Non-Point Source Water Pollution in British Columbia: An
Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data
non-point source water pollution in British Columbia.
1. Water - Pollution - British Columbia.
2. Nonpoint source pollution - British Columbia.
3. Water - Pollution - Government Policy - British Columbia.
4. Best management practices (Pollution Prevention) - British
Columbia. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (now called
Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection).
to the Table of Contents
Columbia's water quality is generally good, people are increasingly
aware that the province is experiencing localized water quality
pollution. Every year there are reports of public beach closures,
contaminated sediments, algal blooms, aquatic weed infestations,
fish kills, shellfish harvesting closures, boil-water advisories,
outbreaks of waterborne illnesses, and contaminated ground water.
British Columbia's efforts to protect water quality by regulating "end-of-pipe" point
discharges from industrial and municipal outfalls have been
generally successful, and it is now recognized that the major
remaining cause of water pollution is from non-point sources,
which pose significant and growing threats to our water resources.
Non-point source (NPS) water pollution is subtle and gradual,
caused by the release of pollutants from many different and
diffuse sources, largely unregulated, and associated with urbanization,
agriculture, and other forms of land development.
dramatic population growth predicted for BC, we must act now
in a determined way to deal with this pollution, otherwise
we can anticipate a continuing, gradual decline in the quality
of our waters. This decline will lead to significant future
economic impacts and reduced benefits from our water resources.
Sources of Pollution
of NPS pollution in BC include:
Construction projects and urban development which can disrupt
natural water flows, generate sediments, toxins, pathogens,
and create opportunities for numerous other non-point sources
of water pollution.
manure, pathogens, pesticides, and sediments can enter surface
and ground water if agricultural practices are improperly
Runoff and Combined Sewer Overflows
Nutrients, sediments, pathogens, and toxins are picked up from
yards and streets and enter surface and ground water, in some
cases mixed with untreated sewage from combined sewers.
Nutrients and pathogens can seep into ground water and surface
water if the systems are improperly sited, installed, or maintained.
Soil erosion from road building, and logging activities, fertilizer
and pesticide application, and burning are potential sources
of water contamination.
released to the atmosphere from motor vehicles and other emissions
eventually settle and enter waterbodies through runoff, rain,
Vessel operation, maintenance, and sewage discharges can result
in contaminants entering waterbodies.
of pollutants originating from any one source-such as a home,
business, or farm-may be very small. Nevertheless, the effects
of hundreds or thousands of small sources within a watershed
can add up to create water pollution.
pollution and costs from these non-point sources are significant
and can include fish kills, health concerns, degraded drinking
water, diminished water-based recreation and tourism opportunities,
economic losses to commercial fishing and aquaculture industries
and First Nations food harvesting areas, lowered real estate
values, damage to habitat of fish and other aquatic organisms,
the inevitable costs of clean-up and pollution reduction, and
reduced aesthetic values of lakes, streams, and coastal areas.
source water pollution is difficult to manage using conventional
regulatory approaches because it is hard to identify and control
the many sources of pollution over a large area. The key to
addressing this problem is prevention through planning and
coordination, education, and source control. Wide-scale participation
in the prevention of NPS pollution is necessary because the
actions of so many individuals are part of the problem.
Plan identifies the province's role in addressing NPS pollution
and the priority initiatives that should be undertaken. These
initiatives have been developed following public consultation,
input from several government agencies, and completion of NPS
water pollution studies.
Action Plan Initiatives
Plan includes the following initiatives:
Inform government, First Nations, community organizations,
businesses, industries, and individuals on the sources and
risks of NPS water pollution and the options for prevention,
and encourage long-term changes in behaviour that causes pollution.
at the Site
Develop and adopt practical "best management practices" to
be applied at the source for pollution prevention, and establish
water conservation programs.
Planning, Coordination and Local Action
Identify water quality protection strategies for all forms
of land use and at all levels of environmental planning, encourage
local "stewardship groups" to participate in water
quality protection, and develop organizational structures and
partnerships to coordinate efforts.
Prioritize watersheds for NPS pollution control actions, implement
pilot projects, to assess effectiveness through monitoring,
and report the results to stakeholders.
Assess the potential for using market-based incentives to motivate
NPS water pollution prevention.
Fully implement existing statutes, conduct ongoing analysis
of existing legislation, and correct weaknesses and fill gaps
in existing statutes and regulations, as necessary.
range of actions can only succeed in protecting water quality
with the support and involvement of all levels of government,
First Nations, community groups, and the public. The ministry
of Environment, Lands and Parks (now Water, Land and Air Protection)
will lead this undertaking and has chosen a three-pronged strategy
implementation strategy includes:
Leadership by building awareness, coordinating existing activities
across agencies, leading in policy and regulation development,
and prioritizing actions.
Others and Building Partnerships by supporting other agencies
in developing NPS pollution prevention strategies and initiatives,
and by providing technical information.
Through Pilot Projects by selecting projects, and developing
the strategies for applying the results in other areas.
of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection)
is implementing the NPS Action Plan in stages, building on
in, over five years, longer term actions that require consultation
and new policy. The Action Plan should be viewed as a living
document that will be subject to review and improvement over
time. Further public and stakeholder comments on the Actions,
which are summarized below, are welcome.
Actions Under the Non-Point Source Water Pollution Action Plan
Education and Training — Actions
a Public Awareness Strategy for NPS Pollution
- 1.1 Lead
development of a provincial water education program, that
includes NPS, aimed at the public, students, and community
- 1.2 Coordinate
education efforts across audiences to maximize effectiveness.
- 1.3 Inform
local elected officials and administrators about the effect
that local decision-making can have on water quality.
