Browsing the blog archives for December, 2010.

Everything You Need to Know About SWM

Legislative Gaps, South March Highlands

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Storm Water

Storm water is created when land development alters the natural water balance:

  1. A large portion of the rainfall is naturally absorbed by the trees, vegetation and ground surface and this significantly reduces the amount of water which will flow offsite.
  2. Forests perform a vital function to the city as “green infrastructure” that soaks up storm water, as well as combating air pollution and carbon emissions.
  3. Wetlands perform a vital function to the city as “green infrastructure” that helps store storm water to prevent flooding elsewhere.

When natural vegetation/trees and soil is replaced with roads, buildings, parking lots, less rainfall infiltrates into the ground, less gets taken up by vegetation/trees, and more becomes surface runoff:

  1. Infiltration is 14 – 35% higher for forests as compared to urban lawns for the same soil type. Looking at it the other way, runoff is up to 35% higher when forests are replaced by subdivisions [MOE SWM Design Manual 2003 ch 3 Table 3.1].
  2. Runoff is 37 -88% greater when forest vegetation is replaced by urban lawns for the same soil type.   [MOE SWM Design Manual 2003 ch 3 Table 3.1]
  3. Water holding capacity is 4 – 5x greater for forests than for urban lawns for the same underlying soil type  [MOE SWM Design Manual 2003 ch 3 Table 3.1]

Surface water flow is affected by land slope – the higher the land, the faster it flows:

  1. It is difficult, if not impossible, to control storm water flowing down hilly lands or an escarpment.
  2. The City of Hamilton knows this and was involved in a court case when the homes at the bottom of the escarpment flooded.

Surface water is affected by imperviousness of the soil and infiltration – bedrock is impervious and most of the South March Highlands have bedrock less than 1 m below the surface.

Storm water is dangerous – a well-recognized risk to human life and to property. 

SWM Basics

Storm water management (SWM) is supposed to manage:

  1. Volume of water to prevent flooding.
  2. Timing of water flow to prevent flooding and erosion.
  3. Pollution since runoff is often contaminated by oil, grit, etc. from city streets.
  4. Temperature since runoff is typically warmer than the streams that the water flows into and this can damage fish habitat.

Storm water management also handles heavy spring water flow caused by snow melt – in addition to water flow caused by storms.

Cutting trees without storm water management controls in place will cause storm water to:

  1. Flow uncontrolled offsite.
  2. Flow in much greater quantity.
  3. Flow at a faster rate than previously.
  4. Erode land, creating risk of mudslides on steep slopes.
  5. Erode stream and river banks, damaging property and changing the path of stream/river meander patterns.

While surface water runoff may not cause problems when a few trees are cut on flat lands, this is not true for highly forested and rocky areas, escarpments, or lands near floodplains and Urban Natural Features or wetlands – especially in Provincially Significant Wetlands.

In the absence of adequate SWM control:

  1. Urbanization usually dramatically increases surface runoff volumes and rates.
  2. Urbanization would convert a 100-year discharge to a 2-year discharge [Walesh 1989 pg 65].
  3. Peak flows after development are seen to be over 5 times peak flows before development [Walesh 1989 pg 58].

Servicing studies identify two systems to handle storm water runoff:

  1. The Minor System (the storm sewers) handle the runoff up to a 5 year storm.
  2. The Major System (roads, land, ditches) handle the overland flow as understood by a 100 year storm.
  3. Both of these systems are designed to flow to a stream or river, often via a SWM pond so the that flow is moderated over time.
  4. The regulatory flood level is the expected crest of the water during a 100 year storm.

Storm water management ponds are built to store storm water temporarily so it doesn’t flow downstream too fast and cause flooding:

  1. SWM without quantity control only handle the minor system flow and are prone to flooding (e.g. 351 homes in Stittsville in 2008).
  2. SWM without quality control do not deal with pollution or temperature impacts.

Watershed and subwatershed plans are required by the province to set the storm water management criteria and establish catchment areas:

  1. Water flows downhill.
  2. Loss of water retention resulting in increased runoff in highlands due to new development can flood lowlands with pre-existing developments.
  3. All development in a watershed or subwatershed is supposed to account for the cumulative effect of storm water as it flows downhill.
  4. Flow is not supposed to be diverted between watersheds and subwatersheds – a Schedule C Environmental Assessment (EA)is required if this is to be done as a last resort.

