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Flewellyn Special Study Area and Goulbourn Wetland Complex Re-evaluation

Flewellyn Special Study Area and Goulbourn Wetland Complex Re-evaluation

Summary

What you need to know about these studies

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has notified the City of Ottawa of the results of the Goulbourn Wetland Complex boundary review, and began the process of notifying affected landowners.  The revised wetland boundaries can be found here. [ PDF 533 KB  ]

The Goulbourn Wetland Complex has been identified as provincially significant by the MNRF.  The Province requires municipalities to prohibit development or site alteration within provincially significant wetlands.  It requires municipalities to ensure that development or site alteration on adjacent lands within 120 meters of provincially significant wetlands will have no negative impact on their features or ecological functions.  Existing, permitted land uses are unaffected, including agriculture. 

The City of Ottawa is following the process approved by City Council, the Province of Ontario, and the Ontario Municipal Board, as set out in Official Plan Policy 3.2.5 – Flewellyn Special Study Area.

The City of Ottawa must resolve long-standing issues regarding the extent, origin and status of wetlands in the rural area west of Stittsville, south of Highway 7 and north of Mansfield Road. 

This area includes the provincially significant Goulbourn Wetland Complex, subject to the Flewellyn Special Study Area policies.

On June 20, 2016, the City presented the conclusions of the Flewellyn Cumulative Effects Study regarding drainage in the area to landowners and interested residents at a public meeting in Goulbourn.  The conclusions of that study can be found here:  Final Report: Flewellyn Cumulative Effects Study

In the summer of 2016, the City hired Dillon Consulting to re-evaluate the boundaries of the Goulbourn Wetland Complex, as required under the Flewellyn Special Study Area policies.

Dillon Consulting submitted in the results of the study to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in late autumn 2016 for review and confirmation.

The next steps in this process are:

The City will initiate an Official Plan Amendment to recommend appropriate land use designations and to remove the Flewellyn Special Study Area policy.  Under policies in Section 3.2.1 of the Official Plan, as approved by the Ontario Municipal Board in 2012, the City has six months following the identification of provincially significant wetland or a change in provincially significant wetland boundaries to initiate such an amendment.  During the interim period, the wetlands are deemed significant for planning purposes (OP Policy 3.2.1(1)).

Any property owners who disagree with the new wetland boundaries can hire a qualified wetland evaluator to conduct a re-evaluation on their behalf and to submit the results to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).  The MNRF Kemptville District Office can provide a list of qualified wetland evaluators.  If approved by the MNRF, the resulting changes to the boundary will be reflected in the Official Plan Amendment.

Wetland boundaries can only be evaluated during the growing season, when wetland plant species can be identified.  The City will provide affected property owners with the balance of the 2017 growing season and the 2018 growing season to commission their own wetland boundary review, if they choose, before bringing the Official Plan Amendment to Ottawa City Council.

Residents also have the right to speak or make written submissions on the proposed Official Plan Amendment at the required public meeting of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.  Anyone speaking or making submissions to the Committee then has the right to appeal the decision of City Council to the Ontario Municipal Board.

Once the City of Ottawa approves an Official Plan Amendment for new land use designations, any areas designated as significant wetland will fall under the authority and regulations of the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority or the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority.

Goulbourn Wetland Re-evaluation: Summer 2016

Status

In the summer of 2016, the City of Ottawa hired Dillon Environmental to review the boundaries of the provincially significant, Goulbourn Wetland Complex. 

Landowners within the vicinity of the Goulbourn Wetland Complex were sent letters from the City requesting permission for the City’s consultants to enter their properties to re-evaluate the wetland boundaries. Where permission to enter properties was not provided, the City’s consultants mapped the wetland boundaries using high resolution aerial photography, contour mapping, and roadside inspections. Although this method is less accurate than mapping in the field, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry advised the City that it was an acceptable alternative.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry also advised the City that the wetland boundary review could be limited to the existing and contested wetland areas. The review considered any contiguous areas of wetland that may have been overlooked in past reviews, and any previously mapped areas that no longer qualified as wetland. However, it did not need to consider any new, non-contiguous wetland areas for potential inclusion in the wetland complex.