Prevention of NPS Pollution Through Industry Associations
- 2.1 Work
with industry associations to develop and promote NPS pollution
prevention through education, training, and operator and
Prevention at the Site — Actions
- Support Development and Implementation of Best Management
- 3.1 Support
development and implementation of guidance manuals and best
management practices (BMPs) for major sources of NPS pollution.
- 3.2 Provide
advice and support to stakeholders in the effective use of
- Promote Water Conservation
- 4.1 Support
implementation of the provincial strategy for water conservation.
Land-Use Planning, Coordination and Local Action — Actions
Water Resource Management Objectives into Land-Use Plans
- 5.1 Incorporate
NPS pollution prevention strategies into Higher Level Forestry
Planning Processes for provincial forest lands.
- 5.2 Support
local governments involved with Regional Growth Strategies
with technical information on water resources.
- 5.3 Promote
the incorporation of NPS pollution prevention strategies
and policies into Regional Growth Strategies and Official
- 5.4 Ensure
that streamside protection measures incorporated into local
government planning processes address NPS pollution.
- 5.5 Support
local government in protecting greenways.
NPS Pollution Prevention in Waste Management Planning Initiatives
- 6.1 Address
NPS Pollution in Liquid Waste Management Plans.
- 6.2 Address
NPS issues in Pollution Prevention Plans.
Development of Water Management Plans or Liquid Waste Management
Plans in Critical Areas
- 7.1 Develop
policy and regulations for Water Management Areas and Plans.
- 7.2 Identify
critical areas and require Water Management Plans to address
- 7.3 Develop
Liquid Waste Management Plans in critical areas.
- Support Government Coordination
Community-Based Waterbody Protection Initiatives
Assessment and Reporting — Actions
- Evaluate Performance of NPS Pollution Actions
Measure success of program in terms of water quality and
key management objectives.
Modernize field measurement methods.
Seek partnerships to support evaluation programs.
Support community volunteer monitoring initiatives.
Communicate successes and challenges to all stakeholders.
- Assess Key NPS Pollution Cases
Focus effort on selected pilot areas.
Investigate the relative contribution of pollution from various
Apply and evaluate remedial measures.
Use results to guide pollution prevention efforts elsewhere.
Reporting to the Public
Report to the public on provincial water quality issues and
Issue a BC Water Quality Trend Report.
Economic Incentives — Actions
the Potential for Using Economic Incentives to Encourage
NPS Pollution Prevention
Legislation and Regulation — Actions
the Water Quality Provisions of the new Fish Protection
Act and Local Government Statutes Amendment Act
Ensure that new provisions of the Fish Protection Act, such
as streamside protection measures and "sensitive stream" designation,
are designed to minimize NPS pollution.
Participate in the development and implementation of model
bylaws for new legislative provisions under the Local
Government Statutes Amendment Act, in support of the Fish
Protection Act, which enables local governments to improve environmental
management activities and prevent NPS pollution.
Agricultural Waste Management
Continue to improve administration of the existing Agricultural
Waste Control Regulation under the Waste Management
reduce water contamination from farming practices.
Consult all stakeholders, including the public and the agricultural
industry, to address concerns where water quality problems
Lead and develop a new government-wide policy for improvements
in agricultural NPS management.
Implement a new agricultural NPS pollution management policy.
Onsite Sewage Management
Harmonize the requirements of the proposed Municipal Sewage
Regulation (Waste Management Act) with the Sewage Disposal
Regulation (Health Act).
Strengthen Liquid Waste Management Planning to maximize prevention
of NPS pollution from onsite sewage disposal systems.
Empower and assist local governments to develop and promote
onsite sewage system maintenance bylaws to prevent NPS pollution
from new and existing systems.
Investigate the feasibility of alternative domestic sewage
disposal systems to minimize and eliminate failing conventional
More Effective Stormwater Management
Encourage use of stormwater bylaws for the prevention and
management of NPS pollution.
Enhance the provisions for addressing stormwater quality
in Liquid Waste Management Planning.
Investigate and promote the use of stormwater utilities.
Promote partnerships between the province, local governments,
community groups, and others to raise awareness about urban
runoff and to promote grass roots support for stormwater
management in community planning and stewardship activities.
Produce a focused educational program that identifies how
boaters can prevent environmental degradation in the nominated
Work with the Coast Guard (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) to
accelerate the designation of nominated waterbodies for boat
sewage retention under federal legislation.
Review new nominations annually.
Determine the necessary level of infrastructure and enforcement
as the program evolves.
Forestry and Range NPS Impacts
Establish water quality objectives in community watersheds
and water supply areas.
Support the application of the Forest Practices Code of BC
Act regulations to private forest lands.
New Legislation to Fill Gaps
Propose new legislation to fill gaps in existing statutes
to improve prevention of NPS pollution.
to the Table of Contents
British Columbia's Commitment to Clean Water
The Time to Act is Now!
British Columbia's water quality is generally good, people
are increasingly aware that the province is experiencing localized
water quality pollution. There are swimming closures at public
beaches, algal blooms, aquatic weed infestations, fish kills,
shellfish harvesting closures, swimmer's itch, serious waterborne
illnesses, and contaminated ground water. While our problems
are not unique and may not be nearly as bad as in many other
parts of the world, they are still serious. They cost millions
of dollars annually and, worst of all, lead us gradually but
surely towards immense future costs and conflict, and a much
reduced quality of our water resource.
news, however, is that British Columbia is extremely lucky.
