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Water Quality

Tackling Non-Point Source Water Pollution in British Columbia: An Action Plan

March 1999

Key Components of BC's Non-Point Source Action Plan

  1. Education and Training
  2. Prevention at the Site
  3. Land-Use Planning, Coordination
  4. Assessment and Reporting
  5. Economic Incentives
  6. Legislation and Regulation


There are many laws, regulations, policies, programs and guidelines for NPS pollution control and prevention, however, implementation and coordination across agencies must be improved to be effective. The main pollution occurs where human settlement is most dense and where demand for high quality water for drinking, recreational use and aquatic habitat is greatest. As we enter the 21st century with the prospect of rapid population growth and increased demands on water resources, it is clear that our existing approaches to handling this source of water pollution will become increasingly inadequate.

We are extremely fortunate, however, to have a natural abundance of water in British Columbia. The majority of our water supplies, other than in more densely settled and developing areas, are in relatively good condition. There is time to change our attitudes and relationship with our water resources, and we must if we expect to enjoy a relatively high standard of water quality. But the work must start now to prevent or minimize future environmental, health, and economic costs.

This Action Plan sets out a multi-faceted approach for tackling British Columbia's NPS pollution. Twenty key action items, organized under six initiatives, have been identified to address NPS pollution from all sources (Table 2). The six initiatives and the actions within them are complementary and represent an integrated, multi-faceted approach to managing the unique challenges of NPS pollution. No single initiative is more important than another.

There is time to change our attitudes and relationship with our water resources, and we must if we expect to enjoy a relatively high standard of water quality. But the work must start now...

Provincial action alone, however, cannot possibly succeed in achieving these initiatives and actions. Cooperation from other levels of government, particularly local governments, and active participation of industry associations and individual citizens are all essential to ensure successful delivery of this Action Plan. Provincial policy direction and coordinating support, coupled with grass roots knowledge, experience, and initiative at the local level are needed to make the Action Plan a reality.

Twenty key action items, organized under six initiatives, have been identified to address NPS pollution.

A. Education and Training

Because NPS water pollution originates from the combined actions of many individual citizens and businesses, their close involvement and support in addressing NPS pollution is absolutely essential. However, many people are not well informed about the water quality impacts that can result from certain behaviours such as pouring used oil onto the ground, or by over-applying fertilizers to their lawns and gardens. First, people must be made more aware of the environmental risks associated with these types of activities and given information on environmentally-safe alternatives. Second, the public and local authorities must be convinced that pollution prevention is far better in terms of effectiveness and cost than pollution regulation and after-the-fact clean-up.

Education is the key to long-term change in behaviour.

Education is the key to long-term change in behaviour. Environmental education for all ages and across all key business sectors can get at the causes of NPS water pollution. Attitudes can be shifted that produce life-long changes in individual consumption patterns and ways of doing everyday things.

Communication, education, and training are the most important strategies in managing NPS water pollution. Strategies are, or will be, underway which target the public and private educators and trainers, school children, local elected officials, media, industrial and utility managers, resource managers, community stewardship groups, and youth organizations.

Action 1: Implement 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 groups.
  • 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.

Water Education
Raising public awareness through effective education and communication initiatives is an effective tool in managing NPS pollution. Outreach efforts can influence individual and corporate behaviour, changing people's habits which in turn can help prevent pollution problems before they occur. Some of the education initiatives for NPS pollution that are being implemented or are under development by the ministry include:

  • Environmental Youth Team Non-Point Source Pollution Education Program. Environmental Youth Team employees hired by BC Environment are delivering NPS pollution messaging to local governments, community groups, stewardship groups, schools, and the general public in the high-growth areas of eastern Vancouver Island, the Okanagan Valley and the Lower Mainland. As part of this program, a clean water/ NPS pollution brochure series, poster, video and 3-D models were developed by the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) in partnership with the Capital Regional District.
  • Coordinate with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment Canada and others to deliver a boater-awareness program, including wide circulation of the new booklet Protecting BC's Aquatic Environment: A Boater's Guide and the new Green Boat Check initiative for recreational boaters.
  • Highlight NPS pollution education for elementary grades in BC schools by augmenting the ministry's Eco-Education Green Team program with a new Water Crew.
  • Support the recent entry into Canada of a water education program for teachers — Project Wet. Develop a BC supplement to the main workbook to increase the relevance of subject materials to local issues.
  • Develop a Well Protection Toolkit in partnership with the Ministry of Health.

Coordinate Education Efforts
Other initiatives are also underway in British Columbia for NPS pollution education, aimed at raising awareness and shifting public attitude about water pollution issues and solutions.

These include:

  • Storm Drain Marking Program involving painting of yellow fish symbols beside storm drains.
  • From Source to Sea, GVRD teacher education package.
  • Environment Canada's Environmental Citizenship/ Freshwater Series.
  • Salmonid Enhancement Program education materials on water quality and habitat protection.
  • Fraser River Estuary Management Program education package for teachers.
  • Pure and Simple video: a simple, step-by-step onsite sewage system maintenance and trouble-shooting guide for homeowners.
  • Streamkeepers programs to support volunteer stream enhancement efforts.
  • NPS pollution education campaign in the Fraser Valley. Through a partnership involving the federal government, the Fraser Basin Management Program, and the Greater Vancouver Regional District, an intensive visual campaign using television, bus stop posters, and other media was used to raise awareness about the sources of NPS pollution. In Washington State, this same campaign reached millions of people with positive results. In a post-campaign survey, one third of the people who recalled the advertisements on an unaided basis said the ads prompted them to change their behaviour to protect water quality.

In recent years, the federal and provincial governments have cooperated to promote a "yellow fish" program, where organizations such as Scouts and Guides are encouraged to mark storm sewer drains with yellow pictures of fish. The fish symbol reminds people that these storm drains lead to fish-bearing streams. As an added benefit, youthful volunteer workers become aware of non-point source water pollution concerns and solutions, and are more apt to develop life-long habits that contribute to water quality protection.

Although each of these initiatives is important and should be continued, the programs have been undertaken in a relatively independent and ad hoc manner. In addressing NPS pollution from a province-wide perspective, there is a need to improve coordination of education efforts, to ensure that the key themes and messages are stressed and the most important audiences are reached. To this end, the ministry will review the NPS pollution education and awareness initiatives being delivered by government and non-government organizations in British Columbia. The review will look at the messages being communicated and the target audiences they are reaching to identify gaps in messages and audiences, and to fill those gaps by encouraging existing providers of the education programs to augment their efforts as appropriate. In addition, the Ministry will continue to produce education and communication materials to deliver on its own initiatives.

Partners in the development and delivery of this public awareness strategy should include other provincial agencies, the federal government, the educational system, non-government organizations, the private sector, and local governments. Ongoing consultation is required to develop and implement an effective and efficient outreach program that is both effective and sustainable over the long term.

Education of Regional and Municipal Officials
One key to managing NPS pollution is having influence over what activities can and should be conducted on adjacent drainage lands. Cooperation and coordination with local governments, who have jurisdictional authority over zoning and bylaws, are vital if a sustained and healthy water resource is to be achieved. Local decisions on land-uses and the potential effects on water, which might otherwise be susceptible to overwhelming economic or other pressures, should be made in the context of ensuring safe and abundant water supplies for natural, domestic, agricultural, commercial, and recreational purposes. Where there are avenues for public input into local government decision making, the benefits of having both an informed public and local authority are obvious.

An NPS pollution education program for local government officials would be a valuable tool for achieving this goal. The purpose of such a program would be to inform local government officials, waste managers, and association representatives about NPS pollution management and to encourage their participation.

The ministry will pursue opportunities to deliver clean water messaging to municipal officials through such initiatives as the Fish Protection Act. Streamside protection measures, for example, are seen as key avenues for addressing NPS pollution.

Action 2: Promote 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 technology certification.

Most business sectors have associations, councils, or federations that serve individual business members in areas such as product research, marketing, liaison with government regulators, and other promotions. Examples that are relevant to NPS pollution include the British Columbia Council of Forest Industries (all major forest licensees in the province) and the Council of British Columbia Yacht Clubs (includes many yacht clubs in the province and represents many recreational boaters). Many such organizations, operating province-wide or at a more regional level, are potentially effective vehicles for providing their members with information and training on how to prevent NPS water pollution. Moreover, these are the groups that need to be consulted in developing education and training materials, operational guidelines and practices for preventing water pollution, and appropriate operator certification, such as for pesticide applicators or onsite sewage system installers. In many cases, effective messaging on NPS pollution is already integrated into the education programs developed and delivered by associations in collaboration with the province.

