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Water Quality

Saanich Inlet Study Synthesis Report Summary

April, 1996



The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (MELP) gratefully acknowledges the generous and dedicated support and advice of the agencies, organizations and individuals who contributed to the Saanich Inlet Study (SIS).

We wish to thank the individuals and representatives of non-government organizations who participated in the SIS Advisory Committee. These volunteers provided essential advice and challenged the Study Team to take a broad ecosystem approach. The Study process provided valuable opportunities for scientists and lay people to exchange views and information and to engage in stimulating discussion. In particular, the efforts of many people from the local First Nations greatly enhanced the Saanich Inlet Study participants' understanding of aboriginal values and concerns.

The support and cooperation of the Institute of Ocean Sciences (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) in terms of providing facilities, staff time and substantial resources in conducting oceanographic sampling and assisting with public education has been critical to the Study.

We would also like to thank the many scientists and experts from the University of Victoria, the Capital Regional District, the Cowichan Valley Regional District, and the Greater Victoria Water District who contributed considerable time, effort, and expertise as members of the SIS Technical Committee.

We would like to acknowledge and thank the hundreds of people who attended the open houses, provided input and advice, and expressed their concerns about the future of Saanich Inlet.

In preparing the final SIS Synthesis Reports (Technical and Summary versions), the Study Team and the consultants retained by the Ministry received considerable review comments and advice from the Saanich Inlet Study Committees and others representing a broad diversity of opinions and various fields of expertise. Ultimately, the Ministry bears responsibility for ensuring that the Study process led to a set of products that is both balanced and accurate.

Saanich Inlet Study Advisory Committee

Association for the Protection of
Rural Central Saanich

Clarence Bolt

BC Marine Awareness Society
Oliver Brost, Darrell Bainbridge

Citizens' Association to Save the
Environment (CASE)

Derek Mallard

Cowichan Valley Regional District
Mike Renning

First Nations of South Island
Tribal Council

Chief Cyril Livingstone

Friends of South Cowichan
Anne Bomford

Georgia Strait Alliance
Laurie MacBride

Goldstream Volunteer Salmonid
Enhancement Society

Bob Peers

Greater Victoria Water District
Jack Hull

Malahat First Nation
Randy Daniels, Russell Harry,
John Wagner, Rod Modeste

Mill Bay Community League
Doug Allan, Ted Mills

Recreational Fishing Consultant
Jim Gilbert

Saanich Inlet Enhancement Society
Lena Lee, Michael Scott

Saanich Inlet Protection Society
Francis Pugh

Sidney Environmental Advisory
Richard A. Bailey

Sierra Club of Western Canada
Bruce Cumming

Steering Committee to Save Saanich
Inlet and Malahat Mountain

Mark Horne, Patricia Sloan

Tourism Victoria
Bill Turner

Tsartlip Village
Chief Simon Smith, Chris Tom

Tseycum Village
Chief Vern Jacks, Tom Sampson

Urban Development Institute
Tony Lloyd

Victoria Golden Rods & Reels Society
Albert (Rolly) Thorpe, Allan King,
Stewart Reeder, Arnold Smith

Saanich Inlet Study Technical Committee

BC Environment,
Vancouver Island Region

Lloyd Erickson

Capital Regional District
Laura Taylor

Cowichan Valley Regional District
Derek York

Environment Canada
Dave Walker

First Nations of South Island
Tribal Council

Chief Cyril Livingstone

Fisheries & Oceans Canada,
Institute of Ocean Sciences

Bill Crawford, Dario Stucchi,
Frank Whitney, Bob Wilson

Fisheries & Oceans Canada,
Pacific Biological Station

Glen Jamieson

Fisheries & Oceans Canada,
West Vancouver Laboratory

Colin Levings

Greater Victoria Water District
Jack Hull

Tseycum Village
Chief Vern Jacks

University of Victoria
Louis Hobson, Verena Tunnicliffe

Saanich Inlet Study Team, BC Environment

Prad Kharé
Director, Water Quality Branch
Advisory Committee Chair

Ben Kangasniemi
Study Manager
Technical Committee Chair

Alan M. Calder
Study Coordinator


"Saanich Inlet has been and continues to be essentially linked to our sustenance, both physical and spiritual. Its health is central to our present and future."