To learn more about SWM, read the Ontario Understanding SWM booklet produced by the MoE.

Ottawa SWM

The City’s storm water management program does not adequately take cumulative effect into account:

  1. An environmental management plan is required for managing cumulative effects yet none exist.
  2. A storm water policy is required for the escarpment and hilly lands, yet no policy exists.
  3. Ottawa is the only major city in Ontario without a site-alteration by-law that prevents tree removal prior to adequate SWM facilities or plans in place.

The City should require developers to use computer models to determine the impact of tree-cutting for and demonstrate in SWM plans that controls do not need to be in place prior to any removal of trees.  Otherwise, developers should be required to implement SMW controls prior to tree removal to protect public safety.

The City routinely appears to make decisions to develop lands and build roads based on incorrect models which will increase flooding in the West Urban Community:

  1. The current Carp River flood model is so incorrect that it shows water flowing upstream during a storm!
  2. No increase – not even 1 cm – should ever be permitted in a regulatory flood level because no one can predict all the engineering decisions that were made based on that flood level when prior developments were planned. 
  3. Yet the Carp River regulatory flood level has been allowed to increase by nearly 1 meter.  If it increases much more, or if the models are wrong, the Carp could actually overflow into Kizell and down Watt’s Creek.
  4. An increase in a regulator flood level increases flood risk both upstream as well as downstream.
  5. Further development along the Carp River without adequate flood plain compensation and improved SWM controls is a risk to residents in Carp, Kanata North, Kanata South and in Stittsville.

Flood Risk

The South March Highlands are the aquifer for Kanata North and for parts of West Carleton: 

  1. That means that development in this area has pervasive effects on both land and water downhill from it.
  2. For example, construction in Morgan’s Grant caused wells to go dry in March Rural.
  3. Loss of water retention in the highlands will substantially increase flood retention in the low lands were existing subdivisions are.

Flooding has been a chronic problem in North Kanata since the 1970s.  Beaver Pond was built as a dam to control flooding in the 1980s – especially to protect the MDS Nordion nuclear facility and NCC lands.

The Shirley’s Brook /Watt’s Creek Subwatershed study shows the drainage in this area is split 3 ways into SB3, KD1 and KD2 catchment areas.  Tree cutting will increase flow to all 3 of these drainage areas if no storm water management controls are in place.

KNL SWM

The Beaver Pond and lands immediately north are in the KD1 catchment area:

  1. Pathways around Beaver Pond flooded on 24 July 2009 and flood routinely every spring due to snow melt.
  2. Increasing flow into Beaver Pond without mitigation will cause increased flooding and backup into the Kizell Wetlands.

Part of KNL Phase 9 lands are also in the KD2 catchment area: 

  1. Flooding occurred downstream in this catchment area on 24 July 2009 at several of the 9 culverts which cross the Kizell Drain. 
  2. Adding additional flow may increase risk of flooding downstream and diversion to Shirley’s Brook may be the only alternative – a violation of the subwatershed plan.

Part of KNL Phase 9 lands are in the SB3 catchment area:

  1. These lands need to be coordinated in the Shirley’s Brook Diversion EA but are not in scope.
  2. City staff says only impacts KNL’s Phase 7 and 8 but are unable to produce documentation to back this up after 6 months of community questioning.

KNL’s 2006 Servicing Study ignores the Shirley’s Brook Watershed/Subwatershed Study recommendations:

  1. KNL’s Servicing Study requires a diversion – a violation of the subwatershed study.
  2. The subwatershed study does not allow for the removal of any water from Shirley’s Brook or the addition of any water to Kizell/Watt’s Creek.
  3. Condition 59 of KNL subdivision approval requires compliance with the subwatershed study.
  4. City staff say that KNL has somehow met all conditions of subdivision approval but are unable to explain how the servicing is in compliance with the subwatershed study.
  5. KNL’s Phase 5 appears to have diverted storm water from the Carp River Watershed to the KD1 catchment area without an EA being done.
  6. KNL  plans to apparently divert storm water from KD2 and SB3 to the Beaver Pond in KD1 without an EA being done.

Open Issues

KNL apparently plans to cut trees with no storm water controls in place. It is difficult to understand how this does not increase flood risk.