The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (now called Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection), and other provincial agencies such as the Ministry of Forests and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, is strengthening their working relationships with provincial industry associations and other umbrella organizations to better understand what NPS pollution education programs are currently in place, to examine ways to build on these where appropriate, and to develop additional education and training programs for individual association members. As part of this, MELP (WLAP) will work with industry associations in developing best management practices, codes of practice, associated education and training materials, and demonstration and pilot projects for NPS pollution prevention. In addition, where needed (e.g., for onsite system installers), the appropriate ministries will work with producer and service-provider organizations to develop and administer certification, training programs, and compliance mechanisms for operators.

Return to Key Components of BC's Non-Point Source Action Plan

B. Prevention at the Site

Most of the activities that cause NPS water pollution cannot be regulated and policed because they are simply too numerous, too localized, and, individually, too minor to reasonably pursue through enforcement. Cumulatively, however, they can cause significant water pollution.

The challenge is to inform individuals and organizations of the potential of their individual actions to cause water pollution, and to work at the site to identify and implement pollution prevention alternatives.

The challenge is to inform individuals and organizations of the potential of their individual actions to cause water pollution, and to work at the site to identify and implement pollution prevention alternatives. An effective tool in this prevention approach is the application of Best Management Practices (BMPs). As the name suggests, these practices describe the best available methods for preventing the transfer of pollutants from human activities into water. BMPs may be described in policies, procedures, guidelines, technologies, or codes of practice that explain how to conduct an activity in a manner that prevents pollution. Construction of stormwater storage ponds, storage tanks, terraces, sediment traps, or ecologically-based practices for rotational cropping and pest control are all examples of BMPs. They might be developed by a level of government, an industry association, or by a club or organization that has an interest in water stewardship.

In some cases, the basis for BMPs is legal; consideration and mitigation of NPS may be incorporated into conditions of approval for project certification under the Environmental Assessment Act, or for tenure or approval under the Water Act or Land Act. In mining projects, it is becoming common to require a Sediment Control Plan to be outlined in the application for Project Approval Certificate, and incorporated into the Mines Act permit, with input on fisheries and water quality issues from ministry staff.

In other cases, BMPs are non-binding guidelines which inform developers, organizations and individuals on how to best build a structure or facility, or perform their business. BMPs must be actively incorporated into development plans, discharge permits and other local regulations. A convincing argument for prospective users can sometimes be that meeting the requirements of a BMP can avoid pollution prevention orders.

There are many examples of how BMPs that aid in pollution prevention are encouraged in British Columbia:

  • The Stewardship Series of publications has been produced through partnerships between federal and provincial governments and non-government organizations, and includes a stream stewardship guide for planners and developers, a community greenways source book, a guide for agriculture, a planning guide for access near aquatic areas, and a stewardship bylaws guide for local government.
  • Operational Plans are legally required by logging companies under the Forest Practices Code guidelines. Erosion and sediment control guidelines must be incorporated into road building and timber harvesting plans.
  • Guidelines have been developed by the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans for grit-blasting and bridge painting, given the serious impacts that these activities can have on fish habitat.
  • The Code of Agricultural Practice and Guidelines provides instruction to farmers on how to minimize the effects of their operations within their watershed.
  • Some local governments require developers to construct stormwater retention facilities, as a condition of subdivision approval.
  • Provincial Urban Runoff Quality Control Guidelines include stormwater management recommendations to assist municipalities and the private sector to minimize the impacts of urban runoff on receiving waters.
  • Provincial guidelines are also in place for application of herbicides and insecticides to promote appropriate application rates and procedures that prevent pesticides from entering waterbodies directly or by airborne drift.
  • Developers contemplating works in and around streams, such as construction of a fence or pipeline through a stream, are required to notify BC Environment and Lands offices, to confirm that their site plans and procedures minimize impacts on water quality and fish habitat.

Although there are numerous examples of BMPs in British Columbia, their potential value and adoption as tools for preventing NPS pollution may be unrecognized or at least under-used. Sources of NPS pollution of a waterbody or aquifer can be exceptionally varied, and an effective prevention and/or treatment strategy must attempt to be all-encompassing.

Water conservation is also important in reducing NPS pollution, when coupled with source reductions of contaminants. Over-use of water contributes to surface runoff and infiltration into ground water. It leads to increased impoundment of natural waterbodies to store domestic and irrigation water, which causes a reduction in the overall quality of those waters. It can also overload onsite sewage disposal systems beyond their capacity to handle wastes. The greatest gains in water conservation, as with BMPs, are to be made at the site level, especially when water supply and sewage treatment systems are considered together. In many situations, water can be reused after an appropriate level of treatment.

Action 3: Support Development and Implementation of Best Management Practices

  • 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 BMPs.

Even though there has been some good progress made in British Columbia in developing and implementing BMPs for NPS water pollution prevention, there are still many needs. A systematic assessment is needed for each potential pollution source, to identify the BMPs presently in-place, to assess gaps, and to determine how widely the BMPs have been adopted and their effectiveness. New or revised BMPs should be developed to fill the gaps and provide the basis for a comprehensive program for consistent implementation of BMPs for each major cause of NPS pollution. Priorities for development of BMPs must be established, and BMPs may be adopted as enforceable regulations in some cases.

Demonstration or pilot projects are potentially a good way to showcase a particular BMP, and also to provide an experimental basis for improving the BMP through trial and error.

The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (now called Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection) is developing a compendium of BMPs aimed at reducing NPS pollution. The compendium will assess the state and availability of BMPs for selected NPS water pollution sources in British Columbia, and may include for example:

  • agriculture and aquaculture;
  • recreational and commercial vessel marinas and maintenance yards;
  • bridge repair and maintenance;
  • commercial and residential building construction;
  • pesticide application;
  • road and parking lot construction and maintenance;
  • onsite sewage systems;
  • municipal stormwater systems;
  • stream bank protection;
  • underground storage tanks;
  • general industry (commercial shipping, railway operations, aggregate / concrete operations, pulp mills, saw mills, oil refineries, food processing, metal smelting, etc.);
  • small business (e.g., film processing, car wash facilities); and
  • residential maintenance (e.g., gardening, car washing).

The compendium will help identify areas where BMPs need to be developed, as well as establishing priorities for further development and revision. This information can be effectively disseminated through the world wide web and printed materials. Consultation with local governments and industry associations will determine what BMPs are being used, how effective they are, and what other BMPs are needed.

Action 4: Promote Water Conservation

  • 4.1 Support implementation of the provincial strategy for water conservation.

Water is a valuable resource which must be used efficiently and cost-effectively to ensure a high quality of social, environmental, and economic well-being. The water conservation strategy for British Columbia will contribute to a sustained and healthy water resource and provide a common framework for water management activities throughout the province.

Efficient water use will significantly benefit water quality. For example, reducing household water use may help prevent onsite sewage system overflows, thereby protecting the environment. Also, careful irrigation practices prevent surface runoff, soil erosion, and nitrate leaching into ground and surface water.

The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection), Water Management Branch, has developed a Water Conservation Strategy for BC. The goal of this strategy is to ensure sufficient water for all uses and to facilitate a more sustainable approach to managing water resources. A successful water conservation strategy can:

  • reduce NPS pollution through efficient water use measures;
  • help secure long-term water supplies, particularly in high growth areas and areas with limited water supplies; and
  • help ensure sufficient water for fish and aquatic habitat and other in-stream uses.

Key components of the strategy include education, communication, operation and maintenance of delivery systems, economic incentives, management systems (e.g., plans), market development opportunities, and regulations and bylaws.

Within its jurisdiction, the ministry will address water conservation measures for water allocation licensing and fees, regulation of private utilities, and water quality management. In areas beyond its jurisdiction, the ministry will seek partnerships and advocate water conservation policies and programs with other provincial ministries, governments, industries, and communities throughout the province.


Traditionally, increasing water demand has been met through increased supply. But this is becoming a less acceptable option in light of greater environmental and financial costs. The alternative is to reduce water demand and encourage water reuse. This can be achieved by:

Local government action

- reducing leaks in underground pipes and taps
- installing water metres and leak detection devices
- reusing and recycling water
- pricing water at rates which reflect its true value
- restricting or controlling water use during periods of drought
- requiring installation of low volume showers and toilets

Individual action

- increasing one's knowledge of water conservation measures
- planting drought-resistant shrubs and grasses
- replacing water-using appliances with models that do the same job with less water
- employing water-saving gardening practices
- changing household habits to minimize water use

To ensure the successful implementation of the water conservation strategy, the ministry will:

  • inform water users about provincial priorities and initiatives;
  • remove institutional, legal, economic, attitude, knowledge, and technical barriers to water conservation;
  • enable and guide decision-making at the provincial and local levels through legislation, policies, and guidelines;
  • encourage the efficient and appropriate use of water among water users; and,
  • foster partnerships.