Dorothy Field, Local Resident

Saanich Inlet, British Columbia (Figures 1 & 2) is an important and sensitive ecosystem <1> - physically, ecologically and culturally. The area is world renowned for its beauty. The Inlet is a fjord, with unusual features related to water circulation and the presence of a natural deep layer of low oxygen water. Saanich Inlet has a number of special and sensitive species that are supported by the unusual physical characteristics of the Inlet. In addition, Saanich Inlet is highly valued by humans and supports important cultural and recreational uses. A relatively low flushing rate and sensitive coastal ecology make it susceptible to human influence.

Note: <1> italisized terms in the body of the text are defined in the glossary.

In July 1994, the Province of British Columbia initiated the Saanich Inlet Study to provide baseline information required to make a wide range of future decisions regarding zoning, land use, habitat management, and pollution prevention. The Study terms of reference were

"to determine the sensitivity of Saanich Inlet to contaminants and marine habitat disturbances from urban and rural development, and to determine the capacity of the Inlet to assimilate these contaminants and marine habitat disturbances without environmental degradation. Contaminants to be considered include those associated with sewage effluents, and urban and rural storm, drainage and agricultural runoff."

Figure 1. Saanich Inlet, British Columbia, Canada

Figure 2. Saanich Inlet and watershed

For the purposes of the Saanich Inlet Study, the concept of assimilative capacity was used as a management tool for identifying problem areas and directing protection and remediation efforts in an effective and systematic manner. This approach does not define or apply a "pollute-up-to-level".

The Saanich Inlet Study was a collaborative effort involving hundreds of residents, local First Nations, scientists and non-government organizations. Broad input was provided by a public Advisory Committee and a Technical Committee. As shown in Figure 3, several component studies were completed during the course of the Saanich Inlet Study. The results of these studies are presented in a series of six component reports (Appendix I) and in the SIS Synthesis Report: Technical version. These studies focused on the following topics:

Figure 3. Saanich Inlet Study components and process

The six Saanich Inlet Study component reports (Appendix I) and the SIS Synthesis Report: Technical version represent a significant amount of information. While this summary contains the major study findings, conclusions and recommendations, it does not present the depth of supporting information in some areas or explain the lack of detail in others (reported in full in SIS Synthesis Report: Technical version). Therefore, it is important that the detailed information contained in the component reports and the Synthesis Report: Technical version be used in making land use and resource management decisions that may affect Saanich Inlet. 7The geographic and technical boundaries of the Study provide a necessary context to the findings, conclusions and recommendations.

Geographic Boundaries

The Study focused on the waters of Saanich Inlet and, to some extent, the freshwater tributaries. However, there are a number of factors outside the Inlet which influence its physical, chemical and biological nature. For example, water from the Straits of Georgia and Cowichan Bay enters Saanich Inlet carrying nutrients, sediments and phytoplankton. Outside influences also affect the abundance of salmon, herring and marine birds in Saanich Inlet. These outside influences have been addressed where possible.

Technical Boundaries

Catastrophic events (landslides, underwater turbidity currents, inversions of the anoxic layer), global processes (ozone depletion and associated increases in ultraviolet radiation and potential global warming) were beyond the scope of the Study. It is acknowledged, however, that such processes could have profound impacts on ecosystem function and that healthy and diverse ecosystems might better withstand stresses associated with these events.

Saanich Inlet is one of the best studied aquatic systems in British Columbia; yet data gaps and uncertainties remain. Consistent with the Precautionary Principle, conservative assumptions were made with greater caution applied where uncertainty was high. Throughout the SIS Synthesis Report: Technical version, the assumptions and certainty for each component are clearly stated. The Study Team considers the overall level of certainty to be acceptable for the conclusions drawn.

The baseline information developed under the Saanich Inlet Study provides a sound foundation for basing future decisions. It provides a number of tools to evaluate human impacts and presents recommendations for actions that can be taken to conserve, protect, and restore Saanich Inlet. Individuals, public groups, and decision makers must educate themselves on environmental issues relating to Saanich Inlet to better participate in decision-making processes that will determine the future of the inlet environment.

Public input and response to the findings, conclusions, recommendations, and Study process will be gathered through public open houses. This valuable information will be presented in a followup public response document and released as a further product of the Saanich Inlet Study.


The following summary presents an overview of key uses and sensitive resources drawn from the technical component reports. The environmental status, sensitivity, uses, habitats and other characteristics of Saanich Inlet are presented for each geographic area in text and as maps. These include parks, recreational fishing areas and dive sites, glass sponge habitat, eelgrass beds, birding areas, marinas and First Nations' lands. The degree of water movement is also presented; descriptions are based on computer model results and are relative to the range of water movement in Saanich Inlet. Geographic areas were selected to represent key use areas where adequate information exists to describe environmental conditions for a variety of measures. The geographic summary maps have been constructed from source information of various scales and levels of detail and are therefore only approximate representations of the resources and attributes.

