

“Watershed planning provides a framework for establishing our goals and objectives and our direction for the protection of water resources, management of human activities, land, water, aquatic life and resources within a watershed,” Boland told the committee. “And for the assessment of cumulative cross jurisdictional and cross watershed impacts.” 

He pointed to the provincial Places to Grow Act, 2005, which says that watershed planning is required by municipalities. Boland said that the three policy documents guiding the [watershed] plan are the Provincial Policy Statement (which is under the Planning Act), the Growth Plan and the City of Peterborough’s Official Plan, this plan guides municipal land use planning and future zoning. 

In the earlier phases, a Watershed Coordinating Committee was established and includes neighbouring municipalities, Hiawatha First Nation, Curve Lake First Nation, Peterborough County, and the Otonabee Region Conservation Authority (ORCA). During the meetings of this coordinating committee, goals and objectives were talked about such as enhancing and protecting water quality in “creeks, wetlands and rivers” as well as restoring terrestrial ecosystems.

Boland also spoke to the specific outreach that was done to engage community groups like the Sacred Water Circle, which has helped inform some plan priorities.

It was revealed in the presentation that an estimated 40 percent of wetlands have not been evaluated for provincial significance within the study area which includes surrounding municipalities. 

Sub-watersheds were ranked based on “terrestrial health, stormwater management, water quality and aquatic health.” Areas with low overall ranking would be prioritized for ecological restoration in the plan, though Boland emphasized that subwatersheds that ranked well would not be ignored as it is important to maintain watershed health. 

Climate change impacts were also looked at. For example, increased flooding from intense rainfall and dramatic temperature changes in the spring. 

Some parts of the watershed had limited data. Boland suggested that monitoring should be prioritized in addition to updating regulatory flood maps as many maps are outdated throughout the watershed. A committee member suggested that the City reach out to student groups, Trent University, ORCA and community groups to improve monitoring.  

Boland said it is important to update mapping because climate modeling shows an increase of intense rainfall events may impact risk of flooding. 

Next steps for the watershed plan

The next steps for phase three of the watershed plan are to engage with the coordinating committee and with technical working groups on the implementation plan. Currently, a consultant group is drafting the text for the watershed plan document.

The City will also host stakeholder meetings and take a draft of the plan back to PEAC. One of the final steps will be public engagement which is expected to take place through the online Connect PTBO platform. 

After consultation and advice are considered then the final watershed plan will be presented to city council for a vote. Boland says he expects to present the plan to council in summer 2022.

Recommendations from PEAC

Members of PEAC asked questions regarding the presentation and provided feedback. Some of the recommendations were:

  • There should be a focus on partnerships with other municipalities as the watershed crosses municipal borders. It was pointed out that Indigenous relations should be a separate point.
  • There should be a focus on the impact of climate change in relation to flooding events and water availability.
  • Accountability to ensure targets are being upheld is important and should be clear.
  • Some monitoring should be cyclical so every area is monitored once every few years. 
  • Wetlands should be valued more in their ability to capture carbon and reduce the impacts of climate change.
  • Mapping information should be available to the public.
  • The City should consider incentives for depaving or increasing surface permeability.
  • An invasive species management plan should be included.
  • The possibility of moving homes over time away from floodplains was discussed. 
  • Microplastics and litter should be monitored. 
  • There was also conversation around reducing salt use.

Robert Gibson is a writer and environmentalist in Peterborough. As a young person, Robert watched Princess Diana’s funeral and became interested in watching news. Later Robert learned that severe weather, projected to get worse due to climate change, had an impact on peoples lives and that there are social costs. There is one line from an article which is “Municipal Governments cause flooding” which is thought about often. Through volunteering with local environmental and social justice organizations as well as media Robert hopes to inspire others to take action in order to benefit people and the environment. In addition, to this Robert is an alumni of Trent University, Fleming and Durham College in the environmental field. 

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