Nature has granted us a vast supply of water — 25% of
Canada's fresh flowing water is in British Columbia, and compared
many regions, the total water demand of our population is quite
small. There is still time to turn this pollution problem around,
but it must be given serious attention.
freshwater ecosystems and the quality and availability
of Canada's fresh water is perhaps the most pressing
of the many environmental challenges on the national
State of Canada's Environment, 1991
clean water is a life or death issue for one out of every five
people. In developing countries, 80% of all disease is spread
by unsafe water. Although British Columbia is far from a developing
country, we too experience waterborne diseases. In 1996, the
cryptosporidium pathogen contaminated the Kelowna drinking
water supply for a prolonged period, affecting 10,000 to 15,000
residents with severe diarrhea, weight loss, and fever. In
the United States, waterborne infectious diseases cost almost
$2 billion annually. Aside from the potential for huge health
care costs, polluted water imposes major costs on other economic
activities, including fisheries, tourism, and recreation.
In the first
public status report on the quality of British Columbia's waters,
the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (now Ministry
of Water, Land and Air Protection) rated 124 waterbodies throughout
on attainment of water
About 90% had excellent, good, or fair water quality, but 10%
were only borderline or poor-and non-point source (NPS) pollution
was identified as the major cause. Naturally, we all want top
quality water, and if we set this as a clear goal and work
together, we can achieve it. This Action Plan describes the
ways that the British Columbia government proposes to address
NPS water pollution to achieve the goal of clean water for
all British Columbians.
Commitment to Clean Water
Changing our Approach to Water Pollution
to water quality management has been to focus on controlling "end-of-pipe" industrial
and municipal pollution from obvious, identifiable sources.
Permits are issued that allow a specified quantity and quality
from industrial and sewage outfalls to flow into receiving
waters and be diluted to safe levels.
this is one way of protecting water quality, it is only part
of the solution. If we are serious about avoiding the environmental,
health, and economic costs of poor water quality, we must emphasize
pollution prevention rather than after-the-fact control. We
know that cumulative impacts and carrying capacity of the receiving
environment are critical factors. We know that we must act
strategically by tackling big problems before routine ones,
and by applying scarce resources to those solutions that will
generate the greatest environmental benefit. And perhaps most
importantly, we know that we must approach water pollution
in a far more cooperative and coordinated manner. This is because
NPS pollution cannot always be traced to a specific, identifiable
source. NPS water pollution is subtle, gradual, and cumulative.
It is caused by runoff flowing across farmers' fields, active
or discontinued logging operations, on site sewage systems,
home gardens, and city streets. It is caused by many small
acts of pollution, and is therefore elusive and not easily
regulated or enforced. We are all responsible and must all
be involved in the solution; this will require cooperation
and coordination at all levels, from senior governments, to
community organizations, to individuals.
Return to Commitment to Clean Water
Understanding Non-Point Source Pollution in BC
Columbia, like most other jurisdictions, has
focused primarily on controlling point sources of water pollution,
but we are now beginning to understand the extent of NPS water
pollution and the risk of not controlling it. Many costs and
problems are associated with NPS pollution, including:
- degraded drinking
water and potential human risks;
to aquatic ecosystems, including fish, other aquatic organisms,
and their habitats;
losses to commercial and recreational fishing and shellfish
harvesting and impacts on traditional First Nations food
water-based recreation and tourism opportunities;
aesthetic and market values of lakes, streams and coastal
of remediation (e.g. payments for monitoring, clean-ups and
pollution reduction); and,
real estate values.
SOURCE AND NON-POINT SOURCE (NPS) WATER POLLUTION
source pollution is from a single, identifiable source,
such as a pipe through which an industrial
treatment plant releases wastewater and pollutants
into a waterbody. Point sources are often controlled
through effluent standards, water quality guidelines,
permitting programs and liquid waste management plans.
source (NPS) pollution is caused by one or several
activities taking place over a broad area. Agriculture,
forestry and urban development are examples of activities
that contribute to NPS pollution.
source pollution in aquatic ecosystems can be grouped into
five main categories:
These microorganisms-bacteria, viruses, and protozoa-can cause
waterborne illnesses. While most pathogens come from human
sewage (primarily leaking or aging sewage collection systems,
onsite sewage systems, stormwater runoff, and combined
sewer overflows), manure from livestock and wild animal
droppings are also common sources.
Oxygen Depleting Substances
When organic wastes (e.g., manure, sewage, pulp and paper mill
effluent) decay in water, bacteria oxidize the waste, using
up oxygen dissolved in the water. If the oxygen is consumed
beyond a safe threshold, fish are stressed and will die when
lethal levels are reached. Anaerobic decomposition (without
oxygen) produces gases, such as hydrogen sulphide, that are
lethal to many organisms.
Organic wastes and fertilizers introduce plant-feeding nutrients,
such as nitrogen and phosphorus, into runoff. When onsite sewage
effluent or runoff enters a waterbody, nutrients can cause
algal blooms and dense weed growth that disrupt the balance
of aquatic ecosystems and interfere with recreation such as
swimming and boating. When an algal bloom occurs, oxygen in
the water is depleted, which can cause odour problems as well
as kill fish and other organisms.
soil particles make water turbid and unpleasant to drink, and
increase water treatment requirements. Sediments also reduce
light available to algae and aquatic plants, kill or injure
fish by damaging their gills, cover spawning gravel and smother
fish eggs, and reduce the quality of recreational activities
such as swimming and boating.
Substances as ammonia, nitrate, metals, pesticides and a variety
of organic toxins can poison humans, livestock, wildlife, and
aquatic organisms. Some toxins cause cancer. In addition, chloramine — a
comparatively persistent drinking water treatment chemical — can
be very harmful to aquatic life when discharged in fisheries-sensitive
to Commitment to Clean Water
ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF NON-POINT
threats to drinking water supplies from nitrogen
leachate have incurred an economic efficiency loss
* estimated at $7.8 - $17.4 million.
long-term degradation of water and recreational
opportunities by urban development — total annual economic
efficiency losses * of $5.4 million.
