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A Look into the GRCA

Photo source: Grand River Conservation Authority

The Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) might be in for some changes after the province told conservation authorities to begin planning to ‘wind down’ services and programs not related to their core mandate.

Its unclear which programs might be at risk, but Environment Minister Jeff Yurek suggested that recreation programs including camping, swimming and skiing might be impacted.

Yurek sent a letter to the province’s 36 conservation authorities earlier this month advising that recently passed legislation requires them to refocus their efforts on the delivery of programs and services related to their core mandate. This includes more focus on conservation, land management and drinking water protection.

The letter will be reviewed at the next GRCA board meeting being held this month.

“Until the review, we will not know of the affects or impact this will have yet,” says GRCA spokesperson, Cam Linwood.

According to the GRCA, it has a budget of about $35 million. Recreational services and programs make up about 22 per cent of its total operating budget while educational programs make up about four per cent.

Provincial funding makes up about $2.9 million or 8.2 per cent of the total GRCA budget.

The GRCA offers 12 conservation areas including: Belwood Lake, Brant, Byng Island, Conestogo Lake, Elora Gorge, Elora Quarry, Guelph Lake, Laurel Creek, Luther Marsh, Pinehurst Lake, Rockwood and Shade’s Mills.

Weather it’s fishing, swimming, hiking, birding, skiing or snowmobiling, Grand River Parks offer many opportunities to reconnect with the great outdoors.

“Our parks offer an escape to a natural environment where you would not expect to be – and in just a short drive away. You can explore places like Rockwood and feel like you are in Northern Ontario,” Linwood said.

“And travelling down the Grand River through Kitchener, you wouldn’t even know it because it feels so remote.”

Each summer, Grand River Parks welcome visitors to enjoy their 2,200 campsites, nine beaches and more than 200 km of trails.

The GRCA also has six nature centres which offer a variety of programs for teachers and students, children and families, youth and community groups.

The goal is to provide unique, hands-on programs that teach environmental concepts and foster an appreciation for the natural world.

Summer day camps, as well as March Break, Winter Break and P.D. Day camps are also offered for kids ages 6+.  All camps focus on environmental discovery to connect campers with the outdoors in a fun, yet educational way.

The Grand River watershed is the largest in southern Ontario and includes all the land drained by the Grand River and its tributaries.

At 6,800 square kilometres, it’s about the same size as the province of Prince Edward Island.

The Grand River begins as a small stream in Dufferin County and travels 280 km before emptying into Lake Erie.

The watershed includes 39 municipalities and two First Nations territories. It is home to close to one million people and includes the cities of Brantford, Cambridge, Guelph, Kitchener and Waterloo. Cities, towns and villages make up about five per cent of the watershed land.

One of the most important strategic priorities of the GRCA is protecting life and minimizing property damage from flooding and erosion.

The Grand River system has a long history of flooding, which can occur in all seasons: during the spring melt, following major rainstorms in summer and fall, and during a rapid melt or because of an ice jam in the winter

The GRCA manages flood risk by: monitoring weather conditions and river flows to know when flooding is possible, issuing flood messages to alert municipal flood coordinators and the public about coming high water, operating seven dams and reservoirs to hold water and reduce flood peaks, owning and maintaining dikes to protect low lying areas, and controlling development in flood-prone areas to reduce potential property damage.

The GRCA also owns and manages 11,500 hectares of forest, which is seven per cent of the watershed’s total forest cover.

In the early 1800s, the Grand River was a source of transportation, power and water for local communities. As settlers established their farms and built cities and towns, the land was cleared, causing the natural environment to suffer.

In 1934, the Grand River Conservation Commission was established to address problems resulting from industrialization, including flooding, pollution and an unreliable water supply.

The founding communities were Brantford, Kitchener, Galt (now part of Cambridge), Fergus (now part of Centre Wellington) and Caledonia (now part of Haldimand).

The Commission’s first project was construction of the Shand Dam, near Fergus, which was completed in 1942. It was the first dam built in Canada to serve multiple purposes – flood control, water supply and water quality.

Other dams followed: Luther Dam (Grand Valley) in 1954 and Conestogo Dam (near Drayton) in 1958.

The success of the Commission, its watershed focus and the municipal partnership model were the topics of discussion at the Guelph Conference on Conservation in 1941. In 1946, the Ontario government passed the Conservation Authorities Act which allowed for the creation of new watershed management agencies throughout the province.

“Recently, one of the most significant changes we made was managing attendance at Elora Quarry,” Linwood said. “About 1300 attend daily in the summer, so managing this helps manage the population and traffic into town.”

The GRCA employs about 140 full-time staff members who work at the head office in Cambridge and within the 12 parks and the six nature centres along the watershed.

The GRCA Strategic Plan 2019-2021 outlines its priorities to enhance and build on programs and services.

The goal is to: protect life and minimize property damage from flooding and erosion, improve the health of the Grand River watershed, connect people to the environment through outdoor experiences and manage landholdings in a responsible and sustainable way.

How programs and services will be impacted is questionable until further review, according to Linwood.

“The GRCA will be talking with the ministry to clarify which programs will be affected, but we look forward to these discussions and to working with ministry staff,” he said.


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