Ministry of Environment

Riparian Areas Regulation


Riparian areas are the areas bordering on streams, lakes, and wetlands that link water to land. The blend of streambed, water, trees, shrubs and grasses directly influences and provides fish habitat. Protecting this riparian fish habitat, while facilitating urban development that exhibits high standards of environmental stewardship, is a priority for the Government of British Columbia. Good quality streamside habitat is essential for ensuring healthy fish populations.

The Riparian Areas Regulation (RAR), enacted under Section 12 of the Fish Protection Act in July 2004, calls on local governments to protect riparian areas during residential, commercial, and industrial development by ensuring that proposed activities are subject to a science based assessment conducted by a Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP). Top of page



The purpose of the Regulation is to protect the features, functions and conditions that are vital in the natural maintenance of stream health and productivity. These vital features, functions and conditions are numerous and varied and include such things as:

  • Sources of large organic debris, such as fallen trees and tree roots;
  • Areas for stream channel migration;
  • Vegetative cover to help moderate water temperature;
  • Provision of food, nutrients and organic matter to the stream;
  • Stream bank stabilization; and,
  • Buffers for streams from excessive silt and surface runoff pollution. Top of page

The RAR Model

The RAR model uses Qualified Environmental Professionals (QEPs), hired by land developers, to:

    • Assess habitat and the potential impacts to the habitat;
    • Develop mitigation measures; and,
    • Avoid impacts from development to fish and fish habitat, particularly riparian habitat.
    The cost of this assessment is the responsibility of the land developer, allowing governments to focus on monitoring and enforcement within their respective jurisdictions. By conscientiously following the assessment procedure set out in the Regulation, the QEP and the land developer will have applied due diligence in avoiding a harmful alteration, disruption or destruction (HADD) of riparian fish habitat. If a HADD cannot be avoided, an application for an authorization must be submitted to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

    The assessment methods are attached to the Regulation as a schedule and are a key component of the regulatory regime for riparian protection that is clear and measurable, but does not rely exclusively on default setbacks.  The assessment is based on the best available science with respect to riparian habitats.

    The assessment methodology provides clear direction to QEPs on:

    • How to assess impacts;
    • How to determine setbacks based on site conditions; and,
    • The measures that need to be employed to maintain the integrity of the setbacks.

    QEPs submitting RAR assessments must certify that they have the qualifications, experience and skills necessary to conduct the assessment. The assessment will form the content of notifications by development proponents to regulatory agencies. The Ministry of Environment provides local governments with confirmation that an assessment report has been received, enabling local governments to move forward in approving urban development without taking on the liability for reviewing and approving riparian setbacks.

    To increase the accountability of the QEP and to permit compliance monitoring, the assessment methodology will yield outcomes that are measurable, repeatable, and independent of observer. The assessment methodology will also enable effectiveness monitoring to be undertaken to determine whether impacts from urban development on riparian habitats are being fully avoided when the assessment methodology is used correctly.