River (Salmon Arm):
approximately half of the 110 km of streambank requires
some degree of remediation. The total cost of riparian
zone restoration is estimated at $1.9 million.
Sound (Vancouver Island):
contamination of shellfish through stormwater runoff,
on-site sewage seepage and agricultural runoff total
annual economic efficiency losses * of approximately
Economic efficiency loss: The sum of the range of
risk avoidance expenditures and the wilingness-to-pay
estimates to avoid health risks.
Impacts on Communities
British Columbia, NPS water pollutants have produced a range
of impacts. In the enclosed marine waters of the Capital
Regional District (CRD), NPS water pollution has adversely
affected recreational opportunities, degraded aesthetic values,
and reduced the abundance and diversity of marine life. Victoria
and Esquimalt harbours remain closed to commercial crab harvesting
due to dioxin/furan contamination. Beach closures have been
common throughout the CRD, primarily due to fecal matter
discharged into stormwater systems. Although recent identification
and elimination of sources of pathogens in storm drains that
discharge near beaches has allowed beaches to reopen, several
dozen storm drains remain a significant concern. In Saanich
Inlet, most embayed areas are closed to shellfish harvesting
due to fecal contamination from agricultural runoff, onsite
sewage systems, and stormwater runoff. High levels of heavy
metals have been measured in sediments near stormwater outfalls.
These contaminants can cause sublethal toxicity to bottom-dwelling
areas of the Lower Fraser Valley, east from Vancouver, the
most significant potential for NPS water pollution is the
agriculture industry. The Abbotsford-Sumas aquifer is contaminated
with nitrate leached from manure and other fertilizers applied
to crops and fallow fields. Nitrate contamination is also
evident in other aquifers, including Hopington and Brookswood,
due to agricultural activities and onsite sewage disposal.
in the eastern Fraser Valley and in less urbanized areas
of Langley and Surrey exhibit depressed oxygen levels caused
by agricultural runoff. Low oxygen levels have contributed
to coho salmon kills in the Nicomekl, Serpentine, and Little
Campbell rivers near Boundary Bay in the 1980's. The same
conditions exist in Matsqui Slough.
the more urbanized areas of the Lower Mainland, the negative
impacts of stormwater runoff, combined sewer overflows, and
occasional toxic spills have been significant. Fish kills
have occurred. Nutrients and fecal contamination have reduced
aesthetic values and recreational use of urban lakes. Stormwaters
and combined sewer overflows contribute a significant contaminant
load to Burrard Inlet, where toxic metals and organic chemicals
in the sediments are potentially toxic to bottom-dwelling
sewage treatment to control point-source phosphorus loading
to the Okanagan Lakes over the past 25 years has led to significant
improvements in water quality in most lakes. However, phosphorus
inputs from non-point sources in this area remain a concern,
and account for over 90% of total phosphorus loadings in
the Okanagan Basin.
the Armstrong, Osoyoos, and Grand Forks areas, ground water
has been contaminated with nitrates from chemical fertilizers
leaching from orchards and other crops. Corrective action
should reduce the problem, but unless other NPS pollution
from agriculture, forestry and stormwater are also controlled,
deteriorating ground water quality from increasing nitrate
levels could continue.
the cattle ranching areas of the Northern and Southern Interior,
water pollution from agriculture is widespread. Phosphorus
loadings in runoff from cattle over-wintering areas have
contributed to the eutrophication of Williams Lake in the
Cariboo, with blooms of blue-green algae and critical oxygen
depletion in lake bottom waters. Agricultural runoff has
also affected the Thompson River and its tributaries-the
Bonaparte, Nicola, and Salmon rivers. Where cattle have direct
access to streams, bank erosion leads to vegetation loss,
bank destabilization, and damaging sedimentation. Cattle
manure can contaminate drinking water and harm fish by depleting
coastal areas, localized discharges from boats and marinas,
storm drains, onsite sewage systems, and agricultural runoff
affect enclosed, poorly-flushed bays, forcing shellfish harvesting
closures to prevent health risks.
other areas of British Columbia, NPS pollution tends to be
localized rather than widespread, indicating the major role
that land development and population growth play in NPS pollution.
Land development not only increases NPS pollution directly
through erosion and sedimentation from land clearing and
excavation, but also increases the opportunities for NPS
pollution from other sources.
cumulative effects of these point and non-point source water
pollutants may exceed the carrying capacity of surface and
ground waters. Understanding the connection between land use,
the degree of development, and water quality is important.
Determining the threshold in terms of land development versus
the carrying capacity of water resources is required. In
many cases, this represents a hidden danger-there may be
no warning sign while nature is absorbing the load, then
suddenly, as in the case of lake eutrophication, a critical
threshold is reached and the waterbody's capacity to accept
waste is exceeded. Once the threshold is exceeded, there
are no quick-fix solutions. We have to deal with the cause
of the problem, and therefore prevention is the key to NPS
water pollution management.
Return to Commitment to Clean Water
Non-Point Source Water Pollution in BC?
province has overall jurisdiction over land management on
Crown lands and thus has a leadership role in managing NPS
pollution. Local governments have jurisdiction over land
development within their boundaries. However, a complex array
of federal, provincial, and local agencies each have a role
in managing NPS pollution in British Columbia. Table
relevant legislation, its purpose, and the agencies responsible.
The complexity evident in the table underscores the inherently
difficult nature of NPS pollution management. It is an inter-governmental
and cross-jurisdictional issue. No one agency is-or can ever
be-assigned all responsibility for NPS water pollution management
because so many issues are involved. Improving the clarity
of our collective direction and sharing commitment among
the regulating agencies is essential to managing NPS pollution.
This is especially important in dealing with the emerging
issues related to land, resource, and growth management.
specific strategies and actions described later in this Action
Plan identify the organizations responsible for managing
NPS water pollution in an effort to provide clarity on agency
roles, and to encourage coordination of management efforts.