Return to Key Components of BC's Non-Point Source Action Plan

C. Land-Use Planning, Coordination

Reducing NPS pollution requires not only engineering, technology, and best management practices, but also fundamental changes in society's behaviour, attitudes, and priorities with respect to the environment. One of the greatest challenges in preventing NPS water pollution is incorporating pollution prevention into land-use decisions and life style choices.

Fortunately, there are existing land-use planning processes which can serve as mechanisms for addressing NPS pollution. Furthermore, growing public awareness of environmental issues and increased local involvement bodes well for programs which reinforce public stewardship in protecting water resources.

Clearly, the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) has a leadership role in supporting and participating in land-use planning. Success will depend on the extent to which environmental objectives are incorporated into land-use decisions by local government. Ministry leadership is also key in supporting and guiding community stewardship initiatives for watershed protection and participation in planning processes.

Action 5: Incorporate Water Resources 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 Community Plans.
  • 5.4 Ensure that streamside protection measures incorporated into local government planning processes address NPS pollution.
  • 5.5 Support local government in protecting greenways.

There are a variety of land-use planning processes in British Columbia, each focused on a specific level in the hierarchy of planning, or on specific land and resource management issues. They may apply to either Crown land, private land, or both.

Higher Level Forestry Planning Processes
Land use planning for forestry in BC is conducted through a series of higher level plans which establish resource management objectives to guide on-the-ground operations. The Forest Practices Code of BC Act provides three levels of planning (strategic, local, and operational or site-specific) for managing forest resources on Crown land. The focus of these plans is to manage the forest resource while considering other land uses and resource values.

Resource management zone objectives are developed for a large geographical area. Within this plan, landscape unit objectives and, if necessary, sensitive area objectives are defined. Development of interpretive forest site objectives, recreational site objectives, and recreation trail objectives is the final step. The objectives of the higher level plans are used to direct the operational plans (e.g. Forest Development Plans, Silviculture Prescription Plans, and Stand Management Prescription Plans).

Higher level plans allow regional factors to be considered, while the regulations under the Forest Practices Code provide the baseline for protection of water quality from NPS pollution. These include standards for practices and the appropriate areas to conduct these practices. For example, the Forest Road Regulation states that maintenance activities must not cause known Water Quality Objectives to be exceeded. Similarly, the Operational Planning Regulation provides protection to water from NPS pollution by prescribing riparian zone standards for specific stream classes. Once adopted, the objectives from the higher level plan, and the regulations, must be reflected in operational plans.

It is important to have wide participation in the development of all higher level plans because each subsequent plan in the hierarchy is shaped by the preceding level. For example, resource management zone objectives influence landscape unit objectives, which in turn influence sensitive area objectives.

Aspects of the higher level plans that are not worded specifically to protect water quality, like terrain stability and road design, may still provide protection from NPS pollution. This reinforces the need to participate in all levels of planning. The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) will continue to participate in higher level forestry planning to incorporate objectives and ensure proposed objectives consistently protect water quality and prevent NPS pollution.

Regional Growth Strategies and Official Community Plans
A Regional Growth Strategy (provided under Par 25 of the Municipal Act) is a regional vision that commits affected municipalities and regional districts to "promote human settlement that is socially, economically, and environmentally healthy and makes efficient use of public facilities, land, and resources". It is initiated and adopted by a regional district and referred to all affected local governments for acceptance. The goals for Regional Growth Strategies that provide opportunity to address NPS pollution include: protecting environmentally sensitive areas; reducing and preventing air, land, and water pollution; and protecting the quality and quantity of ground and surface water.

The purpose statement and related goals for Regional Growth Strategies also apply to Official Community Plans (OCPs). Official Community Plans "provide a general statement of the broad objectives and policies of the local government respecting the form and character of existing and proposed land use and servicing requirements in the area covered by the plan". In addition, OCPs may contain policies to preserve, protect, restore, and enhance the natural environment, its ecosystems and biological diversity.

Official Community Plans are prepared by municipalities for areas under their jurisdiction and by the regional districts for unincorporated electoral areas under their jurisdiction. Policies contained in Regional Growth Strategies are conveyed through regional context statements for municipal Official Community Plans and directly to Official Community Plans in regional district electoral areas.

The policies for Regional Growth Strategies and OCPs establish the basis for the use of a wide range of regulatory and development approval powers available to local governments to address NPS pollution issues. These issues include stormwater runoff, impervious surface area, soil deposit and removal controls, and development approval conditions. To determine the potential environmental impact of development and help establish approval conditions, local governments may also require development approval information for:

  • zoning bylaw amendment applications;
  • development permit applications; and
  • temporary industrial and commercial use permit applications.


Regional and sub-regional land-use plans describe broad objectives and strategies for the management of natural resources (including water) within the planning area.

For example, the 1995 Kamloops Land and Resource Management Plan, covering more than 3 million hectares in BC's southern interior, contains the following objectives and strategies:

- no bulk water export or diversion
- watershed assessments and remedial strategies for priority watersheds
- rehabilitation of impacted watersheds
- a ground water aquifer management program
- management of work in and about streams to protect aquatic values
- acceptable road construction, maintenance and deactivation standards

To further support local government planning and development approval in addressing NPS pollution, the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) will participate with those local governments engaged in preparing Regional Growth Strategies and OCPs and may:

  • participate in the preparation and review of documents;
  • provide technical information on water resources;
  • identify environmental information needs;
  • identify sensitive aquatic habitats;
  • provide best management practices; and
  • support community stewardship initiatives and participate on advisory committees.

The significance of these planning processes for water quality management is that each process represents an opportunity to address NPS pollution proactively. The challenge is to ensure that the agencies and organizations with a water quality mandate, or a related interest in water quality, participate effectively in the planning to ensure that the plans take water quality goals and NPS pollution prevention requirements into account.

Streamside Protection Measures
Extensive planning of settled land is undertaken on an ongoing basis by regional districts and municipal governments, exercising their responsibilities for local land-use control. Most local governments in British Columbia have developed and adopted Official Community Plans and related bylaws for regulating land-use zoning and subdivision. The Local Government Statutes Amendment Act, (1997), provides municipalities with the additional opportunities to incorporate environmental objectives into Official Community Plans. Section 12 of the Fish Protection Act enables the province to establish policy directives regarding the protection and enhancement of riparian areas that may be subject to residential, commercial, and industrial development. Where applicable, a local government must use its zoning or rural land use bylaws to provide riparian area protection in accordance with the directives, or other bylaws and permits, to provide a comparable or higher level of protection. Some of the approaches available to local governments to achieve riparian area protection can also address NPS pollution.

At the local government planning level, the province encourages local government in protecting networks of wetlands, greenspaces, aquifer recharge areas, and other key conservation areas, collectively known as greenways, before development impacts reduce the viability of those resources to contribute to good water quality. Greenways can be initiated locally or at the regional level through a Regional Growth Strategy. The province will assist in this challenge according to priorities and resource availability, by:

  • cost-sharing local inventories of natural areas through the provincial Corporate Resource Inventory Initiative, and participating in the development of Regional Growth Strategies; and,
  • offering financial incentives, primarily in the form of provincial planning grants, for communities for their land-use planning (which may include emphasis on "green planning").

Action 6: Promote 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.

Liquid Waste Management Planning
Municipalities and Regional Districts may develop Liquid Waste Management Plans (LWMPs), which specify a broad strategy for liquid waste treatment and disposal, for approval by the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection). To date, 17 plans have been developed and another 17 are being developed province-wide.

In general, these plans have focused on point-source sewage discharges. Opportunities to incorporate source control measures, stormwater management, and other 'best management practices' to address NPS pollution should be implemented by local authorities as new plans are started or existing plans are amended. A key requirement of the LWMP process is public involvement, thereby providing the opportunity for the community to ensure that the plan reflects local values and concerns.

Pollution Prevention Plans
The term "Pollution Prevention" means to avoid, eliminate, or reduce pollution at source rather than treating or containing it after it has been created. It is a proactive approach, which integrates environmental decisions with business decisions, to avoid creation of pollution rather than dealing with after-the-fact remediation.

The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) in partnership with industry is piloting the development of a unique approach to environmental management whereby individual companies develop comprehensive pollution prevention (P2) plans. Pollution prevention plans identify all sources of existing and potential pollution and management options to address them. The overall goal of the P2 plan is to achieve environmental protection while realizing financial efficiencies for the company and involving the public in an open and transparent forum.

