Public meeting on June 20 about Goulbourn / Flewellyn wetland study

Michael Erland on his property on Flewellyn Road. “There used to be maple trees back here.”

(Above: Former farmland, now wetland along Flewellyn Road. Photo from November 2014.)

The City of Ottawa is holding a long-awaited information meeting later this month to share the results of a study on the Goulbourn Wetland Complex. The complex is a series of wetlands in a large area south and west of Stittsville that’s been identified as “Provincially Significant Wetland” (PSW).

Around 2004, a development proposal on Flewellyn Road triggered a review of all land in the area by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. That review resulted in the identification of “new” PSW on about 60 properties. (We reported on this back in 2014 in an article titled “Property values drained by wetland designation”.)

It’s not entirely clear why the water levels are changing in the area. Is it because of human activity like inadequate clearing of ditches on private property? new residential development? quarries on Jinkinson Road? Highway 7 development? a pipeline? beavers? Or is it just natural climate change and fluctuations in rainfall and temperatures?

Five years ago, landowners and the City agreed to formally delay designating the new PSWs in the Official Plan, and established a “Flewellyn Special Study Area”. The land in the study area will be re-evaluated this year to see if it still qualifies as PSW.

 

The areas enclosed by the bold line are part of the Flewellyn Special Study Area.
The areas enclosed by the bold line are part of the Flewellyn Special Study Area, which includes much of the land identified as having “new” provincially significant wetlands over a decade ago.

Information below is via the City of Ottawa.

Information meeting regarding the Flewellyn Special Study Area and Goulbourn Wetland Complex Re-evaluation
Monday, June 20, 2016, 7 to 9 p.m. at the Goulbourn Municipal Office, 2135 Huntley Road.
Agenda:

  • Opening remarks by Councillor Scott Moffatt
  • Presentation by Nick Stow, City of Ottawa Phase 1 of the Flewellyn Cumulative Effects Study Overview of the wetland boudary re-evaluation
  • Questions and answers
  • Next steps

The City of Ottawa will be requesting permission from landowners for its staff, biologists from Dillion Consulting and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Foresty to enter lands as part of a review of the boundaries of the Goulbourn Wetland Complex.

What you need to know about these studies
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. The next steps in this process are to:

  • Present the conclusions of the Flewellyn Cumulative Effects Study regarding drainage changes in the area to landowners and interested residents
  • Re-evaluate the Goulbourn Wetland Complex boundaries in 2016
  • Recommend appropriate land use designations to City Council in 2017
  • 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.

Goulbourn Wetland Re-evaluation: Summer 2016
Landowners within the vicinity of the Goulbourn Wetland Complex will soon receive 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 is not provided, the City’s consultants will map the wetland boundaries using high resolution aerial photography and contour mapping. Although this method is less accurate than mapping in the field, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has advised the City that it is an acceptable alternative.

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

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

If a landowner does not provide permission for the City’s consultants to enter their properties, but subsequently wants to contest the delineation of the wetland boundary, then that landowner will need to hire his/her own qualified wetland evaluator to map the boundary and submit it to the MNRF for review.

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 is proceeding 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 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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 created since 1946 which may be due to drainage diversion, lack of maintenance of drains and culverts and active obstruction by American Beavers.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Evidence for cool/cold water attributes (watercress/sculpin) within the study area are indicative of permanent features supported by groundwater discharge.
  • 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 have concluded that it answers 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 have proposed additional time series analyses and hydrological analyses in Phase 2, the City does not believe that these are necessary to answer the original questions.
  • The City has contracted the consultants to conduct additional comparisons of quarry pumping records to stream flow records to confirm the conclusions regarding discharges.

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 have been referred to the Drainage Superintendent.

Public Consultation and Opportunities for Appeal
The Flewellyn Special Study Area process sets out several steps and requires the preparation of several reports. Some of these are subject to further public consultation and some are not. They will all be 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 by contacting the Project Manager.

Similarly, the re-evaluation of the boundaries of the Goulbourn Wetland Complex will be done 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 will apply their professional judgement. The identification of provincially significant wetland boundaries by the Province is not subject to appeal. However, the designation of those wetlands by City Council through an Official Plan Amendment and Zoning By-law Amendment would be subject to public consultation and subsequent appeal.

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. It has completed the Cumulative Effects Study, and will be completing a short, follow-up analysis of quarry pumping and stream flows by the end of June 2016. As required by Official Plan Policy 3.2.5, the City is now proceeding with a re-evaluation of the boundaries of the Goulbourn Wetland Complex.

Further information is available by contacting:
Nicholas Stow, Project Manager
Land Use and Natural Systems
City of Ottawa
110 Laurier Avenue West
4th floor, mail code 01-14
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 1J1
Email: goulbournwetlandreview@ottawa.ca

Jock River Watershed
Most of the wetlands west of Stittsville are part of the Jock River watershed, which empties into the Rideau River. Map from the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority.

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