Return to Commitment to Clean Water
Return to the Table of Contents
of Non-Point Source Water Pollution in BC
more contaminants in water, the greater the risk to humans, fish,
and animals. Even small amounts of contaminants in small amounts
of runoff result in cumulative effects over an entire watershed
and, building up over time, can have a significant impact. Locating
the sources of pollution and removing contaminants before they
reach the water provides the best assurance of clean water in
Deer Lake has been closed to public bathing for
a number of years due to high fecal coliform counts.
Excessive phosphorus and high silt loadings enter
the lake directly from stormwater runoff or indirectly
through ground water seepage.
symptoms are murky water from plankton growth and
heavy silt loads, unacceptably high fecal coliform
levels, prolific weed growth, algal blooms and
low trout survival due to high temperatures and
low oxygen levels. Efforts are being made to clean
up Deer Lake as part of an overall action plan
for the Brunette River basin.
causes of non-point source water pollution in British Columbia
Development: has its greatest effect in the major
urban regions -the Lower Mainland, east coast of Vancouver
Island, and the Okanagan Valley.
affects water quality in the Lower Fraser Valley, Cariboo,
Thompson, and Okanagan basins, and the east coast of Vancouver
Runoff and Combined Sewer Overflows: stormwater
runoff contaminates receiving waters in all urban areas of
the province, but is of greatest concern in the Greater Vancouver
and Capital Regional Districts. Combined sewer overflows
are a problem in the Burrard Inlet and North Arm of the Fraser
River areas of Greater Vancouver.
Sewage Systems: primarily affects populated inland lakes,
enclosed marine bays, and vulnerable aquifers.
and Range Activities: affects fish and fish habitat throughout
the province, and may cause concern in designated community
Deposition: includes dustfall, acidic rainfall, and air emissions.
Water quality effects are primarily felt down-wind from urban
areas, but long-range transport of persistent organic pollutants
and Marine Activities: primarily affects waters
around major commercial ports, boat yards, and poorly-flushed
marine and freshwater anchorages.
1. Land Development
planned and properly managed human settlement and industrial
development are immensely important to preventing NPS water
pollution. Expanding development provides opportunities for
numerous non-point sources of water pollution, such as construction
site runoff, storm drains, spills and leaks, atmospheric
and onsite sewage systems. New developments may affect previously
pristine waters. The cumulative effects of creeping development
may push surface and ground waters beyond their capacity
to assimilate contaminants, creating impacts that are out
of proportion to the size of the newly-developed area.
its initial stages, land development can result in loss of
green space, decreased pervious surface area, diversion and
channelization of streams, destruction of aquatic habitat,
and removal of riparian vegetation-all elements of natural
systems that buffer, filter, and purify water and provide
cover and food for fish. One federal report estimates that
in the lower Fraser Valley, natural wetlands comprised nearly
one-third of all lands converted to urban use between 1967
and 1982. In the Lower Mainland, more than 600 hectares of
rural land are converted to urban uses every year. Between
1981 and 1986 the urban area of Greater Vancouver grew by
34 km2, more than eight times the area of Stanley Park.
clearing and excavation can cause extensive erosion. Sediment
loads from erosion on construction sites can be 10 to 20
times greater than those from cultivation. When land development
is complete, impermeable roads, sidewalks, driveways, parking
lots, and rooftops dramatically increase the volume and rate
of surface runoff, creating the potential for more severe
erosion and flooding.
of the more significant impacts caused by poor land development
practices include increased water treatment costs, reduced
recharge of aquifers, interference with navigation and recreation,
flood damage and erosion, and destruction of aquatic habitat
for fish and wildlife. Construction activities can also introduce
pollutants such as phosphorus, nitrogen, petroleum products,
organic chemicals, metals, and sediments, which eventually
find their way into adjacent waterbodies. The serious damage
that land development can have on aquatic ecosystems is illustrated
by the fact that Vancouver once had more than 60 productive
salmon streams, and now has only six.
effect associated with expanding urbanization is an increased
potential for hydrocarbon spills and leaks into waterbodies,
ranging from the very large (a tanker spill) to the very
small (dripping gasoline during vehicle and boat refuelling).
Chemicals typically spilled (accidentally or deliberately)
into storm drains from residential or commercial sources
include paint thinners, wood preservatives, engine oil, antifreeze,
pesticides, herbicides, and household cleaners. Spills of
chloraminated drinking water into small streams can cause
major fish kills.
1989 an antisapstain chemical applied to wood products
was spilled into the Fraser River during the commercial
sockeye salmon fishing season. The fishery was
delayed for one day and salmon sales dropped after
the incident was reported in the media. A lawsuit
resulted in a $14 million judgement in favour of
the commercial fishers.
1991 to 1995, 32 incidents occurred where materials
were spilled or discharged into streams in the
Coquitlam area — 19
oil/diesel or gasoline spills, five chemical spills
and three siltation events.
A proposal to build a salmon hatchery on Hay Creek
was abandoned when the Department of Fisheries
advised the water quality was too unpredictable,
due to the history of spills and siltation.
of contaminants associated with urban land developments include runoff from large
impervious areas (e.g., parking lots), sewage leaks and
spills from sewer line breaks and illegal residential
sewer connections to storm drains, oil from automobile
maintenance and leaky underground storage tanks, sump
pump discharges, spills from transportation accidents,
chloraminated water from urban fire fighting, water main
flushing and breaks, dewatering of muddy construction
sites, and leachates from landfills and sites contaminated
with hazardous materials.