The P2 plan is developed by the company in conjunction with the community, including local government representatives, employees, environmental organizations, private citizens, and the Ministry. The P2 planning process involves several steps including initiation of the process, formation of a Public Advisory Committee, a full environmental review of the site, development and implementation of the P2 plan, monitoring, assessment, and reporting results. Continual improvement is built into the process by mandating a periodic review of the plans.

Within the environmental review stage there are opportunities to identify sources of NPS pollution. Solutions are developed and evaluated in the drafting of the P2 plan. Examples of possible NPS pollution issues include vehicle emissions; losses from transportation, handling, and storage of materials; stormwater runoff; and sources of potential ground water contamination.

The P2 process provides unique opportunities in NPS pollution prevention efforts. Industrial non-point source areas can be identified, prevented, or managed. Under the guidelines of P2 planning, management efforts can then be evaluated and reported to all stakeholders. This process allows the success of the management strategies to be measured and may provide opportunities for effective management efforts to be applied in other areas.

Action 7: Lead 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 NPS pollution.
  • 7.3 Develop Liquid Waste Management Plans in critical areas.

The Fish Protection Act (1997) provides consequential amendments to the Water Act. When those amending sections are brought into force by regulation, the Water Act will enable the Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) to designate Water Management Areas to assist in addressing conflicts between water users, and between water users and in-stream flow requirements, or risks to water quality for that area, including fish and fish habitat.

The minister may establish a process and terms of reference, including public consultation, for the development of a Water Management Plan for a designated Water Management Area. A plan would consider all strategic operational and land-use planning processes within the area, and could consider issues relating to surface water runoff and ground water. Once approved by the minister, provisions in a plan must be considered in the ministry's licences, approvals, permits, authorizations, or other powers. The Water Management Plans will therefore provide an opportunity to address NPS pollution affecting water quality in a broad area-based approach. Once a process is set, the ministry will establish criteria for identifying critical areas, and proceed to use Water Management Plans as a tool to address water issues, including NPS pollution.

The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) also has the ability, under the Waste Management Act, to require local governments to develop Liquid Waste Management Plans (see Action 6). This may be desirable in critical areas where public health or important water resources are threatened by activities that are not readily regulated by other means, such as NPS pollution affecting ground water, community water supplies, or valuable fishery resources.

There are a number of environmental programs involving regional agencies, which provide a forum for planning, objective setting, monitoring, education and general coordination of government and community initiatives. These programs serve as clearing houses for information.

Action 8: Support Government Coordination

There are a number of environmental programs involving regional agencies, which provide a forum for planning, objective setting, monitoring, education, and general coordination of government and community initiatives. These programs serve as clearing houses for information useful to local governments and community groups, and provide a focus for support from federal and provincial agencies. Given that NPS pollution can be more readily resolved through coordination of government programs and community efforts, continued involvement and support of regionally coordinated programs will be undertaken. A few examples of such programs are:

  • The Georgia Basin Ecosystem Initiative, proposed by Environment Canada to address environmental issues in this densely populated region, is aimed at establishing an integrated, partnership approach to managing growth and addressing its consequences. Proposed NPS related actions include promoting local stewardship, preventing pollution, and developing best management practices and public awareness programs. The Georgia Basin Ecosystem Initiative recognizes the need for coordination and cooperation between partners, and the effective transfer of knowledge to local decision makers.
  • The Fraser River Estuary Management Program and the Burrard Inlet Environmental Plan have attempted to integrate land-use and water quality issues to protect environmental quality in those areas. For example, shoreline habitat in the Fraser River estuary has been classified in terms of suitability for development as a guide to developers. This classification is based on the sensitivity and importance of these habitats to aquatic life and wildlife. These programs also provide a forum for coordination of environmental monitoring by various levels of government.
  • The Fraser Basin Council is a non-government organization supported by federal and provincial funding. The Council provides coordination of community organizations, government agencies, First Nations groups, and businesses in implementing a "Charter of Sustainability." This charter aims to support economic and environmental sustainability, using an ecosystem and community-based approach. The Council plans to provide progress reports, conflict resolution, and education programs to support these aims.


Ultimately, all activities in or on the air, land and water can affect water quality, water quantity or aquatic resources. Watersheds, which include all water sources in the drainage area (aquifers, estuaries, springs and wetlands) are the appropriate spatial units for integrating environmental and economic planning.

Action 9: Support Community Based Waterbody Protection Initiatives

Increasingly, communities have initiated projects to restore streams, beaches, and watersheds, to organize volunteers to monitor water quality, and to educate and exchange information among businesses, farmers, and residents. Supporting these grass roots initiatives is recognized as a key component of NPS pollution prevention. It is at this level that the life-style and land-use practices that prevent NPS pollution are most readily affected.

There are about 180 community stewardship organizations throughout the province. They refer to themselves variously as round tables, community resource boards, resource councils, or simply as working committees or planning teams. Normally, they represent a wide cross-section of the interests in the local area, and are potentially a strong force in addressing NPS pollution. These organizations can provide critical information and resources to develop water resource management plans, and provide a forum for resolving disputes over water use and pollution. Some of the individuals and organizations participating in the stewardship groups are the same parties that are needed to engage in hands-on action to prevent NPS pollution.


The Salmon River Watershed Round Table, initiated in 1991 and based in Salmon Arm, is made up of over 100 members, including local governments, First Nations, federal and provincial ministries, landowners, farmers and ranchers, environmental groups and the forest industry. Their projects illustrate the positive role that local stewardship groups can play in protecting water quality in BC:
- restoration of degraded sites
- development of a citizen-based watershed plan and integration into Official Community Plans and bylaws
- monitoring
- encouragement of youth involvement
- dissemination of information and advice

A number of provincial agencies have recently developed guidelines and source books on how to establish local stewardship groups. For example, the federal and provincial governments, in partnership with the Fraser Basin Management Program and non-government organizations, produced the document Community Stewardship: A Guide to Developing Your Group as part of the Stewardship Series. Lessons from grass roots watershed management groups in the United States and elsewhere are also available. In addition, funding is available for environmental protection projects undertaken by non-profit organizations through such initiatives as Environment Canada's Eco-Action 2000. The stage has been set to encourage the creation of more groups of this type and to encourage their involvement in NPS pollution prevention.

The province will continue to support the development and activities of local stewardship groups and, in particular, will encourage groups to plan and manage projects for NPS pollution control. The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) will support local stewardship groups to document water quality problems, develop watershed goals, identify viable projects, secure resources, develop treatment approaches, and prepare monitoring and evaluation plans.

The ministry recently helped establish the BC Lakes Stewardship Society to focus on small lakes and to provide guidance and support to groups requiring advice on water quality. The BC Lakes Stewardship Society is a chapter of the North American Lake Management Society; this affiliation will provide BC community groups with linkages to similar groups throughout North America, which will enable them to better procure funding, information and other resources.

Local community groups are often created in response to issues of local importance and concern. Issues such as restoring fish habitat, protecting drinking water supplies, reducing algae problems, controlling urban growth, restoring a beach, or controlling aquatic weeds may serve as the catalyst to bring people together. Many of these issues are related to NPS pollution, but the connection may not be obvious. Established community groups may need help to recognize the value of a watershed approach or to incorporate NPS objectives in their activities. Actions that benefit fishery resources, for example, restoration and protection of riparian vegetation, prevention of erosion, and reducing peaks in stream flow, are also valuable practices for reducing NPS pollution. It is critical not to encourage formation of competing groups or to divert groups from ongoing programs, but to encourage existing groups to take a broader perspective.


1. The best plans have clear visions, goals and action items.
2. Good leaders are committed and empower others.
3. Having a coordinator at the watershed level is desirable.
4. Environmental, economic and social values are compatible.
5. Plans only succeed if implemented.
6. Partnerships equal power.
7. Good tools are available.
8. Measure, communicate and account for progress.
9. Education and involvement drive action.
10. Establish a link with existing decision-making processes.
Taken from the USEP's Top Ten Watershed
Lessons Learned

Return to Key Components of BC's Non-Point Source Action Plan

D. Assessment and Reporting

Action 10: Evaluate Performance of NPS Pollution Actions

  • 10.1 Measure success of program in terms of water quality and key management objectives.
  • 10.2 Modernize field measurement methods.
  • 10.3 Seek partnerships to support evaluation program.
  • 10.4 Support community volunteer monitoring initiatives.
  • 10.5 Communicate successes and challenges to all stakeholders.

Measure Success
The NPS Action Plan will involve activities by local and senior levels of government, as well as activities by industry, businesses, community groups, and individuals. Evaluation of such a wide array of efforts is challenging indeed. Nevertheless, the benefits of this initiative must ultimately be measured in terms of the bottom line-improved water quality. Just as the incremental deterioration of water quality from numerous small pollution sources has slowly increased over the past decades, we must recognize that improvements resulting from our actions will occur slowly over the long term as well. These improvements must be measured to demonstrate the benefit and to sustain the efforts over the long term.

