Great. Thank you.
I'm pleased to talk to you today about the importance of private sector support for our environmental initiatives at the Grand River watershed. The Grand River Conservation Authority is one of 36 in Ontario that manage water, land, and other natural resources. The Grand River is the largest in southern Ontario. It flows 300 kilometres through southwestern Ontario, from the Dufferin highlands to Lake Erie. The watershed is about 6,800 square kilometres in area, making it roughly the same size as Prince Edward Island. There are about one million residents. Most of them live in five fast-growing cities: Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Guelph, and Brantford. It is also a very productive farming region, with more than 70% of the land providing a wide variety of products.
In light of our discussion, it's probably worth discussing the origins of the GRCA. When this part of Ontario was opened up in the 1800s, the settlers dramatically reshaped the landscape. They cut down almost all the forests, emptied the wetlands, paved city streets, and installed tile drainage on farms. By the early 1900s, the Grand River faced significant environmental issues: devastating floods, inadequate water supplies, and a severely polluted river. The industrial and business leaders of the day realized the environmental problems threatened the health of their workers, their communities, and their businesses. When floods hit, their factories literally washed away.
The business leaders created an organization called the Grand Valley Boards of Trade, which asked the provincial government to create a new agency to manage the environmental challenges of the Grand River. The province created the Grand River Conservation Commission, a forerunner to today's GRCA. It was formed as a partnership of watershed municipalities and the province to address their shared problems. The commission built Shand Dam in 1942. It was the first dam in Canada designed to control both floods and augment river flows during dry summer periods. Over the next 30 years, six more dams were built on the river.
From the earliest days, there has been a recognition in the Grand River watershed that a healthy economy and a healthy environment go hand in hand. There's a role for both the public sector and the private sector in environmental protection and restoration. Throughout its early decades, the GRCA was financed largely by municipal and provincial governments, which paid about 80% of capital and operating costs. Of course, that changed in the 1990s as governments at all levels went through restraint.
By the end of the 1990s, government was providing less than 40% of the GRCA's income. This reduction in government forced some changes. We had to become more entrepreneurial when it came to managing our own revenue-producing operations, such as campgrounds, hydro generation, property rentals, and others. It also led us to explore new and innovative ways to get work done by finding new sources of funding in both public and private sectors.
In the 1960s the GRCA had created a foundation to carry out limited fundraising. In the 1990s the foundation expanded its efforts, soliciting millions of dollars from private donors for trail development, outdoor education, environmental restoration, and other projects. The GRCA worked with traditional partners and government to find new ways to finance environmental projects. To make up for the loss of general operating grants, the GRCA began to deliver projects and programs on behalf of municipal and provincial governments, funded on a case-by-case basis.
A good example is the rural water quality program. Municipal governments provide the money that goes to farmers for projects to protect water quality on farmland. We manage the program on behalf of those municipalities, but we connect with farmers, manage the grants and the applications all the way through to the approval process, and look after those farmers. This approach works because we can demonstrate to our partners, the municipalities and the farmers, that we can deliver these programs effectively and efficiently to meet their needs on private land.
However, not all municipalities in the watershed participate in the rural water quality program. Smaller municipalities just don't have the large tax base to contribute. To fill those gaps, the GRCA and our foundation have found private sector partners. We have received grants from various organizations that have an environmental mission, such as the RBC Blue Water fund, TD Friends of the Environment, and the Monsanto fund. One reason we think we've been able to tap into these grants is that the rural water quality program has a long record of accomplishment of putting money into the ground with minimal expense and overhead. That's one example of the relationships we have established with the private sector.
A second is our connection with Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Canada. The company has a plant in Cambridge not too far from our office. It also has a second plant in Woodstock, which is just a few hundred metres outside our watershed. Over the years, Toyota has been a strong supporter of our environmental education program, including money for the construction of the environmental education centre in Cambridge. Over the years they've contributed additional money for the education program and trail development.
In that respect the relationship is much like the one we have with other foundations, but there is an interesting development in our ties to Toyota, which is indicative of a growing trend in philanthropy. These days donors want more than just to write a cheque and show up at a ribbon cutting. They want to literally get their hands dirty.
For several years Toyota and GRCA have held work days together. We identify projects that their employees can dig into like building trails, painting walls, or restoring boardwalks. Their employees are paid by Toyota and work under their own supervisors. They manage the health and safety issues. Doing this requires more planning on our part and we're addressing that by developing a new volunteer management program at the GRCA.
Corporate volunteerism pays off in many interesting ways. We get work done that benefits the environment and the larger community. The employees get to contribute in a meaningful way to environmental sustainability in their community and they learn first-hand about the GRCA and its roles and responsibilities. Significantly, we build a tighter bond between our agency and their company that will benefit us both in the future. This type of relationship works because there is a convergence of our corporate goals and theirs. Toyota has an environmental record and sees us as a good partner to enhance it.
We have similar connections with S.C. Johnson and Son of Brantford. The company advertises itself as a family company and has demonstrated that in many ways over the decades. They've supported a wide range of GRCA programs that have family and community at their core. They've supported construction of an education centre and have been steady supporters of that program. They have contributed to our fisheries management program and restoration of natural areas, all things that add to the quality of life in Brantford and the watershed.
I'd like to highlight one new and innovative relationship we have with the aggregate industry. The GRCA is looking to develop a hydroelectric plant at a dam in Cambridge. This is a commercial venture for us, so we know we will have to borrow money for the capital costs. The payoff for the GRCA is a consistent revenue stream long into the future that will fund other environmental projects while also supplying sustainable energy.
The Ontario Stone, Sand and Gravel Association has signed on as a partner. They are raising money in a variety of ways. The money will be turned over to the GRCA to help with capital costs and this will reduce the amount that GRCA will need to borrow. The result is that our future profits will be much higher. The enhanced long-term revenue stream means we will be able to do much more restoration in the future.
Before I wrap up, I would like to make one more important point. As useful and valuable as the private sector support has been, it is not a substitute or a replacement for reliable adequate core funding from our government supporters. The projects supported by our private sector partners are important and valuable and add to our watershed to make it a healthier and better place. However, in our work there are a lot of day-to-day expenses that aren't and quite frankly shouldn't be funded by the private sector. Our basic responsibilities such as flood protection, watershed planning, protecting water quality, and ensuring adequate water supplies are societal goods and need to be funded by society.
With that said, I'd like to offer some of the lessons we've learned through our work with private sector partners. One is to identify programs and projects to which private sector support would bring the biggest benefits, so we have a shopping list that we can discuss with our donors. We are willing to invest resources in building long-term relationships. We understand the goals and needs of our private sector partners to discover areas of mutual interest. We are open to new and innovative relationships. We want to give our partners maximum bang for their buck by being effective and efficient in our programming and project delivery. We are developing a recognition program to ensure that our partners get the attention they deserve for the support they've provided.
Again I thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee today. We really appreciate it.