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Ontario proposes changes to the Drainage Act


Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) is proposing changes to the province’s Drainage Act that would streamline approvals and address the Act’s current shortfalls while maintaining environmental standards.

Drainage legislation has existed to permit the construction and maintenance of municipal drains and private agricultural drainage systems for over 150 years. OMAFRA administers three pieces of agricultural drainage legislation: the Drainage Act, the Tile Drainage Act and the Agricultural Tile Drainage Installation Act.

The Drainage Act was first passed in 1859 and there have not been any significant changes to the legislation since 1975 according to OMAFRA’s discussion paper. The Act mandates several aspects of drainage including the construction of drainage projects, the duties of a drainage contractor, and compensation that relates to drainage projects. The Act has an established process for resolving property right disputes involving water flow and drainage.

The Act as it stands has come under fire for being too burdensome. OMAFRA states that some stakeholders have indicated that “there are too many steps and agencies involved for drainage construction, maintenance and improvements to be approved in a timely and less costly way.”

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The proposed changes will hope to eliminate some of these inefficiencies.

OMAFRA is proposing changes to the Drainage Act that would:

  • Provide the minister with legislative authority to develop and sign off on technical protocols such as the Drainage Act and Conservation Authorities Act Protocol;
  • Create a new streamlined Drainage Act process for minor improvements; and
  • Enable a simplified process to update the engineer’s report to account for changes to the design made during construction.

Currently OMAFRA is seeking public input on the proposed changes.

On Jan. 17, 2020, OMAFRA opened a public consultation process that allows members of the public to submit a comment. Anyone with input on changes to the existing Drainage Act is encouraged to submit a comment online before 11:59pm on Feb. 18, 2020.

Agriculture drainage is big in Ontario, and a large aspect of the rural Ontario landscape with more than 45,000 kilometres of municipal drains servicing approximately 1.75 million hectares of cropland.