Although non-point sources may be a primary source of water contamination, identifying and determining the relative contribution from multiple sources is not a simple task and will require a renewed commitment to water quality monitoring and assessment in priority watersheds. The information derived from these assessments will help in directing effective preventative and remedial actions.

A program to measure changes in, and maintenance of, water quality in areas subject to non-point source pollution control actions is essential. This information is needed to evaluate the relative benefit of various actions. Support and buy-in from local authorities and the public cannot be expected without demonstrating measurable environmental benefit.

In addition to direct measurement of the water quality response to the actions implemented, there are other ways to evaluate the performance of this program. These could include evaluation of how well water resource issues are incorporated into land-use plans and the result in changes to land-use practices. The degree of community support and involvement in stewardship initiatives and the number of Liquid Waste Management Plans incorporating stormwater management measures could also be considered in the evaluation of the program. Modernize field measurement methods The field methods for monitoring NPS pollution must also be improved. The periodic physical and chemical monitoring methods prevalent in point-source pollution investigations are not adequate to capture the short-term transient events often associated with rainfall, and may not be sensitive enough to show the cumulative impact on aquatic life.

There is a need to utilize:

  • biological indicators of water quality (e.g., fish, invertebrate, or aquatic plant "bio-indicators"), which can integrate NPS pollution effects over long periods, and
  • in-stream electronic automated monitoring equipment, which can capture data during transient pollution events.

We must continue to develop and maintain a full range of water quality monitoring tools that will allow us to apply a level of monitoring effort that is appropriate to the environmental and health risks in a particular situation.

Seek Partnerships
Partnerships will be essential for conducting an effective monitoring and assessment program to evaluate the success of our NPS pollution prevention efforts. No one agency or level of government has the resources to fund programs needed in the many watersheds afflicted by NPS pollution. All stakeholders-the federal, provincial, and local governments, community stewardship groups, water purveyors, and users of the land and water — will have to contribute to the evaluation of our collective efforts to prevent NPS pollution. Moreover, we must expand the circle of responsibility for NPS pollution monitoring, by involving local individuals, as well as corporations who are discharging waste to the environment.

Support Volunteer Monitoring
Community-based volunteer water quality monitoring can also generate valuable information on program performance. To be effective, the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) will provide the necessary technical advisory support to ensure methods are acceptable to generate reliable information.

Communicate with Stakeholders
Effective interpretation and communication of information on water quality and NPS pollution prevention actions are essential to sustain the long-term cooperation of all stakeholders. A key element of this program will be regular communication of results to technical audiences, such as municipal and regional district engineers, and more general audiences such as municipal councils, community groups, and the public. Such communications will address best management practices, examples of community initiatives, or results from water quality assessments.

Consultations with local agencies would identify key NPS pollution cases and allow evaluation of these areas as pilot projects. In cooperation with local partners, the relative pollution contributions from various sectors and land-use practices would be designed and applied, and the projects would be monitored to determine the benefits.

Action 11: Assess Key NPS Pollution Cases

  • 11.1 Focus effort on selected pilot areas.
  • 11.2 Investigate the relative contribution of pollution from various sources.
  • 11.3 Apply and evaluate remedial measures.
  • 11.4 Use results to guide pollution prevention efforts elsewhere.

Given the very limited research conducted on NPS pollution in British Columbia, evaluations are needed to guide the program towards maximum water quality benefits. Consultations with local agencies would identify key NPS pollution cases and allow evaluation of these areas as pilot projects. In cooperation with local partners, the relative pollution contributions from various sectors and land-use practices would be evaluated, remedial actions would be designed and applied, and the projects would be monitored to determine the benefits. The lessons learned and the tools developed in the pilot projects would be documented and used to guide NPS pollution control and prevention in other watersheds, and in ongoing development of NPS pollution management actions.

Action 12: Continue Reporting to the Public

  • 12.1 Report to the public on provincial water quality issues and trends.
  • 12.2 Issue a BC Water Quality Trend Report

Reporting to the Public
Non-technical reports on the state of water quality in British Columbia are a powerful means of communicating information on specific water quality problems, general trends over time, and the effectiveness of strategies for addressing water quality problems. In 1996, the Ministry of Environment issued a Water Quality Status Report, rating the quality of over 120 waterbodies and ground water aquifers in the province. It provided a general snapshot of where we were, relative to our established provincial water quality objectives. In addition, the Ministry and federal agencies have produced periodic State of the Environment Reports for British Columbia, which include sections on water quality. The last State of the Environment Report in 1993 included assessments of the general condition of both surface and ground water quality and information on the main sources of contamination.

BC Water Quality Trend Report
The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) and Environment Canada are preparing a Water Quality Trend Report for the province, outlining water quality trends that have occurred over the last decade at about 75 locations. The ministry has also published a Water Quality Indicator which highlights the status and trends in BC's water quality (in the document Environmental Trends in British Columbia).

These public reports address NPS pollution to some extent, and will continue to be delivered by the Ministry in cooperation with Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and other partners monitoring water quality. The reports will increasingly focus on NPS pollution as the assessment and reporting actions in this report are implemented.

Return to Key Components of BC's Non-Point Source Action Plan

E. Economic Incentives

The natural capacity of our streams, lakes and ground water to handle our waste is a "common property resource" — it belongs to all of us and this, in itself, makes effective pollution prevention difficult. Individuals who knowingly or unknowingly deposit small amounts of waste into receiving waters are not normally motivated to limit their discharges, because the costs they incur as individuals by discharging the waste are normally less than the costs that they would bear if they reduced the waste generated, or disposed of it in some other way. For example, it is less costly for a rancher to let his cattle wander freely than to build fencing to keep them away from streams, less trouble to pour oil or paint thinner onto the ground than to take it to a recycling depot, and cheaper for a lakeshore lot owner to install an onsite sewage system that meets minimum requirements than to invest in a high capacity or high tech system, or to set the system far back from the shoreline.

Typically, the long-term effect of many small discharges results in water pollution, which forces the injection of public money to fix the pollution, or the pollution remains unresolved, degrading the value of the waterbody. In this sense, individual polluters are subsidized by taxpayers to continue their behaviour that causes pollution.

Efforts to break this cycle by targeting the individuals who cause pollution and make them accountable for costs generated by their activities drive the "polluter pay principle" - that is, polluters, not other taxpayers, should bear the ultimate responsibility for the costs associated with disposal of their waste products. Thus, economic incentives are another type of policy tool that could be used to motivate a change in polluting behaviour.

- property tax breaks
- density bonuses
- retrofitting incentives
- tickets and fines
- grants
- performance bonds

Action 13: Assess the Potential for Using Economic Incentives to Encourage NPS Pollution Prevention

A wide range of economic incentives are available that could be used to address NPS water pollution. The challenge is to identify the NPS problems that would be most effectively addressed by using an economic incentive (either alone, or in combination with other policy tools), and to determine which type of economic incentive to use. Some economic incentives which may have potential for application by local, provincial, and federal governments, or industry associations to NPS problems in BC are briefly described below.

Credit Support Incentives
These incentives provide businesses or individuals with loan assistance (e.g., reduced interest rates, payment deferrals) in exchange for a commitment to perform a specific pollution management action. For example, farmers might receive lower financing charges from an agricultural banking institution in return for adopting pre-defined "best farm management practices," such as rotational grazing or fencing off streams from cattle. This is potentially a win-win arrangement, because farmers would be rewarded with mortgage cost savings, the bank would reduce the financial risk of inheriting an environmental liability, and the quality of the receiving waters would be improved.

Property Tax Breaks
This form of economic incentive encourages pollution prevention through reduced, deferred or forgiven property taxes, or through provision of tax credits that can be applied elsewhere. For example, a tax break might be offered to a land owner in exchange for permanent dedication of a wetland that filters out pollution on that person's private land. Alternatively, a conservation easement covering an important fish-bearing stream might be registered against the title of the property, thus preventing future development in and around the stream (the Fish Protection Act facilitates this with provision for property tax deductions). There are many precedents for these mechanisms in other jurisdictions (e.g., Washington State), which points to their effectiveness for conserving critical wetland and other important conservation areas.

Density Bonuses
This strategy would allow land developers to increase the unit density on their development site beyond normal allowable levels in exchange for a commitment to adopt "green" construction and land development practices. For example, construction of semi-permeable surfaces that allow water infiltration as opposed to rapid runoff, protection of wetlands and riparian buffers, or installation of stormwater retention and sediment trap systems, might qualify a developer for a density bonus, and the prospect of an increased profit margin.

