Executive Summary

This report contains the results of a feasibility study focusing on growth management in Ontario's Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) that was designed to answer two questions:

  • What data are available to assess the capacity of and constraints on existing and planned water and wastewater systems relative to the availability of fresh water and the assimilative capacity of the region's inland water systems?
  • Using the available data, what types of data products and tools can be developed to better inform the allocation of growth across the Greater Golden Horseshoe?

The feasibility study is intended to be part of a three-phase project. In Phase 2, researchers would integrate and analyze existing data on water and wastewater systems identified in Phase 1, as well as on environmental and financial constraints related to servicing growth, with the goal in Phase 3 of creating a decision-support tool to inform a more rational approach to allocating growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, particularly in communities that are not directly serviced by the Great Lakes. This report addresses Phase 1 only.

The research is needed because the current approach to directing growth through population and employment forecasts in the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe does not take into account current capacity and constraints on municipal water and wastewater systems. At present, up-to-date information on servicing has not been assembled in a way that would help the Province and municipalities make decisions on how growth can best be accommodated in communities across the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

Phase 1 of the study focuses on identifying data sets that are currently available (rather than proposing new data collection methods). The scope is limited to water and wastewater servicing only and excludes stormwater servicing. The focus is on "inland" water communities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, that is, those not serviced by the Great Lakes.

Neptis researchers created an inventory of data sources for information on water quality and quantity and on wastewater servicing. In particular, the researchers were looking for data that could be used to measure the capacity of and constraints on servicing.

The data scan identified more than 30 municipal, provincial, and federal data sources that provide information on municipal water and wastewater infrastructure capacity and environmental constraints in the GGH. These include annual reports on municipal drinking water and wastewater systems, permits to take water, well water reports, water quality monitoring data, environmental compliance approvals for wastewater, sourcewater protection plans, master plans and environmental assessment reports, and scientific data on geological and hydrological conditions within the GGH.

The information was evaluated using five criteria: relevancy to the project, usable data format, data accessibility, coverage of the entire GGH, and currency (frequency of updating).

The researchers also looked at the potential for linking information from different sources. While considerable amounts of information on servicing capacity and constraints exist, these data are collected and maintained by different government and non-for-profit organizations. Data on capacity and constraints needs to be linked to data on municipal settlement areas, land budgets, and population forecasts; environmental data on water quality and the assimilative capacity of inland water bodies; and financial data on the costs of constructing or expanding infrastructure.

As part of Phase 1 of the feasibility study, Neptis researchers developed a few preliminary data products, including spreadsheets containing details on hundreds of municipal drinking water systems and wastewater treatment plants in the GGH, linked to settlement area mapping previously created by the Neptis Foundation. These products can be used to visualize settlement areas by their sources of drinking water (for example, Great Lakes, inland lakes, rivers, or groundwater wells) and by receiving waterbodies for wastewater.

Subsequent phases of the project could build on these preliminary data products and include the measurement of committed and available capacity at water and wastewater plants. This information can be compared with a survey of areas in which water supply is limited or in which the assimilative capacity of a river or lake to receive effluent is limited. The additional information could help to identify "hot spots" of servicing and/or environmental constraints, which can be mapped and compared with growth allocations for the affected areas.

Additional information on the costs of upgrading or expanding servicing can also be collected to connect growth management plans with the costs of infrastructure to support new growth through tools such as the Cost of Development Model developed by the Municipal Finance Officers' Association and funded by Ministry of Municipal Affairs. The model was designed to help municipalities understand capital and operating costs associated with new and upgraded infrastructure.

A final product of this project might include the development of a decision-support system based on a structured and linked geodatabase that can be used by municipalities and the Province to assess whether areas in which growth has been allocated have adequate infrastructure to service it, whether local sources of drinking water are adequate to supply the water needed, and whether receiving water bodies have sufficient assimilative capacity to process the increased effluent loads caused by growth.

The Province of Ontario undertook a similar exercise in the early 1990 to the current feasibility study. An excerpt from that report emphasizes the importance of developing a better information and modelling framework for managing growth:

The pressures for significant growth in parts of Southern Ontario are providing major challenges for local governments. The potential feasibility and costs of providing water and sewer servicing schemes are of particular interest. As a consequence, an interministerial Committee was established to review the existing situation and to provide recommendations for alternate strategies to accommodate predicted growth through schemes which will not only be environmentally appropriate, but which are technically and economically feasible.[1]

The studies for that servicing review included an inventory of existing and planned capacity of water and wastewater systems for a select number of municipalities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.[2]

Advancements in mapping, data management, and data collection that were not available 30 years ago provide an opportunity to better inform growth management in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Otherwise, the cost of allocating growth to communities with environmental or servicing constraints may continue to present financial and environmental challenges for municipalities and the region as a whole.

[1] A Request for Proposals was issued by Ministry of Municipal Affairs on Oct 3, 1990. It included an evaluation of existing water and wastewater systems and an assessment of groundwater resources. See South Central Ontario Study. Phase 1 Servicing Review by C.C. Tatham & Associates Ltd., prepared for the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs. The municipalities covered included Simcoe County, Dufferin County, Wellington County, Brant County, and the Region of Waterloo.

[2] South Central Ontario Study. Phase 1 Servicing Review by C.C. Tatham & Associates Ltd. and South Central Ontario Study Servicing Review Phase II by Conestoga-Rovers & Associates.