The Richardson Ridge tree-cutting is also proceeding on the Hazeldean Escarpment adjacent to the Compensation Lands and First Line Road which drain to the Kizell Wetlands.  This tree-cutting will result in increased runoff to the Kizell Wetlands and thus to the Beaver Pond, as well as to the Carp River.

The entire area needs to be studied at the same time – which is why the provincial policy requires an Environmental Management Plan – which has never been done despite the fact that this policy has been in place for almost 10 years.

The city’s West End Flood Investigation report identified a lot of culvert crossing problems further south in the KD3 portion – if these are fixed, then more flow would go downstream to the Watts Creek junction, and could impact the KD1/Beaver Pond drainage as well as flooding the NCC’s land.

5 Comments

Turning a Good Swap Into a Bad One

South March Highlands

The original swap proposed by Marianne Wilkinson was workable only because it traded land that was in immediate threat of development for land that was not and did so on an equal basis.  More importantly, it was part and parcel of a larger deal which protected an environmentally significant forest.

However the Peter Hume deal that Councillor Wilkinson settled for on Dec 15, is worse than completely meaningless – it results in a net loss of greenspace at an opportunity cost of $1.46 M!

According to city staff’s ever moving estimate, the 74 acres of Beaver Pond Forest has a fair market value of $18 M or $243 K / acre.

The Hume-Wilkinson deal approved by council surrenders 12 acres elsewhere in the South March Highlands to obtain a 6 acre corridor that has no possible ecological function.  The net loss of trading 12 acres to get 6 at a rate of $243 K / acre means that the city just paid Urbandale the equivalent of $1.46 M for Marianne’s precious corridor.

This corridor is to be an 80m wide pathway through the middle of a subdivision that is supposed to start at Beaver Pond, cross a road, and terminate at Shirley’s Brook.  There is no ecological value to it, while the land that was surrendered is adjacent to a larger protected area.

What was she thinking?

2 Comments

Understanding The Terry Fox Drive Decisions

South March Highlands

On Dec 14, 2010 the Ontario Divisional Court gave judgement  in a judicial review of the Terry Fox Drive Extension environmental assessment process.  This decision, for which leave to appeal may be sought, appears to be precedent-setting and has significant implications in Ontario.

1. Despite the City’s attempt to challenge the standing of the South March Highlands – Carp River Conservation Inc.(SMHCRC), the court ruled that the SMHCRC:

(a) has a genuine interest in the matter;

(b) that there is a serious issue to be tried; and

(c) there is no other reasonable and effective manner for the issue to be resolved.

This appears to be an important precedent that will assist other public interest groups assure their standing before the courts.

2. Despite the City’s assertion that the Minister of the Environment as well as the City of Ottawa should have been a party to the case, the court ruled that the City on its own exercised a statutory power of decision that was subject to judicial review.

This aspect of the decision appears to indicate that municipalities will be held accountable for the effect of their own decisions, notwithstanding the involvement of other authorities.

3. Despite the City’s assertion to the contrary, the City’s decision to proceed with construction of the road is a statutory power of decision and thus subject to review.  Furthermore, the City’s decision to proceed without filing an Addendum that was available for public review has broad public interest implications because of the lack of opportunity for public review.

This appears to indicate that municipalities who decide to proceed with projects without filing an Addendum that was available for public review are subject to judicial review by the courts.

4. Despite the City’s assertion that the situation was moot because the road was near completion, the court agreed that it is not too late to address items such as whether the environmental mitigation is appropriate.

This means that it is not too late to do the right thing.

5. With regard to whether the City of Ottawa was required to file an Environmental Assessment (EA) Addendum the court determined that it could not conclude that the City’s decision to proceed without filing an Addendum was unreasonable.

This aspect of the decision appears to raise a number of questions which require careful consideration by members of a broad community of interest. 

In summary the SMHCRC successfully defended itself on several legal challenges made by the City of Ottawa on questions of legal standing, applicability, mootness, and the extent to which the City was subject to judicial review. 

The SMHCRC now has 15 days to consider whether it should request leave to appeal on the remaining aspects of the decision.

2 Comments

The Citizen vs. The Big Picture

South March Highlands

To Randall Denley,

For someone who claims that it is important to look at the big picture, I’m astonished that you managed to miss it entirely in your article in today’s Citizen.

