The Ontario government is expected to introduce a new water bill today. The Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act (the "Proposed Act") is expected to create new business opportunities for water technology companies while improving water infrastructure planning and promoting water conservation. Blending economic and environmental objectives in an effort to promote a green economy in Ontario, the Proposed Act has many of the hallmarks of last year's Green Energy Act.

While the text of the Proposed Act is not yet available,several backgrounders have already been posted on the Ministry of the Environment's ("MOE") website. These backgrounders reveal that the Proposed Act will have three main thrusts:

  1. Making Ontario the North American leader in developing and selling new technologies and services for water conservation and treatment at home and around the world

The government intends to establish a Water Technologies Acceleration Project ("WaterTAP"), a non-Crown corporation governed by a variety of water industry stakeholders and policy makers. WaterTAP's mandate would include:

  • Becoming a trusted source of information about Ontario's water sector by creating an asset map of Ontario water companies, technologies, researchers, users, needs and regulations;
  • Being a source of credible advice and guidance to large industrial and municipal water users and governments on emerging technologies, and their applications to conservation efforts;
  • Helping to identify opportunities for co-operation, co-ordination and growth within the industry Helping to identify research, commercialization and demonstration opportunities; and
  • Developing international market intelligence.

It is expected that the government will provide WaterTAP with $5 million in funding over three years.

  1. Creating an integrated approach to water infrastructure planning to achieve long-term sustainability

The Proposed Act is expected to promote integrated planning of water use and water infrastructure at the municipal level. Regulations to be promulgated under the Proposed Act would require municipalities to develop long term water sustainability plans. The plans would cover water supply, wastewater and stormwater services. Municipalities would be required to report prescribed performance measures to allow the province to monitor compliance with water sustainability plans.

In March of this year, the government introduced Bill 13, Sustainable Water and Waste Water Systems Improvement and Maintenance Act, 2010. The primary purpose of Bill 13 is to create a new Ontario Water Board, which would be an independent economic regulator of water and waste water services in Ontario (analogous to the Ontario Energy Board). If both the Proposed Act and Bill 13 are passed, it may be the case that the new Ontario Water Board will be charged with approving municipal water plans and tracking performance thereunder.

The government has also indicated that it will continue its Ontario Small Waterworks Assistance Program, which provides capital funding assistance to help small communities improve water conservation and make operations more efficient in their water and wastewater systems.

No doubt the government expects that public investment by municipalities in water infrastructure will help drive demand for private sector products and services in the province. Like the Green Energy Act, the Proposed Act appears to be designed to promote green infrastructure investment as a way of creating green collar jobs in the province. It will be interesting to see if the Proposed Act contains anything like the domestic content requirements of the Green Energy Act, which are intended to keep the broader economic benefit of infrastructure investment captive in Ontario.

3) Helping Ontarians use water more efficiently

The Proposed Act is expected to implement a variety of measures to reduce water consumption in the province.

To address demand by residential consumers, the Proposed Act may amend the Ontario Water Resources Act and Building Code Act, 1992 to introduce more stringent water efficiency standards for consumer products sold in Ontario such as toilets, faucets and showerheads. It may also introduce new water consumption labelling requirements.

Industrial and commercial water takers may also be asked to manage consumption more directly. The Proposed Act may require the MOE to develop a regulation to require non-municipal water takers to develop and adhere to water conservation plans.

We will post a link to the full text of the Proposed Act once it becomes available. As it did for the Green Energy Act, the government will likely undertake significant public consultations as the Proposed Act moves through the legislature. We will provide updates as they become available.