Tuesday, February 18th marked the first Environment Committee meeting of the new year, with the Ottawa River Action Plan (ORAP) Annual Update as the main agenda item for the day. Before getting to the ORAP, however, the meeting began with an address from its chair, Councillor Maria McRae, on the benchmarks of 2013 and the City’s vision for the upcoming year. While the majority of her speech was spent focused on the improvements made to waste diversion rates in 2013, there were other promising, albeit vague, initiatives brought up that aims to improve the management and quality of Ottawa’s water resources that we can look forward to in 2014.
Pertaining to the theme of water management improvements, Councillor McRae surprised those in attendance by announcing that a Water Conservation Round Table will be held later this year. The objective of this roundtable is to invite council members, as well as interested residents or community groups, to provide the city with feedback, input, and advice on how to improve water quality and protection. The comments from this event would then ideally contribute to the development of the Stormwater Master Plan and the Source Water Master Plan. As exciting as the prospect of this event is, committee members and public attendees were left hanging with no other details on what to expect with this event or when it would ever happen. Concerns have also brought up about whether or not the the two master plans would even be released should the city not follow through with this event. If you believe that you have valuable contributions to make at the round table, or know someone else who might, please speak to your councillors about how you can be included on the list of potential speakers.
Additionally, the Eastern Subwatersheds Stormwater Management Retrofit Plan, which is a strategy designed to lower the impacts of uncontrolled runoffs into subwatersheds such as Bilberry, Voyageur and Green’s Creeks, is also scheduled to be completed sometime this year. Again, not much information was provided, but according to the Chair, we can look forward to hearing more from staff “as early as next month for an update on the progress that the consultations have [made] and when that can be finished.”
While the it was not mentioned in the chair’s update, the Water Environment Strategy (WES) was highlighted as a priority for this year in the ORAP presentation by Dixon Weir, General Manager of the Environmental Services Department. It was announced that the WES will be released by at least the end of June of this year. A report about the WES is scheduled to be presented at the Environmental Stewardship Advisory Committee next week, on March 6th. Although details on this strategy is still lacking, the City seems to be committed to the deadline that they have set for themselves.
There were a few other initiatives that were mentioned that Ecology Ottawa will be paying particularly close attention to in the upcoming months. For example, it was announced that the City will be releasing its renewed Air Quality and Climate Change Action Plan sometime between April and June of this year. It was also made known that the city plans on finalizing its Long-Term Waste Management Strategy, but once again, no specific deadlines were provided. There was also talk about incorporating more environmentally sound initiatives and guidelines as the city continues to develop, such as formally partnering with Ottawa Community Housing, which will encourage the implementation energy retrofits in their buildings.
As Councillor McRae said herself, “there is still much work to be done” when it comes to the Ottawa River, but the release of the previously mentioned water-related strategies will be great additions to the progress that the City has already made. That being said, more work must also be done for the environment as whole, and it was disappointing to see that the Environment Committee has once again neglected any discussions on the Environmental Strategy, which has been due for a review since 2010. Ecology Ottawa will continue to monitor the progress of these goals set out by the Environment Committee, and we look forward to participating in the Water Conservation Round Table when it happens.