Buy-back and Retrofitting Incentives
These actions work to replace inefficient or obsolete appliances with more water-efficient products, or to promote retrofitting of water-consuming fixtures and equipment that might lead to NPS water pollution (e.g., leaking toilets that overload onsite systems not designed for large water flows). A good example is the provincial Power Smart program which provides rebates for conversion to more energy efficient appliances, heating, and lighting. Another example is the existing provincial air quality program to take fuel inefficient cars off the road through a "scrap-it" program, which provides owners of old, pollution-prone cars with either a grant towards the purchase of a new fuel-efficient car or a long-term bus pass.

Recognition Incentives
This form of incentive is "soft" in the sense that it does not result in direct economic benefit or cost. Instead it motivates good performance through recognition. It also creates a good corporate image which can affect consumer choices. For example, an award program could be established to recognize a producer, developer, or community group for adopting a best management practice, producing a top-rate pollution prevention plan for a watershed, or achieving a measurable improvement in local water quality. Such programs might be administered by a government agency, an independent body, or a peer-group organization. They can serve as demonstration projects for others to learn from, and to try to do better through their own efforts.

Full or cost-shared grant programs might be established to provide funds to local governments, stewardship groups, producer associations, or even individuals, for engaging in NPS pollution prevention activities that qualify under the grant program. For example, funds for a local conservation group to prepare a pollution management plan for a small watershed, could result in significant local benefits to water quality. Multi-party, cost-sharing arrangements might be possible for certain types of initiatives, where governments and non-government organizations contribute to individual pollution prevention projects.

Environmental User Fees
Environmental user fees on products or installations that are linked to NPS water pollution could motivate purchasers to use less of those products or to find a more environmentally-friendly substitute. At the same time, these would provide a source of government revenue for financing clean water initiatives. Some examples include a tax on chemical fertilizers and pesticides as a means of reducing the use of those products, or a tax on gasoline in recognition of the water pollution effects of car use.

Performance Bonds
This tool provides a source of funds in the event that a development leads to water pollution, and the developer is unable or unwilling to correct the problem. For example, in some geological settings, a poorly designed mine can lead to acid rock drainage, where acidic runoff and seepage from the mine damages aquatic habitat. If a financial guarantee is obtained by the government agency that approved the mine, as a condition of allowing the mine to occur in the first place, a pool of funds is available to remediate the pollution. The possibility of having to forfeit a performance bond is a motivation for "good behaviour" by developers, provided that the amount of the bond is set at an appropriate level.

Tickets and Fines
These measures might apply where an individual or a firm can be clearly identified as the source of pollution or over-consumption. Examples include having caused an oil spill into a storm drain, polluting water beyond an established water quality standard, or consuming water beyond a set limit. Implied in this is the need for legal authority to define and enforce water quality standards. Currently, for example, a toxic spill that impacts fish or fish habitat can result in the laying of a charge under the federal Fisheries Act and a potential fine in cases where the responsibility for the spill and its polluting impact on fish can be established. In areas where local government water use restrictions are exceeded, a ticket and fine may be levied by authority of a municipal bylaw.

Further assessment is needed to determine if economic incentives are feasible, where they could be most effectively used in addressing NPS pollution, and which economic incentives would be best suited for different problems. Design and implementation issues, as well as the potential economic and regional impacts, must be examined when considering this approach.

Return to Key Components of BC's Non-Point Source Action Plan

F. Legislation and Regulation

Legislation and regulations are a key component within the policy framework for managing non-point source pollution.

In implementing legislative and regulatory actions under this Action Plan, the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) will first maximize the effectiveness of existing legislation in preventing and managing NPS pollution. Two recently developed legislative tools that bear on prevention and management of NPS water pollution are the Fish Protection Act and the Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act. The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) is committed to developing and enhancing regulations, policy, and programs under these new acts to ensure their effective application and enforcement.

Some legislative, regulatory, and policy tools to manage NPS pollution are the responsibility of other provincial agencies, or the federal or local governments (see Table 1). In these situations, the ministry must work cooperatively with these agencies to maximize the use of these laws in effectively managing NPS pollution. Because the responsibility for NPS pollution is shared among agencies, coordination of laws across agencies is often required.

Where gaps in existing legislation are identified which can be filled only with new legislation, the ministry will bring forward proposals to fill those gaps.

The following seven actions describe the ministry's plan for the management of NPS pollution through legislation and regulation.

Action 14: Implement the Water Quality Provisions of the New Fish Protection Act and Local Government Statutes Amendment Act

  • 14.1 Ensure that new provisions of the Fish Protection Act, such as streamside protection measures and "sensitive stream" designation, are designed to minimize NPS pollution.
  • 14.2 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.

New Provisions of the Fish Protection Act
The Fish Protection Act provides new tools to protect fish by ensuring healthy fish-bearing streams and plentiful stocks. The highest priorities of this new legislation are:

  • enhancing protection of riparian areas through streamside protection measures; and
  • designating "sensitive streams" for managing land-use and development that impacts fish habitat.

The streamside protection measures provide for development of a new provincial policy for riparian protection and presents a significant opportunity for NPS pollution prevention. The protection measures are intended to minimize or prevent impacts of residential, commercial, or industrial developments on stream channels, aquatic ecosystems, water quality, and riparian areas. In applying the protection measures, local governments will have some degree of flexibility to accommodate local conditions.

In addition to enhancing fisheries, the streamside protection measures will significantly benefit other water uses, such as recreation and wildlife. The ministry will ensure that the streamside protection measures, and implementation by local governments, are designed to optimize the reduction of NPS pollution. This will be achieved, for example, by integrating NPS pollution prevention measures and tools in the recommended streamside protection practices for local governments, which will be developed as part of this initiative. Streamside protection measures will be enforced through local zoning bylaws. Enforcement tools can include performance bonding, ticketing, stop-work orders, or court orders and fines.

Protecting fish includes managing NPS pollution

Development of the streamside protection measures has been initiated by the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) in cooperation with other provincial and federal agencies, and local governments. Consultation with other stakeholders on its development and implementation is planned.

The "sensitive stream" designation under the Fish Protection Act also provides a significant opportunity for preventing NPS pollution. Streams, where the sustainability of fish is at risk, may be designated as "sensitive streams". This designation requires that additional protection measures be implemented before a water licence will be issued. Water licence applicants must demonstrate that there will be sufficient water to sustain fish, and that fish habitat will not be degraded by the activities of the licensee. Where a recovery plan is developed to address impacts on fish habitat, this plan will also be able to address NPS pollution concerns which are affecting the water quality of that sensitive stream. Recovery plans must be endorsed by Cabinet, thereby ensuring that NPS remedial measures will be implemented.

Local Government Statutes Amendment Act
Local governments, through their planning and development approval processes, play a critical role in the protection of the environment. The Local Government Statutes Amendment Act, in support of the Fish Protection Act, will provide new tools to local governments to improve their environmental planning and management. These tools to protect the fisheries resource will also enable local governments to protect water quality for other uses as well.

Key provisions which provide important new tools for NPS management include:

  • strengthening the ability of local governments to protect water quality by requiring better stormwater management;
  • empowering local governments to require landowners who pave or roof an area to manage and provide for disposal of runoff;
  • empowering local government to establish rules for the maximum percentage of areas that can be impervious;
  • strengthening local governments' ability to protect fish and fish habitat by allowing them to place environmental protection measures in development permits, zoning amendments, and Official Community Plans; and,
  • encouraging riparian area protection through property tax exemptions.

Local governments may need some assistance to apply these new tools in managing NPS pollution. The ministry will participate with local governments and other provincial and federal agencies to develop, pilot, and promote model bylaws under the new Local Government Statutes Amendment Act legislation. This will assist local governments in preventing NPS pollution, while considering the different development conditions in their communities.

Action 15: Enhance Agricultural Waste Management

  • 15.1 Continue Continue to improve administration of the existing Agricultural Waste Control Regulation under the Waste Management Act to reduce water contamination from farming practices.
  • 15.2 Consult all stakeholders, including the public and the agricultural industry, to address concerns where water quality problems exist.
  • 15.3 Lead and develop a new government-wide policy for improvements in agricultural NPS management.
  • 15.4 Implement a new agricultural NPS pollution management policy.

Nitrate pollution in the Abbotsford-Sumas aquifer and high phosphorus loads into the Okanagan Lakes underscore the need for action to address the impacts that current farming practices can have on water resources. Risks posed by cattle having direct access to drinking water supplies are also major concerns, particularly with respect to cryptosporidiosis outbreaks across the province. Educating farmers about the problems caused by the unnecessary application of fertilizers and pesticides, and technical assistance in developing sound farm management practices have helped to some degree in recent years. However, there remains a need to establish improved mechanisms for enforcement and corrective actions in key problem areas. Past efforts have not gone far enough, partly because of lack of resources and incentives.