All wetland boundary mapping was submitted by the consultants directly to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Kemptville District Office, for review and confirmation.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry notified the City of Ottawa of the results of the wetland boundary re-evaluation and began to notify landowners affected by any changes to the wetland boundaries.  The results of the boundary re-evaluation can be found here. [ PDF 533 KB ]

Contesting the Wetland Boundary Re-evaluation

Prior to the start of the wetland boundary re-evaluation, the City advised landowners that anyone wishing to contest the results of the study, but who did not provide permission for Dillon Consulting to access their property, would need to hire their own qualified wetland evaluator to map the boundary and to submit it to the MNRF for review.  The City of Ottawa will be providing landowners with time to carry out and submit their own reviews to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, before initiating any Official Plan Amendment regarding the wetland boundaries.  Any provincially-approved changes to the boundaries mapped by Dillon Consulting will be reflected in the OPA.

When the City brings forward an Official Plan Amendment to confirm land use designations in the area, residents will have the opportunity to speak to the amendment at Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee, as well as the right to appeal any decision of Council to the Ontario Municipal Board.

Flewellyn Cumulative Effects Study

The Flewellyn Cumulative Effects Study was intended to answer several questions regarding drainage in the vicinity of the Goulbourn Wetland Complex, within the Flowing Creek and Hobbs Drain subwatersheds. The key questions were:

  • What is the origin and historical coverage of natural wetlands in the area?
  • Is the amount of wetland in the area increasing or decreasing?
  • If there has been an increase in wetland area, what appears to be responsible for the changes? In particular, is it:
  • Changes to drainage areas or boundaries?
  • Inadequate maintenance of private or municipal drains and ditches?
  • Water discharge by quarries?
  • Natural factors (.e.g. beavers)?
  • What implications, if any, would these factors play in the status of the wetland areas under the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System?

The Study proceeded in two phases. In Phase 1, the consultants were directed to:

  • Consolidate the available information on wetlands and drainage in the area, including such things as historical and contemporary aerial photography, stream flow data, quarry pumping data, base environmental data, Provincial wetland mapping, municipal drain reports, technical reports, correspondence and anecdotal information from property owners
  • Carry out a preliminary screening of the data to identify information gaps and suggest ways of filling those gaps
  • Carry out a preliminary analysis to confirm the key issues and questions
  • Propose a revised Terms of Reference and work plan for Phase 2

Unfortunately, Phase 1 of the study began in spring 2012, as Ottawa was in the midst of the driest year on record and entering driest summer since 1931. Consequently, it was necessary to carry out stream flow monitoring through 2013 in order to obtain usable stream flow data. Furthermore, in carrying the analysis of wetland loss and gain, it was discovered that the current “non-evaluated” wetland mapping (i.e. wetlands outside of provincially significant wetlands) by the Province of Ontario was inaccurate and unusable. Consequently, the City carried out new mapping of non-evaluated wetlands, which was subsequently reviewed and accepted by the consultants. These factors delayed completion of the Phase 1 report until late 2015.

Conclusions of the Phase 1 Report

The Phase 1 Report concluded:

  1. The study area is defined as the portion of the subwatersheds of Flowing Creek and Hobbs Drain north of Mansfield Drive based on the availability of historical aerial photography and wetland occurrence. This is the area within which the additional wetlands designated as provincially significant are located. There is no evidence that drainage from Poole Creek has been diverted to Flowing Creek, however the two subwatersheds do share headwater wetlands, so minor changes in water supply may affect both drainages.
  2. There has been [a] quantifiable change in wetland cover within this study area between 1946 and 2011 with a net removal of 23% of wetland, reducing the percentage wetland cover in the watersheds from 22% to 17%, a loss of 195 ha.
  3. The source of this change is not limited to wetland shrinkage as a result of removals due to development (residential and quarries) and drainage for agricultural purposes. New wetlands have been created since 1946 which may be due to drainage diversion, lack of maintenance of drains and culverts and active obstruction by American Beavers.
  4. The largest wetland removal has occurred in the lower Flowing Creek, while the largest gains have occurred in the lower Hobbs Drain upstream into upper Flowing Creek.
  5. The quarry operations do not appear to be responsible for large scale changes in wetland cover. Values reported in quarry reports should be calibrated in Phase II against the streamflow measured during this study to determine how these values influence water accumulation.
  6. Based on the occurrence of organic soils (peat), which accumulates over a long time frame, many of the wetlands across this landscape are long term standing wetlands.
  7. Evidence for cool/cold water attributes (watercress/sculpin) within the study area are indicative of permanent features supported by groundwater discharge.
  8. Regardless of origin of the wetland, if they are demonstrated habitat for a species afforded General Habitat protection under the Endangered Species Act, 2007, they are Provincially Significant by definition.

Phase 2 Study

After reviewing the conclusions and recommendations of the Phase 1 report, City staff and the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority concluded that it answered the main questions posed in the Cumulative Effects Study. In brief:

  • The majority of the wetlands in the area are long-standing, natural features resulting from the topography and surficial geology
  • Overall wetland cover has declined due to land conversion, but localized increases in wetland cover have occurred along the upper portions of the Hobbs Municipal Drain and along Upper Flowing Creek near the diversion ditch between the two watersheds (north of the Flewellyn Road – Conley Road intersection)
  • The localized increases in wetland area along the Hobbs Drain may due to the inability of the Hobbs Drain to convey enhanced flows from unauthorized drainage changes in catchment areas north of Flewellyn Road
  • Other localized increases in wetland area appear associated with abandonment of agricultural lands (and their lateral ditches or tile drain systems) and re-colonization of the area by American beaver
  • Water discharge by quarries does not appear to be a significant factor in the expansion of wetland areas

Although the consultants proposed additional time series analyses and hydrological analyses in Phase 2, the City did not believe that these were necessary to answer the original questions. However, the City contracted the consultants to conduct additional comparisons of quarry pumping records to stream flow records to confirm the conclusions regarding discharges.  This review confirmed the findings of the Phase 1 study.

With respect to the consultant’s hypothesis regarding the origin of new wetlands along the Hobbs Drain, those issues fall within the purview of the Drainage Act. These conclusions were referred to the Drainage Superintendent.

Public Consultation and Opportunities for Appeal

The Flewellyn Special Study Area process set out several steps and required the preparation of several reports. Some of these were subject to public consultation and some were not. They are all subject to challenge and appeal within the context of the final, proposed Official Plan Amendment and Zoning By-law Amendment.

The current Flewellyn Special Study Area policies have been established through a previous amendment to the Official Plan and a decision from the Ontario Municipal Board on the related appeals. They are not subject to further consultation or appeal, until the City initiates a new Official Plan Amendment to repeal, modify, or replace them.

The Flewellyn Cumulative Effects Study is a technical report, representing the analyses and professional opinions of the consultants responsible for its preparation. The study included a review of all of the available, pertinent correspondence, documents and reports, as well as interviews with several community members. As a statement of professional opinion by the consultants on technical matters, the report is not subject to public consultation. However, it is available on the City website [ PDF 8.3 MB ] for public review. Due to its technical nature, this report is available in English only. The City of Ottawa may translate this report or parts thereof on request. Requests for translation should be forwarded to goulbournwetlandreview@ottawa.ca

Similarly, the re-evaluation of the boundaries of the Goulbourn Wetland Complex was completed by independent consultants and reviewed by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry according to the methods and standards of the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System (OWES). In establishing and reviewing the wetland boundaries, the consultants and Ministry staff applied their professional judgement. The identification of provincially significant wetland boundaries by the Province is not subject to appeal. However, the Province is obliged to consider any new information regarding wetland boundaries when it is brought forward.  Following notification by the Province, affected landowners will have time before the City initiates an Official Plan Amendment to commission their own wetland boundary review and have it considered by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.  Such a review must be done by a MNRF certified wetland evaluator.