Common themes appear repeatedly in the more sensitive and urbanized areas of Saanich Inlet, indicating that certain human influences consistently lead to environmental impacts. These themes have provided the basis for many of the study conclusions and recommendations.


Environmental Status

Uses and Characteristics

Figure 4. Geographic Summary: Deep Cove.


Environmental Status

Uses and Characteristics

Figure 5. Geographic Summary: Patricia Bay.


Environmental Status

Uses and Characteristics

Figure 6. Geographic Summary: Mill Bay.


Brentwood Bay

Environmental Status

Uses and Characteristics

Tod Inlet

Environmental Status

Uses and Characteristics

Figure 7. Geographic Summary: Brentwood Bay and Tod Inlet


Environmental Status

Uses and Characteristics

Figure 8. Geographic Summary: Squally Reach/Finlayson Arm.


Environmental Status

Uses and Characteristics

Figure 9. Geographic Summary: Central Inlet.


1. Saanich Inlet is a highly valued place.

Overwhelming participation rates at public open houses in January 1995 confirmed the high level of interest in Saanich Inlet. Public response at the open houses indicated that the characteristics most highly valued were the natural beauty and scenery, plant and animal life, recreational opportunities, cultural/spiritual qualities, peace and solitude.

The high value placed on these characteristics is reflected in the resolutions of many surrounding municipal councils and Official Community Plans. These documents spell out the need to protect various qualities of the area such as natural and scenic features, water quality, open space, wildlife resources, rural character, and outdoor recreational areas. Communities have also called for designation of the area as a marine park or some form of "protected area". This suggestion was strongly supported by open house participants.

Another indication of the high value placed on the area is the strong public resistance to siting an outfall in the Inlet. Regulatory agencies have approved only one point-source discharge and have maintained a practice of not approving further discharges in the absence of detailed studies.

Saanich Inlet is valued by First Nations as an inextricable link to their culture. The area has special significance related to the numerous remains of aboriginal camps, villages, processing areas, sacred grave sites and other features which make up the archaeological record of the inlet people. Past and present traditional activities such as hunting, fishing, shellfish gathering, food and medicinal plant gathering, spiritual practices and a host of other traditions are focused on the land and the sea of Saanich Inlet.

The aesthetic and recreational value of Saanich Inlet is a major factor in attracting tourism to Southern Vancouver Island, one of the most important economic generators in the region.

2. Highly valued characteristics of Saanich Inlet, including aesthetic, cultural, spiritual and environmental attributes, have been degraded or diminished.

The very characteristics that make Saanich Inlet such a highly valued place attract the human use and development that threaten the maintenance of its aesthetic appeal, cultural and spiritual significance, and environmental quality.

Open house participants expressed the belief that their enjoyment of the Inlet has reduced over time. They were particularly distressed over reductions in the scenic beauty of the area resulting from increased development. Also noted was a reduction in the peace and solitude of the area related to increased noise (often linked to power boats and "seadoos") and increased use of the area. Other changes perceived by participants were loss of fishing opportunities, loss of plant and animal life, and a decrease in water quality.

Characteristics valued highly within First Nations communities have been lost and degraded. Among these are privacy and solitude, access to important cultural sites, integrity of sacred grave sites, and the opportunity for sustenance and cultural use of natural resources. First Nations consulted during the Study expressed a feeling that their traditional culture has been lost as a result of land alienation and disappearing natural resources. Further losses to the First Nations culture are not acceptable.

3. Human Uses of Saanich Inlet have been degraded or diminished.

The most apparent loss of use in Saanich Inlet is related to shellfish collection: 12 out of 15 shellfish beds are presently closed due to bacterial contamination. This represents a significant loss for First Nations. Cumulative impacts have also resulted in dramatic reductions to the abundance and quality of many marine species such as salmon, herring, lingcod and rockfish. Again, this results in heavy loss for First Nations whose traditional fishing and hunting rights are guaranteed under the Douglas Treaties. It is clear that further loss of marine species in the Inlet is not acceptable to First Nations.

Recreational fishing effort, as well as the catch of coho and chinook, has declined consistently since the 1980s. The number of chinook taken annually by the Saanich Inlet recreational fishery declined from 15,000 - 25,000 fish in the early 1980s to less than 200 fish in 1994.