It is no secret that the Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands have been working within the Greenbelt Master Plan process to engineer an outcome whereby the NCC acquires the balance of the property from Urbandale.  This process is ongoing and will take a few more months to conclude.  The NCC has previously acknowledged to the Greenbelt Coalition that preserving the SMH will be among the options that they will recommend for funding.

Meanwhile Urbandale’s subdivision is nowhere near ready for development.  There are several missing EAs, serious questions about storm water management in the aquifer that feeds north Kanata, and the archaeological situation screams for justice. 

Don’t you find it farcical that Urbandale suggests (as reported in the accompanying article in today’s Citizen) that their archaeologist walks across a snow covered forest again just to double check?  Is he equipped with x-ray vision to see through the snow? 

Given that this is the same archaeologist who was discredited for his first attempt to survey the area by one of the foremost archaeologists in Canada, don’t you think Urbandale or the city should hire a better one to do a proper field study in the spring?

Expecting that the Ottawa Citizen should report the whole story when it is contrary to the interests of the development community that advertizes so much in your paper is the only false hope in this story.

3 Comments

Open Letter to Mayor Watson

South March Highlands

Dear Mayor Watson,

 According to the City of Ottawa Official Plan, the city is obligated to protect and acquire lands having significant natural heritage.  I am glad that city council is finally addressing its fiduciary obligation in this respect by referring to committee the problem of financing such acquisitions.  This is an important problem for you to solve.

A closely related problem is the urgent need to protect the South March Highlands.  The recent clear-cutting by Regional Group in the South March Highlands is a regrettable  environmental disaster in an area that has 20 documented species-at-risk.  Don’t allow another one by allowing the Beaver Pond Forest to be similarly destroyed.

Under the terms of the 1988 amendment to the 40% Agreement, the responsibilities assumed by Campeau flow on title to any new landowner such as KNL/Urbandale.  There is no violation of the agreement when the land is purchased, the responsibilities simply flow to the purchaser of whatever portion is sold.  Thus the city can and should acquire the Beaver Pond Forest without violating the agreement.  This also applies to a forced sale via expropriation – an option that I urge you to consider.

In recognition of the need to be fiscally prudent, the community has put forward an innovative development proposal which will generate significant economic benefits to all parts of the city.  Known as the Stewardship Plan, this proposal keeps the forest intact and delivers in perpetuity a much higher return to the city than Urbandale’s current development plan.  I urge you to fully explore the opportunities enabled by this proposal and to allow the community the opportunity to work with the city and council committees. 

It is evident that the Urbandale project is not ready for subdivision development – several environmental assessments are not done, the archaeological assessment has been discredited and serious concerns over flooding in Kanata have not been resolved (you should be aware that the South March Highlands is the aquifer for north Kanata and there is a long history of flooding caused by water management in Beaver Pond dating back to the 1960s).  In fact Urbandale’s recycled Campeau development plan may not even be sustainable by modern standards.  It would be irresponsible for the city to allow this bad plan to rush forward.

It’s never too late to do the right thing.  You have a well-earned reputation for doing the right thing.  Now is your chance.

If you support this letter, please copy/paste it and send it to jim.watson@ottawa.ca with your own name and address.

2 Comments

Where are the Leaders?

South March Highlands

Shame

South March Highlands – Carp River Conservation Inc. (SMHCRC) – the formal entity that is otherwise known as the Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands has done what no federal, provincial, or municipal politician has managed to do – propose a fair and concrete plan for an alternative outcome.

One might think that the politicians might now rush in with great relief to join the Public-Public Partnership that the SMHCRC is proposing.  They all recognize privately that the situation is a mess because of bad planning decisions in the past; decisions made in ignorance of the significance of the area.  They all admit that these decisions would not be made today and no one wants to try to change past to solve the problem. 

Fortunately they don’t have to.  The SMHCRC’s proposal deals with the current reality and does not try to change the mistakes of the past.  It’s an agenda for moving forward, not backward, and towards an alternative development outcome that preserves and leverages the value of green infrastructure.

But yet our elected politicians feel no accountability or responsibility and appear to be devoid of moral imperative.  

