The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) is about to launch its strategic plan for the next 10 years, and the public has until Sept. 3 to provide feedback, comments or questions.
The organization plays a key role in ensuring the health of Niagara’s watershed, through stream flow and water quality monitoring at multiple stations across the 12 municipalities. In Niagara-on-the-Lake, three properties come under NPCA jurisdiction: the Virgil Dam and Reservoir, Two Mile Creek Conservation Area and Woodend Conservation Area.
About 130 people attended an online information session focusing on the organization’s 2021-2031 strategic plan hosted by project manager Natalie Green on Aug. 19. The purpose of the meeting was to outline the results of a public survey that was conducted from March 30 to May 6, and to get a first look at the key components of a draft version developed with combined input to date.
The process for the development of the new plan began last fall with the creation of a staff team to take on the challenge. Public engagement took place this spring through the survey, to which the organization received 501 responses, mostly from the Niagara region. The NPCA owns and maintains 41 properties, including some located in Hamilton and Haldimand.
The survey laid out a number of proposed key strategic priorities for the authority, decided on by staff. Of the sample components laid out to participants, only one, marketing NPCA properties as a destination of choice, did not receive strong public support.
“We did take that feedback quite seriously,” Green said, “and we did make some revisions as a result of that feedback. In general, the feedback was really positive and supportive, though there was some misunderstanding of the NPCA’s roles and responsibilities.”
Recognizing that conservation is critical for people, plants and wildlife alike, the NPCA mission statement for the next 10 years is Nature for All chosen “to create a common ground for conservation-inspired action and accountability to nature.”
As would be expected, throughout the unveiling of the six strategic directions that were presented, the potential effects of climate change on Niagara’s watershed and the need for climate resilience in the future informed many aspects of the plan.
As well, Niagara’s population growth projections over the next 10 years were acknowledged as another potential challenge.
Following the unveiling of the draft strategic plan, a question and answer session was held. CEO Chandra Sharma spoke of the pandemic shining a light on the importance of natural spaces.
“People probably did not realize how important green infrastructure was for the mental health and well-being of our communities,” she said. “We managed it very well. We left our conservation areas open. Our staff were at the front line. We wanted the communities to come out and enjoy the green space.”
“I think, along those lines,” Sharma continued, “we will continue to upgrade the assets within these properties. We will make them more accessible from a socioeconomic perspective. We’re looking at everything from that lens: how can we make our programs and properties, our green space more accessible and equitable to everyone in Niagara.”
In December, 2020, the Ford government made changes to the conservation authorities, giving government ministers new powers to make political decisions about construction and industry projects. The move was criticized by many experts as an effort to allow developers to bypass the conservation authorities’ science-based permitting process, stripping them of one of their key roles.
Sharma acknowledged this change, which was implemented just as the development of the 10-year plan began.
“The timing was very good, as we were able to align the changes and adjust,” she told participants. “The overall mandate and purpose of the conservation authority remains natural resource management. Nothing changes there. Overall, it’s still a broad category of natural resource management and watershed work that we will continue to undertake.”
Working with developers in the planning and permitting process is part of the mandate of all conservation authorities across the province.
“Our approach there is to work with the proponent,” Sharma explained, “to guide them through the technical process, to help them do the right thing so the approvals are timely and the collective outcomes can be achieved.”
She continued, “on the other side, there is the partner-of-choice opportunity. If a development industry partner comes in with a proposal with a socio-economic benefit to restore a big park or invest in the conservation authority foundation, those are opportunities that we look at both from the private and public sector. It’s a balancing act.”
Questions also arose about the NPCA’s relationship with agriculture.
“In this jurisdiction, a majority of our land is in agricultural use,” Sharma said. “The relationship with our agricultural community shows up in two locations in this strategic plan. One is within the healthy and resilient watershed. We need to understand the vulnerabilities from climate change and plan strategies to be looked at.”
“Beyond that,” she continued, “we are also committed to new research and science with our academic partners to find solutions for the agricultural community. There’s also the stewardship piece. Through our restoration program we work with the agricultural community on best management practices. This strategic plan calls for enhancement of our restoration program.”
Sharma also assured participants that the NPCA has no plans to sell any of its 41 properties to developers.
“When a property comes under conservation authority jurisdiction,” she explained, “it comes for a reason. It has sensitive natural habitat or heritage value. Or it’s significant in some other way. The NPCA does not have any plans to sell any of its land to anybody at this point.”
The next step in the process is to finalize the strategic plan and present it for board approval in early fall.
The entire presentation from last week can be seen at and questions, concerns and comments can be sent to the NPCA via getinvolved.npca.ca/2021-2031-strategic-plan.
In addition to his roles as a journalist for The Local and Cogeco, Mike Balsom sits on the board of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority Foundation.