Administration of the Agricultural Waste Control Regulation under the Waste Management Act, and the associated Code of Agricultural Practice and Guidelines are valuable means for controlling NPS pollution from farms. A farmer who carries out an agricultural operation in accordance with the Code does not need a waste management permit for discharges to the environment.

A mature dairy cow produces as much bodily waste as 20 people each day. That means a moderately-sized herd of 300 animals produces as much waste as a community of 6,000.
Source: Washington State Department of Ecology. Confluence. Vol. 2. No. 3.

Non-point source pollution from agriculture is not unique to British Columbia. Many jurisdictions in North America and Europe face similar challenges. Experiences of these jurisdictions suggest that a balanced approach is the best way to manage NPS pollution from agriculture. A balanced approach must include education and technical assistance for farmers, and rewards for those who manage their operations in an environmentally sound manner. A key outcome is for farmers to be skilled environmental managers. While enforcement of the regulation is an important key to reducing NPS pollution, it is an expensive option and will be used only where voluntary action is not sufficient.

Stakeholder Consultation
Although it is recognized that new approaches to manage NPS pollution in agricultural areas are needed, this will require extensive consultation with stakeholders from the public (including hobby farms), the agricultural industry, and the regulating agencies. In April, 1998, the Ten-Point Action Plan on Agriculture and the Environment was signed by the Ministers of Agriculture and Food and Environment, Lands and Parks, and the BC Agriculture Council. The Ten-Point Action Plan was developed to help resolve farmers' concerns about environmental requirements that fall under provincial authority. Consultations with farmers will be coordinated by a joint working committee of staff from MAF, MELP, and the BC Agriculture Council and will be in accordance with the Ten-Point Action Plan. Other levels of government will also be encouraged to participate in this process.

New Agricultural NPS Management Policy
The Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) will work together with the agricultural industry through the Ten-Point Action Plan joint working committee, to develop a new government policy for improvements in agricultural NPS management. Education, rewards, incentives, improvements to the Code, and effective administration of the Code will be the elements of the new policy.

Action 16: Enhance Onsite Sewage Management

  • 16.1 Harmonize the requirements of the proposed Municipal Sewage Regulation (Waste Management Act) with the Sewage Disposal Regulation (Health Act).
  • 16.2 Strengthen Liquid Waste Management Planning to maximize prevention of NPS pollution from onsite sewage disposal systems.
  • 16.3 Empower and assist local governments to develop and promote onsite sewage system maintenance bylaws to prevent NPS pollution from new and existing systems.
  • 16.4 Investigate the feasibility of alternative domestic sewage disposal systems to minimize and eliminate failing conventional onsite systems.

There are about 250,000 septic tanks and other onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems in British Columbia. Onsite sewage disposal systems (i.e., septic fields) discharge the treated waste to the land near the site where it was produced. Although, individually, the majority of systems cause no water quality problems, the cumulative impact of several systems discharging in less-than-ideal conditions must be considered. Onsite sewage systems that are located in poor soils, improperly installed, concentrated in an area, set too close to a waterbody, undersized relative to household demands, or poorly maintained can release pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms) that can create public health hazards in surface and ground waters, and nutrients that can cause objectionable plant growth in surface waters.

Harmonize Legislation
The Sewage Disposal Regulation under the provincial Health act regulates the design and installation of septic systems. Although this regulation certainly helps to reduce the input of nitrogen and phosphorus to adjacent waterbodies, it is mostly targeted at preventing human exposure to pathogens. There are, however, exceptions such as in the Okanagan basin, which is designated as an environmental control zone area. In that basin, the regulation is more strict and particularly designed to control phosphorus loading to the lakes. The Sewage Disposal Regulation also does not address the failure of septic fields due to lack of regular maintenance and proper care, which are probably a significant cause of NPS in the province.

In 1995-96, the BC Building Corporation, the Ministry of Social Services and the Sooke Electoral Area equipped the Sooke Social Services Building with a fully recycling tertiary-quality wastewater treatment facility. The system was needed because the area lacked sewers and sufficient space for a standard septic field to serve the building. The treatment facility resulted in an annual saving of 60,000 gallons of potable water. Furthermore, the effluent generated was consistently of high quality.

The regulation of sewage discharges to ground is shared between the Ministries of Health and Environment, Lands and Parks, with Health being responsible for discharges from smaller systems (i.e., less than 22.7 m3/d). The Sewage Disposal Regulation is less stringent than the requirements under the Waste Management Act. The differences in the regulatory requirements of the two ministries allow some systems to operate under less stringent requirements, and therefore may contribute to NPS pollution. These differences will be addressed through revisions to the Health Act (Sewage Disposal Regulation) and enactment of the Municipal Sewage Regulation (Waste Management Act). In addition, records of installation permits need to be maintained to ensure homeowners can easily locate systems in need of repair.

Strengthen Liquid Waste Management Plans
Problems with individual and communal private wastewater treatment systems are common throughout the province. Frequently, local governments become involved with these problems, although they have no direct authority or funding to resolve them. The proposed Municipal Sewage Regulation, in combination with amendments to existing legislation, would provide local governments with enabling power to control and finance the resolution of onsite problems. Existing planning processes, notably Liquid Waste Management Planning, should provide the opportunity to address NPS pollution from onsite sewage disposal systems. It is important to include discussions between jurisdictions on appropriate zoning for new development areas on onsite sewage systems, considering the area may never be sewered. In sensitive areas, higher standards must also be considered.

Onsite System Bylaws
To deal with poorly maintained septic systems, local governments, particularly those whose jurisdiction extends over environmentally sensitive waterbodies and land areas, should be empowered and encouraged to adopt an onsite sewage maintenance bylaw. The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) and Ministry of Health will work with the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to develop a provincial model bylaw to require onsite sewage system owners to have their systems periodically inspected and maintained by a qualified individual. Bylaws could also be developed to ban certain materials (e.g., phosphorus-based detergents) to reduce contaminant loadings.

Alternative Domestic Sewage Disposal
Many innovative alternative systems are available to reduce the impact of onsite sewage disposal. The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) and Ministry of Health will support local governments in the use of alternate sewage disposal systems to reduce pollution from failing conventional onsite systems (e.g., separation of grey and black water and reuse of grey water for non-drinking purposes).

Action 17: Enable More Effective Stormwater Management

  • 17.1 Encourage use of stormwater bylaws for the prevention and management of NPS pollution.
  • 17.2 Enhance the provisions for addressing stormwater quality in Liquid Waste Management Planning
  • 17.3 Investigate and promote the use of stormwater utilities.
  • 17.4 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.

Stormwater Discharge Bylaws
Urban runoff goes into storm drains or ditches and then into surface waters, and carries with it sediment, oil, grease, organic contaminants (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), metals, nutrients, pesticides, salts, and pathogens. In the past, local governments have had authority under the Municipal Act to construct and maintain stormwater collection and discharge systems, but were not explicitly empowered to adopt and enforce bylaws to control pollutants that are commonly discharged into storm drains. The new Fish Protection Act and amendments to the Local Government Statutes Amendment Act contain clear provisions for municipal authorities to protect water quality, through bylaws, by requiring better stormwater management practices. Local governments are also authorized to set maximum percentages of areas that can be covered by impermeable material.

With enabling legislation now in effect, the challenge is to encourage local governments to follow through with appropriate bylaws to prohibit discharges of deleterious substances to storm sewers, require developers to construct stormwater retention facilities to handle runoff, or require oil and grease interceptors for impervious parking lots. The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) will work with local governments to develop model bylaws if municipalities require assistance. Local bylaws would complement and reinforce the authority presently granted to the ministry under the Waste Management Act, and would significantly strengthen fish habitat protection, which had been limited primarily to after-the-fact legal action under the federal Fisheries Act.

Enhance Liquid Waste Management Plan Guidelines
Liquid Waste Management Plans (LWMPs) are prepared by local governments with the participation of provincial and federal agencies, and have been used primarily to plan municipal sewage treatment systems. The plans are voluntary unless ordered by the Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection). Incorporating stormwater and other NPS pollution sources in the development of LWMPs under the Waste Management Act could contribute significantly to improving stormwater quality by requiring the collection, transportation, handling, storage, treatment, utilization, and disposal of liquid wastes. Several guideline documents on stormwater management are available, including the Ministry's Urban Runoff Quality Control Guidelines for British Columbia (1992) and the DFO/Ministry document Land Development Guidelines for the Protection of Aquatic Habitat (1992).