Under Ottawa’s Official Plan, the city is responsible for acquiring land as important as the South March Highlands whenever the opportunity arises.  Yet there are no funds allocated for that purpose.  Shame.

In 2010, the City spent $5 B on capital projects.  This includes $1.7 B for road infrastructure and $ 183M for economic development projects.  Only $179 M of capital spending in the $1.7 B is offset by the federal Infrastructure Stimulus fund (which in combination with the province funds 2/3 of that total). 

Yet there are zero dollars available for acquiring green infrastructure and few of our politicians see the need for allocating any!  Shame.

Meanwhile the provincial politicians stand by while environmental standards are ignored and precious cultural heritage is destroyed.  Shame.

Federal politicians such as Gordon O’Connor, who managed to extend spending on $48 Billion of black infrastructure funding, cannot see how the $20 M SMHCRC proposal for green infrastructure qualifies for funding – even though it will meet the objective of the funding program by creating jobs and improving air and water quality. 

Evidently you have to pour concrete to qualify for green infrastructure funding. Shame.

Public Service?

Tim Marc, a city lawyer, represented the public at the OMB meeting organized by Urbandale on Nov 23.  This is the same Tim Marc who told Community Association Presidents and the SMHCRC in July that “The trees are coming down – no matter what”. 

Is it surprising that the result of the meeting was that OMB told Urbandale they cut down trees equal to 2 years supply of housing inventory?  One can only guess how vigorously Mr. Marc represented the public interest at that meeting. 

It is worth observing that the city’s legal department has had a very close relationship with developers over the years.  Not surprising since they work with developers on a daily basis – on both sides of the legal table. 

What is surprising is that the former city lawyer for the Regional Municipality of Ottawa Carleton now works for a developer, presumably to supplement his meagre city pension.  What does this say about the lack of conditions for accepting a public pension?  Why should we hold Cesaers wife to a higher standard of ethics than our public servants?

City staff originally estimated that fair market value of unserviced developable land inside the urban boundary is $210 K / acre which would put the acquisition of the Beaver Pond Forest at approximately $13 M.  Subsequently staff hired a consultant to arrive at a 3rd party valuation based on similar recent transactions.  That valuation is not far off of the staff estimate.

Yet staff are inexplicably refusing to release the 3rd party market evaluation they contracted for in October – not even to city council.  It is difficult to see this behaviour as consistent with public service.  Perhaps like the City police, they appear to have forgotten that they work for the public.

Win-Lose

Why does Urbandale appear to lack any moral responsibility for not developing the most ecologically sensitive lands in Ottawa?  A charitable view might be that they were unaware of the significance of the area when they purchased it.  This establishes a case for paying them fair market value for leaving it undisturbed.  However, Urbandale’s recent behaviour raises questions in the minds of some about their sincerity as a responsible developer.

According to Marianne Wilkinson, Urbandale recently decided to unilaterally reduce the 12 acre swap to 10 acres and to also dictate which 10 acres would be preserved in such a manner as to optimize their subdivision north of the Beaver Pond.  Then Urbandale pulled the land swap off of the table so that they can be paid more during an expropriation.

Many responsible businesses would attempt to reach a win-win situation in a situation like this.  Does Urbandale believe that win-lose deals with the community are best for maintaining a healthy public image?

Worse, Urbandale appears to have no interest in negotiating in good faith on selling the land to the City/Community and are now alledgedly asking for $40 M in compensation – a price increase that includes being paid for 40% land that they paid nothing for because they cannot develop it.   Is this more evidence of a win-lose mindset at Urbandale?

This is the same developer who is paying property taxes on a $6 M appraisal (which is presumably close to what they bought the land for in Sept 2000).  Do they see no shame in this? 

Meanwhile the public and other buisnesses are expected to pay urban property taxes at close to fair market value.  The city could easily find the funds for acquiring natural heritage land if developers paid their fair share of taxes!

Urbandale has also hired a lobbyist who has met with most city councillors, except Marianne Wilkinson, to ensure that they understand the developer’s position.  Some of the new councillors, even experienced ones such as Peter Clark, have declined to meet with representatives of the SMHCRC as a result.  So much for the city’s public participation policy. 

It does not appear that Jim Watson’s administration is off to the fresh start that everyone who voted for him hoped for.  Developers evidently still think that they run City Hall and that the public purse exists for their benefit.

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