Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, members. Again, I appreciate the opportunity.
My name is Don Pearson and I'm general manager of the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority. I have spent nearly 40 years working either with conservation authorities or with our municipal partners directly, including eight years with Conservation Ontario, the umbrella organization. So I am obviously very passionate about the job that we're all interested in accomplishing, and again I appreciate that the committee is taking a look at this most important question.
The committee is aware from previous presentations from conservation authority colleagues about the geographic expanse of the conservation authorities so I won't repeat that. I would like to just add, though, the fact that 90% of Ontario's population currently lives within the conservation authorities' jurisdiction and therefore impacts the Great Lakes. That population is expected to increase by 25% to 30% over the next 25 years. So in addition to some of the catch-up work that's been referenced, we really have to get ahead of the curve in terms of planning to make sure that we're not solving problems at the expense of ignoring the potential for future problems developing.
I think it's important to again understand that the 36 conservation authorities are investing more than $300 million annually into programs that benefit, among other things, water quality, including the Great Lakes habitats, and providing recreation and contributing to human health. And they're doing so by leveraging municipal sources. It's about 40% municipally funded. An additional 40% comes from revenues that are largely self-generated. These can be user fees, to permit fees, to resource management fees, and the remaining 20% is made up by a variety of senior government grants, including the federal government. It often comes in at around 2% to 4% of that figure annually. So it's a shared contribution to that program expenditure, and I think one of value.
Within the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority, where I am the manager, we encompass more than about 100,000 people, but it is also Ontario's most productive farmland. I think it's important to realize that this same part of Ontario that accommodates the population is also our prime farmland, and it's also the area where people expect natural heritage and other things to be protected, so it's a challenging job.
In addition to the Thames River, we also have a significant area that drains directly into the north shore of Lake Erie, and we have over 100 kilometres of Great Lakes shoreline, which I think makes us one of the largest jurisdictions directly impacting the Great Lakes.
The Thames River has been recognized, sadly, as the area of greatest contribution to the water quality impairment in the Western Lake Erie Basin. Of course, the Maumee River in Ohio is the largest, responsible for about 80%, but obviously Canada and Ontario have to do their share in terms of reducing the nutrient loads into the western basin. The economic costs are enormous.
I will now turn to the three areas of focus of your study.
The first is the priority locations within the Great Lakes Basin. Obviously, the western basin—declared dead in the 1960s—recovered, but since 2011 annually we've seen expansive algal blooms, and these of course are affecting ecosystems, human health, and the economy for most of the ice-free season, and obviously drinking water, commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as direct contact recreation are impacted by this. Other watersheds, including the Grand River watershed, have been mentioned as having significant input into Lake Erie, and what would apply in the Lower Thames would be applicable in the Grand as well.
We are doing some things under the category of efforts under way to remediate identifiable areas. Many government agencies, municipalities, and the conservation authorities, as well as organizations like the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, have been promoting best-management practices with the goal of reducing non-point sources of contamination. They've often used funding cobbled together from a variety of sources, including the federal government, but a number of authorities have been able to sustain programs over time, which has allowed the development and retention of the staff expertise and capacity that is necessary to maintain credibility and continuity within the community.
Our authority hasn't been as active in this regard as some other authorities, partly due to the limited financial capacity, but also because it has emphasized flood hazard reduction as a priority program instead.
We are cooperating with neighbouring jurisdictions at the moment, delivering clean water programs and implementing a greening strategy with the Municipality of Chatham-Kent. As an example, municipal funding of $150,000 annually is being leveraged through additional investment into $500,000 in program delivery on the ground. The authority's mechanism has been very effective.
We recently entered into a new partnership arrangement with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food to address nutrients and sediment loadings to Lake Erie through enhancing our understanding of how phosphorus moves over land, not just the mechanisms but the time of year and the factors that influence its transport, and how those are influenced in turn by various tillage and nutrient application practices. This will support the development and implementation of new approaches for reducing phosphorus from agricultural sources while raising awareness and increasing adoption of environmental farm planning and beneficial management practices among producers. We'll also involve ongoing monitoring and demonstration and evaluation of new technology and practices so that we can ensure effectiveness and value for the investments that are made.
Under the topic of best practices that will facilitate the further remediation of these areas within the Great Lakes Basin, we've certainly learned much about the effectiveness of various best management practices for reducing non-point source pollution. We also understand that voluntary, incentive-based programs aimed mainly at the agricultural community have enjoyed strong landowner participation and afforded the opportunity for cost-sharing with various levels of government.
Within the Thames watershed, but more particularly in the upper basin, programs have been implemented for more than several decades. They have produced local benefits but they have fallen short of the overall goal of improving water quality throughout the system and in the Great Lakes. Partly this is attributable to the changing climate, which has produced more frequent and intensive rainfall events, and to longer exposure of soils to the elements during the shorter duration of snow cover in the period when crop cover is absent. Obviously, again, climate change and the changing weather patterns impact our water quality protection efforts.
We have to our adjust our agricultural practices on a very wide scale to compensate for impacts resulting from changing weather patterns. If voluntary, incentive-based practices are to become more widely adopted, then realistic levels of effort must be applied to ensure that the targets are met.
It can't be overlooked that one of the more critical success factors for influencing change, particularly on the agricultural landscape, is the ability of an organization to develop and maintain relationships, reputations for excellence, and capacity to deliver on-the-ground support and advice. This is often challenging, because many government programs are transient in nature, or they have specific targets and timelines, often without regard for the realities of the funding cycles of other potential partners. This reality of multi-stakeholder efforts has presented a challenge for implementation, and yet it has been made to work by the conservation authorities' ability to coordinate the programs from multiple funding sources while maintaining continuity and stability in program delivery to landowners.
Again, some authorities have been more successful in this regard than others due to a variety of factors, but we can't ignore that on the landscape, population is coincident with municipal ability to pay. A given watershed may be sparsely populated, but it may have the same impact in terms of agricultural sources. Somehow governments have to create mechanisms for equalization of the financial costs of implementing programs in those areas. In other words, it's hard expect 100,000 people to put the same effort forward as 500,000 people on a watershed of comparable size. I think this is something that has to be taken into account in program design; there is a role for governments in terms of creating a level playing field or some kind of equalization payment.
A second critical factor for ensuring that public investment achieves greatest possible value is captured in the idea of co-benefits. Conservation authorities have successfully applied the principle of integrated watershed management in designing and implementing programs in partnership with landowners. We have to recognize that most of the contributing area within the Great Lakes Basin is privately owned, and it happens to be agricultural land. It's imperative that we achieve multiple objectives within this limited area.
Traditional approaches to problems have really been narrowly focused on a specific program or objective. If you have a flooding problem, you build a dam or a channel or a dike.
One minute, Mr. Chair...?