CHALLENGE OF RAPID URBAN GROWTH
1960, 2.6 million people lived in the Georgia Basin-Puget
Sound area. Today more than 6 million people live
there, and if present trends continue, by 2020 the
population will grow by an additional three to five
million people. Growth at this rate challenges our
conventional notions of how we manage our resources
and plan our communities.
to Causes of Non-Point Source Water Pollution
operations, if not properly managed, discharge a wide range
of contaminants, including those from manure, fertilizers,
pesticides, and eroded soil particles. The most worrisome
contaminants are ammonia, nutrients, pathogens, and sediments.
Ammonia is toxic to fish, while nutrients can impair water
quality, as in the Serpentine and Nikomekl rivers, the Okanagan
Lakes, and the Abbotsford aquifer. Manure is a significant
source of nitrogen, phosphorus, biochemical oxygen demand,
and disease-causing organisms, including those responsible
for waterborne diseases. Proper management is required to
avoid adverse effects to water supplies and human health.
RUNOFF FROM OVER-WINTERING CATTLE
1994 and 1996, helicopter fly-overs of cattle over-wintering
in the Thompson River Basin identified 204 potential
impact sites. Based on compliance and water quality,
51 sites were given a moderately impacted rating
and 44 were given a higher impacted rating.
Environmentally sound sound use of manure from farms is a constant
challenge in the agricultural industry, and is not unique
to British Columbia. In some parts of the Fraser Valley,
nutrients from manure, combined with inorganic fertilizer
use, exceed the capacity of local lands to assimilate the
available nutrients. In some areas, the excess is between
300 and 400 kilograms of nitrogen per cropped hectare. When
too much manure and chemical fertilizer are spread onto fields
for crop enhancement, excess nitrogen leaches into ground water
or enters adjacent streams. Timing of manure spreading and
other management practices can affect the severity of the
impact. If spread in the late fall and early winter, when
the plants' nutritional needs are the lowest, winter precipitation
can carry ammonia, pathogens, and oxygen-demanding materials
can contaminate waterbodies by several routes, including
spillage, improper storage, application too near or into
ditches and streams, leaching from soils, or washed away
in runoff. About $22 million per year is spent on application
of 120 different types of pesticides in British Columbia.
The area of provincial agricultural cropland treated with
pesticides increased from about 425,000 hectares in 1971
to about 550,000 hectares in 1986-about a 30% increase. On
Crown land, the use of pesticides has stabilized or decreased
in the last few years, suggesting that the promotion of integrated
pest management in British Columbia since the 1980's may
be paying off. Integrated pest management is an ecological
approach to pest management where all available control technologies
are consolidated into a unified program aimed at preventing
economic damage and adverse effects to human health and the
Abbotsford-Sumas aquifer supplies drinking water
for nearly 100,000 residents of British Columbia
and Washington State. Land use above the aquifer
is primarily agricultural and the practice of spreading
high nitrogen poultry manure onto low nitrogen
using raspberry crops leaves excessive nitrogen
in the fields, which then leaches into the ground water.
The problem has been increasing over the past 25
of 16 different pesticides have also been detected
in the aquifer. Although pesticide residues are
well below current Canadian drinking water guidelines
and do not pose an imminent threat to human health,
their presence is cause for concern.
initiatives have been undertaken to address agricultural
impacts in the Lower Fraser Valley:
The Ground Water Protection Program, which has achieved
success in moving poultry wastes off the Abbotsford-Sumas
A joint federal/provincial study which produced
a series of reports and can be used as a basis
for delivering new agricultural pollution prevention
Limited water sampling efforts in the past provide little information
about the degree of pesticide contamination of water in the
province. However, an assessment of the Lower Mainland's Abbotsford-Sumas
aquifer, which provides drinking water to nearly 100,000 people,
found only traces of 16 pesticides in the aquifer. Some of the
pesticides detected are either no longer used or their use is
restricted. The levels of pesticide were well below current
drinking water guidelines and do not pose an imminent threat
to human health. A comprehensive inter-ministry ground water
quality assessment (Fraser Valley Ground Water Monitoring Project)
conducted in 1993/94 indicated ground water quality in the Fraser
Valley was generally good, except for elevated concentrations
of nitrate-nitrogen in the Abbotsford, Hopington, and Brookswood
Return to Causes of Non-Point Source Water Pollution
development changes the hydrology (water flow amounts and
patterns) of an area. Where natural vegetation and soil structure
once allowed the gradual absorption and slow through-put
of rain and snowmelt, paved streets and buildings speed delivery
of both water and pollutants to our waterways. Pollutants
from commercial, industrial, and residential activities that
may appear insignificant at their source are transported
by rain and snowmelt into storm drains that flush the wastes
into rivers, lakes, or marine waters. In developed areas,
surface runoff is increased by changes in slope due to landscaping
and increasing impermeable surface area of pavement and buildings.
Contaminants accumulated during dry periods are picked up
by the next rainfall and quickly moved to the drainage system.
This is when discharges can be most dangerous, because "first
flush" concentrations of toxins are high. Some city
residents have come to expect regular closure of favourite
beaches. Less publicized but equally significant are the
effects on aquatic life caused by metals and other toxic
compounds that accumulate in sediments.
citizens contribute to polluted runoff in many ways, often
without realizing it. Car washing and maintenance can release
salts, anti-freeze, and oils onto the pavement and then into
storm drains and ditches. Pollutants from vehicle exhaust
and backyard burning eventually settle to the ground and
are washed into adjacent waterbodies by the next rainfall.
Households with lawns or gardens use more chemicals on a
given area than commercial growers. Half of all households
with yards in British Columbia use fertilizers and one-quarter
use pesticides. Excess amounts of these compounds find their
way into the soil, ground water, and adjacent surface waters.
OF STORMWATER RUNOFF
EFFECTS IN URBAN AREAS
are an an estimated 1,750 stormwater outfalls in
the Greater Vancouver Regional District. Over half
of these discharge directly into fish-bearing waters.
