The Coalition of Ontario Watershed Guardians

Background and Purpose

In a province that has more than 250,000 lakes, tens of thousands of miles of streams and rivers, a significant portion of the world’s wetlands, and the Great Lakes along our Southern edge, it is hard to imagine that watershed security could be an issue for Ontario. And yet it is.

Threats to watershed security include poor land use and watershed planning; inadequate stormwater and sewage treatment; pollutants from a variety of sources such as agriculture, industry, prescription pharmaceuticals, and road salt; poor stewardship practices; and the twin crises of the loss of biodiversity and climate change.

Generally under-publicized, negative impacts from climate change on our watersheds begin with altered hydrologic and climate norms which can result in changes to the flow regime and natural heritage, which present downstream impacts with respect to droughts, flooding, and groundwater infiltration. Between the headwaters and the downstream, climate change threatens increased thermal loading to water, changes in water chemistry, decreased ice cover impacting some aquatic species, and, where that loss of ice cover occurs, increases in winter evaporation. As many of these changing climate impacts may also effect biodiversity and other challenges, climate change is considered an amplifier of the overall threat to Ontario’s watershed security.

In spite of many valued stewardship efforts across society, there is a general lack of awareness about the overall threat to watershed security in Ontario. Worse, recent efforts by the provincial government in land use and watershed planning put our watershed security on a downward trend. This includes actions to reduce regional planning, the role of conservation authorities, and consultation with First Nations; reduced protection for wetlands and species at risk; streamlined environmental assessment and permitting for numerous water-related activities; Provincial intrusion in normal planning via Minister Zoning Orders; and reductions in the traditional right to appeal certain land use planning decisions. Each of these actions depict an Ontario in which watershed security is too often an after-thought when it should be a primary concern in development planning, which have led to the mission below.  


The Coalition of Ontario Watershed Guardians seeks to protect and improve watershed security – water for people and for nature – to help safeguard regional ecological integrity, social wellbeing, and economic vitality.


The Ontario Headwaters Institute will manage the Coalition of Ontario Water Guardians while following the principles and protocols of not-for-profit organizations set by the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee of Ontario, adhering to provincial statutes and exercising due diligence in its affairs.

In addition, the Coalition of Ontario Water Guardians shall strive to address:

  • Reconciliation: Embracing good will and recognizing the obligations of all treaty people in the spirit of reconciliation;
  • Resilience: Ensuring resilient policy and stewardship frameworks to protect watershed security in Ontario; and,
  • Responsibility: Encouraging increased multi-sectoral engagement in watershed security, including for civil society, the public, the private sector, and governments.

Operating Guidelines

  • The OHI will manage the Coalition as a campaign platform for watershed security in Ontario, recruiting Watershed Guardians to the Mission.
  • The platform will deliver two types of campaigns: provincial campaigns to address the largest scale of watershed security and geographically focused campaigns to increase the local understanding of watershed security while seeking improved regional outcomes.
  • Guardians can be individuals or organizations, from informal community groups to incorporated non-government organizations. 
  • Campaigns may include publications, submissions, petitions, and/or other types of community engagement.
  • Organizational Guardians will be made aware of all suggested campaigns and be invited to participate on a Campaign Roundtable, per the drawing below, to discuss and develop campaigns.
  • All Guardians will be informed of and invited to support Coalition Campaigns, while no Guardian is obligated to do so.
  • Discussion in any Campaign Roundtable will be held digitally; will be informal; and will end with a motion noting consensus on general direction or suggested actions. The written motion will be shared back to all of the members of the Campaign Roundtable, seeking substantial  agreement before a campaign is launched.   
  • All Guardians shall conduct themselves in good faith toward others while supporting the Mission;
Organizational Structure and Campaign Development