Open house participants expressed a decrease in their use of the Inlet for swimming. This was related to a perception of reduced water quality. Information collected on recreational uses of Saanich Inlet pointed to a shift away from fishing and swimming and towards more land-based activities such as hiking, walking, beachcombing and picnicking.

4. Water circulation in Saanich Inlet is generally sluggish compared to adjacent waters.

A number of oceanographic processes in Saanich Inlet were examined including surface and deep water circulation, salinity gradients, freshwater inflows from creeks and streams, and deep water renewal patterns. While a great deal of data on these factors already existed, additional oceanographic research conducted under the Saanich Inlet Study was used to support a modelling effort. The movement of water in the Inlet was studied using a computer-based hydrodynamic model. This model was used as the basis for modelling sediment transport and chemical contaminant fate in Saanich Inlet.

Saanich Inlet has the following oceanographic characteristics:

  1. Tidal currents are generally weak and the vigorous tidal mixing, typical of adjacent straits and channels, does not occur.
  2. The presence of a 70 metre sill at the mouth traps the Inlet's deep water creating a low oxygen water mass below a depth of approximately 100 metres.
  3. Estuarine circulation is weak or non-existent at times due to the absence of major rivers at the head and along the shores of the Inlet; external influences, primarily from the Cowichan and Fraser Rivers are at times the main source of fresh water entering the Inlet.

Based on the model, water residence times for many embayments are in the order of a few weeks, rather than hours to days as is the case for well flushed coastal areas. These physical attributes limit the capacity of the Inlet to assimilate contaminants. Our understanding of water circulation in Saanich Inlet is reasonable; the model results can satisfactorily be used to examine trends and compare relative differences in water circulation between different areas of Saanich Inlet.

5. For fecal contamination and, in some areas, chemical contamination, the assimilative capacity of Saanich Inlet has been exceeded. Fish populations have declined dramatically and eelgrass and other aquatic habitats have been degraded. The Inlet is sensitive to nutrient enrichment - specifically nitrogen - in surface waters.


fecal contamination:

fish populations:

eelgrass beds:

aquatic habitat:

chemical contamination:


6. Several marine species are sensitive to disturbance and contamination.

Marine species such as glass (cloud and boot) sponges and other invertebrates , appear to have healthy populations, but are considered at risk due to their sensitivity to direct physical disturbance, habitat loss, and sedimentation. Such species are vulnerable to any activity that resuspends aquatic sediments or causes terrestrial sediments to enter Saanich Inlet. Many marine invertebrate species are long-lived (60 to 100 years for sponges); therefore, if they are damaged, recovery could take decades. Sedimentation is also an issue in freshwater tributaries to Saanich Inlet, since salmon spawning beds are sensitive to clogging by fine sediments .

7. Declines in fish populations are due to causes both outside and within Saanich Inlet.

Larger scale factors (e.g., El Nino, potential global warming, fisheries management practices) affecting fisheries production for the Georgia Basin and the Pacific Coast are considered the primary cause of reductions of herring, and coho and chinook salmon which previously frequented Saanich Inlet. For example, herring spawning habitat is available in Saanich Inlet, so it is possible that their absence is related to factors outside Saanich Inlet. Local stresses to fish populations include harvesting, changes in predator populations, and degradation of foreshore and stream habitat . On the positive side, the stream clean-up and hatchery activities have enhanced salmon returns to Saanich Inlet. This is a good example of what can be achieved with restoration efforts.

8. Non-point sources are at present the primary source of contaminants to Saanich Inlet.

Non-point sources (NPS) to Saanich Inlet include: stormwater ; ineffective septic systems; runoff from residential, agricultural and residential lands; atmospheric deposition; and spills and leaks from boats and marinas. These are likely the primary sources of contaminants to Saanich Inlet. A treated sewage discharge in Mill Bay is the only point-source discharge in Saanich Inlet. Very little information about non-point source pollution has been collected in coastal British Columbia, including Saanich Inlet.

9. Saanich Inlet has been subject to cumulative impacts which result from individually minor - but collectively significant - damage over time.

If the trend of incremental degradation continues, the environmental quality of Saanich Inlet will worsen. In particular, if non-point pollution sources continue to increase it is expected that further environmental degradation of the Inlet will occur. Therefore, it is important that impacts of specific stresses to Saanich Inlet be viewed in the context of all stresses.

10. Fecal contamination in stormwater and runoff flowing over beach areas during and following heavy rainfall raises potential health concerns for beach users during these periods.