1998, an estimated 3,000 coho salmon, cutthroat
trout and crayfish were killed by an unknown chemical
spill to Burnaby's Byrne Creek. The suspected source
of contamination was a stormwater outfall discharging
to Byrne Creek.
Industrial and commercial businesses also contribute to polluted
stormwater runoff through accidental spills and leaks, and
through use and discharge of potentially toxic compounds.
Many industries are required by their liquid waste management
permits to collect, monitor, or treat stormwater. However,
uncontrolled runoff from some industries remains a significant
problem, and industries that are not required to collect
and treat stormwater may require further review and regulation
by the ministry. Efforts to replace harmful compounds with
environmentally safe, yet effective, alternatives can be
challenging. For example, in the timber products industry,
lumber mills discontinued the use of pentachlorophenols as
an antisapstain after it was blamed for fish kills in the
Fraser Estuary and deregistered by Agriculture Canada in
1990. However, tests of runoff from Lower Mainland mills
indicate that the replacement chemicals are also toxic to
fish and detrimental to fish habitat.
stormwater runoff combines the worst of industrial and residential
runoff in the variety and concentration of metals, particulates,
and petroleum compounds deposited by vehicles. Although stormwater
runoff is generally more contaminated in urban areas, it
also poses concerns in towns and rural areas, where erosion
and sedimentation from roads, road-dust abatement chemicals,
and road salt contribute to pollution.
POLLUTION IN THE
chain of 5 lakes — Wood, Kalamalka, Okanagan,
Skaha and Osoyoos — is the focal point of
life in the Okanagan
Valley. In the 1960s, the lakes had lost much
of their clarity and were fouled with algal blooms.
Analysis of lake water showed increased levels
of phosphorus, caused by sewage from a rapidly
growing population, manure and fertilizer from
farms, orchards and cattle ranches, and logging
sewage treatment standards and facilities around
Okanagan Lake are among the best in the world.
Between 1970 and 1994 phosphorus loadings from
sewage treatment plants in the Okanagan were reduced
by 95% and phosphorus loadings in the Okanagan
lakes system have declined or remained stable,
even with a doubled population. However, phosphorus
inputs from non-point sources to the Okanagan lakes
system, as a whole, remain a concern.
Return to Causes of Non-Point Source Water Pollution
4. On-Site Sewage Systems
are still about 250,000 onsite sewage systems in British Columbia,
despite expansion of municipal sewage collection and treatment
facilities. Onsite systems that are poorly planned, constructed,
or maintained present substantial threats to water quality
in the province.
from failing onsite sewage treatment facilities are a primary
source of fecal contamination containing pathogenic organisms
(bacteria, viruses, and protozoa). Nutrients (nitrogen and
phosphorus) can also be problematic. The soil around the
system removes the nutrients, and the degree of effluent
remediation depends on soil texture and chemistry, the depth
of unsaturated zone, and the distance of the system from
receiving waters. Seepage from onsite systems can infiltrate
sources of drinking water (including aquifers, streams, and
lakes), cause health risks for swimmers and consumers of
contaminated shellfish, and disrupt aquatic ecosystems by
poisoning aquatic organisms and causing excessive growth
of aquatic vegetation.
Sewage Disposal Regulation under the provincial Health
Act sets requirements for the design and construction of septic
tanks and other onsite sewage systems of less than 22.7 m3/d,
and defines acceptable soil conditions for the location of
disposal fields. In 1985, more stringent regulations to control
NPS pollution from onsite sewage disposal were introduced
in the Okanagan, but these regulations do not apply to systems
installed before 1985, or those situated elsewhere in the
province. Moreover, the main objective of the Sewage Disposal
Regulation is to prevent health hazards, not to address the
environmental impacts of nutrient pollution. The Regulation
has no enforcement provisions if operators fail to service
onsite sewage disposal facilities, and no ongoing inspection
efforts are being made.
sewage disposal systems are available to replace conventional
onsite systems. These systems can stand alone or be used
in combination with conventional systems. They not only can
reduce the impact of the conventional onsite sewage disposal
systems on water quality, but can reduce the amount of waste
produced. Alternative sewage disposal systems can produce
high quality effluent, conserve water through low usage,
and recycle grey water (i.e., water from residential sinks
and washing machines).
Return to Causes of Non-Point Source Water
5. Forestry and Range Activities
Columbia's forest sector accounts for 7.5% of the province's
gross domestic product and 60% of all exports. Much of the
land is harvested by clearcutting, a method which can cause
substantial soil erosion, particularly in rainy areas, and
higher accumulation of snow than if trees were left standing.
When warm spring weather arrives, higher-than-normal snowmelt
can cause elevated sediment levels in the water. In addition,
there are over 37,000 kilometres of logging roads throughout
the province, far exceeding the length of the provincial
highway system. Logging road construction, use, and maintenance
are the primary causes of NPS water pollution from forestry
activities, causing up to 90% of the sedimentation from forestry
harvesting impacts can include erosion, loss of
nutrients and organic matter and physical deterioration
such as compaction. A 1988 study of soil degradation
by the timber industry estimated that between 1976
and 1985, at least 400,000 hectares of forest land
were degraded in some way. This represents 22%
of the total area harvested in that period. Appropriate
management practices are essential in preventing
further environmental degradation.
Prescribed burning, preparation of logged sites for replanting,
fertilizer and pesticide application, and burning of logging
slash are other potential sources of water contamination.
