Funding conundrum

“We have insufficient funding to maintain or repair all of the water and erosion control infrastructure that we are responsible for.”

In this blunt statement, the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority summed up the basic conundrum of all such organizations in the province: how to carry out significant 2018 responsibilities with 1990s funding levels.

Provincial funding for conservation authorities across Ontario was cut heavily under Mike Harris’ Conservative government in the mid-‘90s and was not substantially restored during the ensuring 15 years of Liberal rule.

Since that time, authorities, particularly smaller operations like the MVCA, have been busy “prioritizing” their responsibilities in an effort to focus on those involving public safety and protection of property.

The MVCA is proposing primarily recreational dams like those it maintains in Gorrie, Bluevale and Brussels be given to municipalities if they want them replaced or upgraded. Meanwhile, it is seeking a 50/50 cost split with host municipalities on existing flood control infrastructure the authority is responsible for in Listowel and Goderich.

While municipal partners across the watershed are understandably reluctant to pay for infrastructure that doesn’t directly benefit them, a continued breakdown of the system could leave all of them struggling to pay for upgrades or new projects in their own communities, as changes to the climate continue to make large scale weather events a more common experience across the watershed.

It may indeed be time, as Minto council is suggesting, for provincial and federal governments to take more responsibility on the flood control file. However, recent history suggests municipalities shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t find the upper tiers quick to come to their rescue and flood them with new dollars.