Liquid Waste Management Plans have been completed in about 20 communities and about 20 more are underway, mainly in the highest growth areas of the province, including Kamloops, the Okanagan, the Lower Mainland, and the east coast of Vancouver Island.

The Guidelines for Developing a Liquid Waste Management Plan (1992) promotes the development of high quality, effective plans. However, the requirements regarding NPS pollution need enhancement. The ministry will revise the Guidelines to expand and emphasize the sections for NPS pollution, and update the regulatory information to include recent legislative changes related to the new Fish Protection Act and amendments to the Local Government Statutes Amendment Act.

The highly urbanized Brunette River Basin in Burnaby has been the focus of studies on the impacts of NPS pollution. It was determined that since 1973 concentrations of metals have increased significantly. Studies on traffic density indicated that high lead, copper and zinc in stream sediments were probably due to vehicle use.
The effects of poor stormwater quality on the receiving environment are very visible. Once-thriving salmonid populations have declined or are extinct, swimming in Burnaby Lake and Deer Lake has been banned and competitive rowing in Burnaby Lake could resume only after extensive dredging to remove accumulated sediments and aquatic weed growth.

Encourage Use of Stormwater Utilities
Historically, stormwater management has been financed through general revenue from property taxes, and competition for funding from the general tax base with numerous other issues is inherent. An alternative worthy of consideration in BC is the use of stormwater utilities. The utility could distribute the costs among the property owners through user-charges in proportion to the amount of runoff from their properties (commonly based on impervious surface area).

A typical stormwater utility can include a range of functions for developing and implementing a well-planned, long-term strategy to control or eliminate the impacts of stormwater. In the US, stormwater utilities have proven effective in improving stormwater problems, such as flooding, erosion, and pollution. Stormwater utilities promote better understanding and personal responsibility for stormwater quality. Also, they can facilitate necessary management actions, such as limiting the proportion of impervious surface area within a watershed, to maintain environmental integrity. No two stormwater utilities are the same, because they are created to address specific problems under unique circumstances in each municipality.

The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) supports stormwater utilities for protecting water resources within communities. Technical information will be made available during the implementation phase of this Action Plan, but this is a new concept for BC, and municipalities interested in forming a utility should work with the Union of BC Municipalities, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) to design and implement a model stormwater utility in BC.

Raise Awareness and Encourage Action at the Community Level
Pollution prevention by citizens at the community level is vastly more cost-effective for maintaining stormwater quality than mitigative actions taken after pollutants are introduced. For example, indirect pollution prevention actions can both improve the quality of stormwater and decrease its volume.

Urban runoff is a key target area for public education efforts. In 1994, Washington State's Water Quality Consortium began a campaign to raise public awareness and change individual behaviour with respect to NPS pollution. Through a year-long television and newspaper advertising campaign, millions of citizens were reached. Post-campaign polls showed increases in awareness and changes in behaviour to prevent water pollution.

The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) will raise public awareness and encourage action at the community level through an extended water education program that coordinates existing education efforts (see Actions 1 and 2, Section A).

Action 18: Manage Boat Sewage

  • 18.1 Produce a focused educational program that identifies how boaters can prevent environmental degradation in the nominated waterbodies.
  • 18.2 Work with the Coast Guard (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) to accelerate the designation of nominated waterbodies for boat sewage retention under federal legislation.
  • 18.3 Review new nominations annually.
  • 18.4 Determine the necessary level of infrastructure and enforcement as the program evolves.

There are a number of lakes and marine bays in British Columbia where sewage disposal from recreational boats has severely reduced aesthetics and swimming opportunities, degraded drinking water supplies, and led to shellfish harvesting closures.

The federal Pleasure Craft and Non-Pleasure Craft Sewage Pollution Prevention Regulations allow the provinces to nominate waterbodies on which pleasure craft must have sewage retention capabilities. To date, Okanagan, Mara and Shuswap lakes have received this designation in British Columbia because of their high importance as recreational areas and their use for drinking water.

Designation under these regulations is in progress for other inland recreational waters, as well as key marine areas such as marine parks, harbours, marinas, poorly-flushed anchorages, estuaries, and shellfish-growing areas. Approximately 60 waterbodies have been recommended to the Coast Guard (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) to receive this designation, including a number of areas identified by the Environment Committee of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.

The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) has coordinated a review of the nominated waterbodies to support the designation of key waterbodies as quickly as possible. The ministry will work closely with interested agencies and organizations, including the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the Ministry of Health, Parks Canada, and recreational boating organizations to refine and apply the criteria for determining designation priorities. Plans for implementing and enforcing the designations will be developed by the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks. The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks and Fisheries and Oceans Canada should work together to develop recommendations on creating pump-out stations in designated areas. Communication and education strategies will also be developed, and the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks will review new nominations to expand the program annually.

Action 19: Address Forestry and Range NPS Impacts

  • 19.1 Improve the process for setting water quality objectives in designated community watersheds.
  • 19.2 Develop new regulations to protect water quality on privately managed forest land.

The potential NPS impacts of forestry and range use on water quality include sedimentation, increased water temperature and nutrient loading, and the introduction of pathogens, toxic chemicals, and organic debris to watercourses.

The introduction of the Forest Practices Code in 1995 was a major step forward in the protection of water quality from forestry and range NPS pollution. The Code recognizes the connection of land-uses to their potential effect on water quality. A number of NPS pollution management provisions are made, including planning (e.g., watershed assessments) and operating requirements (e.g., riparian zone and road building regulations). Programs to support the Code include the Resources Inventory Program and the Watershed Restoration Program. The results of the Resources Inventory Program assist in planning, and the Watershed Restoration Program mitigates previous damage.In conjunction with the Code, these efforts address a broad range of water resource issues, including the reduction of NPS impacts on water quality.

Implementation of the Code and its supporting programs have been led by several groups. The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) and the Ministry of Forests have taken lead roles to produce guidebooks to ensure that the regulations of the Code are attained. Forest Renewal BC is funding both the Resource Inventory and Watershed Restoration programs.

Establish Water Quality Objectives
The Forest Practices Code of BC Act requires that water quality objectives be met in community watersheds where road construction, range, silviculture and other activities take place. Since there are approximately 500 community watersheds, the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) is working with the Ministry of Forests and Ministry of Health to improve the process for setting water quality objectives. Water quality objectives will establish a "benchmark" representing water quality conditions prior to forestry or range activities and will be used to measure whether changes to water quality occur as a result of forestry or range activities. Water quality objectives will assist forest companies and the Ministry of Forests in preventing and mitigating forestry and range NPS pollution impacts on drinking water.

Protection of water quality on privately-managed forest lands Despite the initiatives described above, gaps still exist. Forest practices on privately-managed forest lands are not presently regulated under the Code, and therefore there is limited protection of water resources from forest activities on these lands.

The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Water, Land and Air Protection) and the Ministry of Forests, in conjunction with the Private Forest Landowners Association, plan to develop regulations to be introduced in the future. These regulations are intended to protect water quality, fish and critical wildlife habitat, and soils. In the meantime, the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks and the Private Forest Landowners Association have signed a memorandum of understanding which outlines a model for managing BC's privately-managed forest lands.

Action 20: Analyze Existing Legislation

  • 20.1 Analyze existing legislation to identify whether opportunities to strengthen NPS pollution prevention exist.

During consultation on legislation in recent years, such as the ministry's Stewardship of Water initiative in 1993, numerous stakeholders proposed a more proactive, preventative, and stewardship- based approach to the protection and management of surface and ground water quality.

Where existing legislation is not adequate to implement the new approaches, or where there are gaps in the legislation to protect water resources, the ministry will propose new legislation.

In addition, many stakeholders noted that the province does not legislate ground water or wells, leaving many sensitive aquifers vulnerable to contamination by both point and non-point source pollution. They suggested a need to legislate standards for well construction, maintenance and closure, activities such as storage and disposal of wastes in the vicinity of wells, and the provision of well records.

Furthermore, they noted that existing legislation is not adequate to manage NPS pollution effectively, and to protect surface water quality for all uses, such as drinking water, recreation, and fisheries. The need for legislation to investigate and proactively manage drinking water supplies at risk from contamination has also been highlighted.

Where existing legislation is not adequate to implement a new approach, or where there are simply gaps in the legislation to protect water resources from NPS pollution, the Ministry may propose new strategies. Consultation with stakeholders would be a necessary step in developing legislation, or changing the approach to implementation. Recent regulations which illustrate successful consultation include the Return of Used Lubricating Oil Regulation and the Post-Consumer Paint Stewardship Program Regulation.

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Last content update: August 3, 2001


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