Effects can include sedimentation, nutrient loading, introduction
of toxic chemicals and organic debris, temperature changes,
and streamflow increases or decreases. Any or all of these
can negatively affect drinking water in the approximately
500 designated community watersheds, and numerous other watersheds
used for domestic and industrial water supply, and can seriously
impact fish and fish habitat.
address concerns over forestry and range activities in British
Columbia, the provincial government legislated the Forest
Practices Code of British Columbia Act in 1994. The Code
includes standards and requirements for forest planning and
development, and measures for conserving biological diversity,
soil, water, fish, wildlife, scenic diversity, and other
the implementation of the Forest Practices Code, BC is in
the forefront of managing forestry-related NPS pollution
issues. The Code recognizes water quality, quantity, and
timing of flow as principle values in watersheds. The Act,
and its regulations and standards protect watersheds-and
consequently water quality-by guiding and regulating forest
Return to Causes of Non-Point Source Water
6. Atmospheric Deposition
particulates released to the atmosphere from combustion sources
such as motor vehicle emissions, slash burning, and industrial
sources, contain nitrogen, sulphur, and metal compounds,
which eventually settle to the ground as dust or fall to
the earth in rain and snow. These pollutants, which may have
distant origins, may be deposited directly into waterbodies,
filter slowly into ground water, or in urban areas, be washed
from roads, rooftops, and parking lots into surface waters.
The gradual effect can be acidification of waters to a point
where the natural buffering capacity of receiving waters
is exceeded and aquatic life is threatened. Toxins, such
as dioxins, furans, polychlorinated biphenyls, and polycyclic
aromatic hydrocarbons, transported by atmospheric processes
eventually accumulate in sediments, to the detriment of bottom-dwelling
organisms and fish and their consumers.
use in an area greatly affects the atmospheric deposition
of NPS pollutants, and this is a concern linked to urban
sprawl. British Columbia's Lower Fraser Valley, with its
characteristic weather patterns and surrounding mountains,
now has a serious air quality problem because of ever-increasing
motor vehicle use. In the Greater Vancouver area between
1984 and 1991, the number of cars insured for driving to
work increased twice as fast as the population. Greater Vancouver
now has more cars per capita than Greater Los Angeles.
LINK BETWEEN AIR POLLUTION
AND WATER POLLUTION
link between air and water pollution is urban sprawl
and the associated use of vehicles. Urban sprawl,
with its dispersed development, miles of impervious
roads, parking lots and roofs and motor vehicle
emissions, is recognized as a major cause of NPS
water pollution. Air emissions settling to the
ground and rooftops are washed into surrounding
1990, Canadian city dwellers drove, on average, more
than 6,300 km per person, while urban Americans drove
over 11,000 km. In comparison, European city dwellers
drove approximately 4,500 km. The main difference
is the way our cities are built. Urban sprawl forces
North Americans to do considerably more driving to
get around their cities.
expanding population, expected to reach three million in
the Lower Mainland by 2021, could mean a doubling of vehicle-kilometres
travelled in the region. Greater congestion will lead to
more stop-and-go traffic, increasing the emissions released
per trip. From both an air quality and a water quality perspective,
the increased risk to human health of these projections is
of concern, given that the Lower Fraser Valley airshed is
now at or above its capacity to accept contaminants. Significant
efforts are being made to address these issues in British
Columbia, especially to ensure the use of clean vehicles
and fuels. Recent programs include:
Air Quality Management Plan;
Vehicle Inspection Program;
Demand Management Program; and
Several legislative initiatives have also been completed:
Air Provisions amendment to the Waste Management Act;
Vehicle Emissions Reduction Regulation; and
On-going efforts to manage point sources of air discharge, regulating
toxins in motor vehicle emissions, and above all, reducing
overall motor vehicle use are important strategies and will
help address this source of NPS water pollution in British
Return to Causes of Non-Point Source Water
Boating and Marine Activities
operation and maintenance, discharge of sewage and grey water
from vessels, and aquaculture operations are all sources
of fresh and marine water NPS pollution. Although national
legislation prohibits the discharge of garbage and pollutants
from ships into Canadian waters, the legislation does not
apply to sewage discharges in most locations. Sewage discharges
in shallow, enclosed waters with poor flushing can impair
water quality and recreational water use, and raise health
concerns if the receiving waters are used for drinking water,
swimming, or support shellfish.
the Canada Shipping Act, the Pleasure Craft Sewage Prevention
Regulation mandates that any pleasure craft with toilet facilities
must have sewage retention capabilities (holding tanks) to
prevent sewage discharge when operating in designated waterbodies.
This designation is important for waterbodies where high
quality water is needed for fish/shellfish, swimming, or
drinking water. British Columbia has asked the Canadian Coast
Guard of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to designate about 60
additional fresh and marine waterbodies under this Regulation
to prohibit sewage discharge and it is expected that more
waterbodies will be designated in the future.
CAUSES SHELLFISH CLOSURES
are currently over 200 sanitary shellfish closures
in the province, approximately a 30% increase in
the last 5 years. Domestic sewage, agricultural
runoff and vessel discharges are the main causes,
usually in that order.
intertidal waters are the preferred anchoring ground
for most vessels and because they are also the natural
habitat for shellfish and fish, this conflict can
be expected to continue, unless recreational boaters
take responsibility for preventing sewage discharges
in unsuitable locations.
Many commercial marinas are sources of NPS pollution caused by
discharge of sewage, food waste, fish cleanings, bilge and
ballast water release, and other materials associated with
boat and ship yard maintenance. Maintenance can cause new
paint, old paint scrapings, anti-foulants, solvents, oil
and grease, fuels, and cleaning agents to enter surrounding
waters. Vessel traffic and dredging activity in marinas and
in shallow navigation channels can also churn up sediments,
reintroducing metals, nutrients, organic matter and toxins
into the water. Creosoted pilings are a source of polycyclic
aromatic hydrocarbons that may be significant in such confined
Return to Causes of Non-Point Source Water
content update: August 3, 2001