The final step in the Flewellyn Special Study Area process will be consideration of an Official Plan Amendment and Zoning By-law Amendment by Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee (ARAC) and City Council. The Planning Act requires public consultation on Official Plan Amendments and Zoning By-law Amendments. Such amendments can be appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board, provided that the appellant has submitted comments on them to ARAC.

Background and History

The Province of Ontario requires municipalities to identify and protect “provincially significant wetlands” from “development and site alteration”. Ottawa meets this requirement by designating “significant wetlands” in its Official Plan and giving those wetlands protective zoning that restricts almost all development (but allows existing agricultural uses). Under a decision by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), the City has six months to designate significant wetlands, once the Province has identified them. Because the restrictive land use designations and zoning are required by provincial policy, the municipality has no obligation to compensate property owners for lost development rights or resource values.

In 2005 - 2006, the City conducted a re-evaluation of the boundaries of the provincially-significant Goulbourn Wetland Complex, in response to development applications in the area. In 2006, as a result of this re-evaluation, the Province expanded the boundaries of the Goulbourn Wetland Complex to include 20 additional wetland areas. The City subsequently notified the affected property owners of its intent to designate the additional areas as “significant wetland” in the Official Plan and to give them protective zoning.

A number of affected property owners objected strongly to the City’s intentions. In particular, they argued that many of the wetlands did not originate naturally, but were the result of increased inundation caused by human changes to drainage in the area, pumping by quarries, and negligent ditch maintenance by other landowners and the City. Some affected quarry operators also objected to the designation of significant wetlands in areas already designated in the Official Plan as Limestone Resource Area.

In a series of meetings, the City and the affected property owners reached an initial compromise. Under the Drainage Act, the most affected property owners would petition the City for a municipal drain to improved drainage on their lands. The City would delay any re-designation of the affected lands for five years following the completion of the drainage works, then carry out another re-evaluation of the wetland boundaries. In 2010, however, the landowners withdrew their municipal drain petition due to escalating costs of the proposed drain work.

The withdrawal of the municipal drain petition occurred during appeals of the City’s 2009 Comprehensive Official Plan Amendment, OPA 76. Several of these appeals concerned the City’s policies for significant wetlands, and its failure to designate the expanded area of the Goulbourn Wetland Complex. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, on behalf of the Province, had also expressed its concern to the City regarding the delay in designation of the additional wetland areas. The Province, in particular, sought certainty from the City regarding a process and timeline for resolution of the issue.

In response to these appeals and the concerns of the Province, the City proposed Official Plan Policy 3.2.5 – Flewellyn Special Study Area as part of OPA 76. The Province agreed with the proposed policies, and the Ontario Municipal Board approved them on April 26, 2012 (OMB File #PL100206).

Policy 3.2.5 – Flewellyn Special Study Area created an “overlay designation” in the Rural Policy Plan, Schedule A of the Official Plan. This overlay designation applies to the disputed wetland areas and adjacent 120 m upland areas. The policies say that:

  • Existing lawful uses in within the overlay area can continue
  • No new development will be permitted until removal of the overall designation

The Policy established the following process for removal of the overlay designation:

  • Completion of a Mineral Resources Study
  • Completion of a Cumulative Effects Study identifying changes to the drainage in the area
  • A re-evaluation of the wetland boundaries in 2016
  • An Official Plan Amendment to confirm the appropriate land use designations and policies and to remove the overlay designation

The City has completed the Mineral Resources Study, the Cumulative Effects Study, and the re-evaluation of the boundaries of the Goulbourn Wetland Complex.  The next step is the initiation of the Official Plan Amendment.

Contact person

Further information is available by contacting:

Nicholas Stow, Project Manager
Land Use and Natural Systems
110 Laurier Avenue West
4th floor, mail code 01-14
Ottawa, ON K1P 1J1
Email: nick.stow@ottawa.ca