Fecal coliforms indicate the presence of micro-organisms that may be harmful to human health. Fecal coliform contamination of nearshore areas of Saanich Inlet is well-documented and responsible for closures of shellfish beaches; the assimilative capacity has been exceeded. To identify the sources of fecal contamination, the Saanich Inlet Study conducted an investigation of stormwater and runoff entering Saanich Inlet. During dry periods, fecal coliform levels in freshwater runoff and nearshore areas of Saanich Inlet were relatively low, but during and following heavy rainfall, coliform levels increased significantly. While coliform criteria for primary contact were rarely exceeded in marine waters, the flows of freshwater over beaches contained coliform levels that raise potential health concerns for beach users during and after heavy rainfall periods. Recreational bathing closures have not been posted in the past due to the timing of sampling and the seasonality of beach use.

11. Embayments and isolated reaches such as Mill Bay, Finlayson Arm, Tod Inlet, Brentwood Bay, Coles Bay, Patricia Bay and Deep Cove are most vulnerable to environmental degradation.

There are localized environmental problems in several areas in Saanich Inlet. Embayments are most vulnerable to environmental degradation due to their proximity to stresses, lower water circulation and sensitive ecology. For example, most embayed areas are closed for shellfish harvest due to fecal coliform contamination. In a limited survey of marine sediment quality, chemical contamination was found in Brentwood Bay and Tod Inlet. Some creeks discharging to embayments exceed water quality criteria (e.g., Airport Creek and Hagan Creek) and sediment quality criteria (e.g., Tod Creek). Embayments and isolated reaches also tend to have the lowest water circulation, so flushing of bacterial and chemical contaminants is relatively low. The shallower waters of embayments tend to provide habitat for important species such as eelgrass, juvenile fish, and shellfish. Finally, human habitation and activity is often concentrated around embayments and isolated reaches, which places potential stresses in close proximity to sensitive marine resources.

12. Saanich Inlet is a threatened but still largely viable ecological system.

Despite the present levels of degradation which have affected human uses and values, ecological processes are still functioning. The uses and values of Saanich Inlet can be maintained and/or improved by implementing the Study recommendations. Saanich Inlet would likely not return to pristine conditions due to irreversible influences such as exotic species introductions, species loss, influences from outside the Inlet, alteration of freshwater flows, habitat loss and the non-point source effects of land use. However, there is an opportunity here to halt the degradation and restore the environmental quality of Saanich Inlet.


  1. The level of protection afforded to Saanich Inlet must be based on the most sensitive human or ecological use and must be consistent with human values. The Precautionary Principle must apply where there is uncertainty or missing information. The concept of assimilative capacity must not be viewed as a "pollute-up-to-level", but rather as a tool to effectively direct protection and remediation efforts.
  2. Within the Saanich Inlet watershed, all levels of government must coordinate and clarify their environmental responsibilities with a view to protecting and enhancing the health of Saanich Inlet. Ecosystems are not bounded by jurisdictional lines. Points of reference must focus on the Inlet, not jurisdictional compartments. All levels of government and jurisdictions need to work together in the interests of the ecosystem, perhaps by forming a body to aid in implementing study recommendations.
  3. The environmental issues identified in Saanich Inlet must be ranked from a watershed perspective, relative to the risk they pose, and solutions should be applied in order of priority.
  4. The theme of Conservation, Protection and Restoration must be applied when considering remedial action.
  5. Management of Saanich Inlet must be directed towards maintaining and improving biodiversity and preventing further environmental degradation.
  6. Source control actions for non-point sources must be implemented using an integrated approach to address chemical contaminants , bacterial contaminants as well as sediment loading.
  7. Comprehensive legislative, policy and technological tools are needed to assist all levels of governments to adequately manage non-point source contaminant issues related to land and water use. Regulations, policies and technologies to control non-point source contaminants are not well developed.
  8. Education programs and community stewardship initiatives should be supported to ensure local residents are involved in source control of contaminants , habitat enhancement and monitoring programs. Education programs should reach residents, farmers and developers. Source control cannot be effective without public participation.
  9. To effectively address environmental issues in Saanich Inlet, the Cowichan Valley Regional District's Regional Growth Strategy and the Capital Regional District's Regional Growth Strategy to be prepared under the Growth Strategies Statutes Amendment Act need to be linked. These initiatives must utilize the findings of the Study and guidance from these initiatives should be applied to land and water use decisions made by all jurisdictions bordering on Saanich Inlet. The link between the land and the water cannot be broken.
  10. The relative merits and disadvantages of various technologies (e.g., on-site treatment/disposal, community treatment plants, regional treatment plants) need rational examination in the context of the study findings, local liquid waste management plans and the planned regional growth management initiatives. Present practices with respect to conventional septic disposal system design, siting, monitoring, enforcement and operation are not sufficient.
  11. More emphasis must be placed on habitat protection and restoration for aquatic ecosystems. Biodiversity is particularly sensitive to habitat degradation and loss.
  12. Habitat buffer zone guidelines for stream and foreshore environments need to be implemented to protect aquatic systems.
  13. Land development practices must minimize sedimentation and runoff; for example, avoidance of steep areas, use of retention ponds and constructed wetlands, appropriate surface drainage systems and post-development planting.
  14. First Nations values and uses must be considered in context of their long term historical presence in the Saanich Inlet area. Land use and development decisions that affect First Nations must involve consultations to determine whether or not there will be infringement of existing aboriginal rights or Douglas Treaty rights.
  15. For harvested marine species, including species traditionally used by First Nations, fishing policies for commercial, First Nations and recreational groups should be reexamined, with a renewed emphasis on conservation, protection and restoration.
  16. Further investigation of chemical concentrations in sediments is needed in areas where the limited sampling has indicated a problem. Sediment sampling identified areas that exceed provincial criteria, but the extent and sources of contamination are unknown.
  17. Development proposals in the vicinity of Saanich Inlet must be assessed in terms of their impact on the environment, and the following should apply:



Having little or no oxygen.


Referring to changes in the environment resulting from the presence or activities of humans.


Processes which include dilution, inactivation, metabolism and breakdown. These may be chemical, biological or physical processes.

Assimilative Capacity

Assimilation refers to processes which include dilution, inactivation, metabolism, and breakdown. These may be physical, chemical or biological processes. Assimilation is used here in a very broad sense and is intended to apply to the resilience of natural systems as well. Assimilative capacity is not a pollute-up-to level; it is the threshold beyond which natural processes cannot accept wastes and disturbances without environmental degradation.


Background conditions or status quo. Baseline studies are often conducted pre-development.


A reflection of habitat or community complexity measured in terms of the number of species.

Buffer Zone

A neutral area separating two conflicting land uses, a protective strip which acts to protect sensitive areas from potential environmental degradation.

Chemical Contaminants

Concentrations of chemicals found in the environment which exceed background concentrations.

Chemical Loadings

The quantity of chemical released into the environment during a specific time period (e.g., day).

Coliform Bacteria

A group of bacteria which includes many species. Fecal coliform bacteria are those coliform bacteria which are found in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals. The presence of high numbers of fecal coliform bacteria in water can indicate the contamination by untreated wastewater and/or the presence of animals. This may indicate the presence of pathogens.


Contaminants include all substances usually associated with urban, rural and agricultural discharges whether they originate from point or non-point sources and include nutrients, pesticides, metals, organic matter, suspended sediments, hydrocarbons, pathogens and other potentially polluting substances.

Cumulative Impacts

The combined environmental effects that accrue over time and space from a series of similar or related individual actions, contaminants , or projects.


An interacting system of all living organisms in a defined region of similar characteristics, including the non-living substrate, nutrients , energy, and other environmental components, the biotic community and its abiotic environment. The ocean is an example of a large ecosystem.


A bay or a conformation resembling a bay.

Environmental Degradation

Environmental degradation occurs when a water use , such as swimming or shellfish harvesting is impaired. Water uses include human activities such as recreation and fishing but also include human values such as aesthetic and spiritual values. Water uses also include aquatic life whether or not they are of direct economic value; consequently harm to non-commercial species such as most algae and benthic degradation. Broadly accepted criteria to protect water uses are available for many contaminants .


Residing or situated in a semi-enclosed coastal body of water which has a free connection with the open sea and within which seawater is measurably diluted with freshwater derived from land drainage.

Fecal Coliform

see Coliform Bacteria


A long, narrow, steep-sided marine inlet, carved by a glacier, usually with a sill at the mouth.

Flushing Rate

The rate at which water passes through a waterbody (a mechanism that removes dissolved/suspended nutrients from the system).


A strip of land margining a body of water.


The place in which an organism lives, which is characterized by its physical features or by the dominant plant types.

Habitat Management

Decisions made with regard to the place in which an organism lives, which is characterized by its physical features or by the dominant plant types.

Human Water Use

Human requirements of a water resource.


An organic compound composed primarily of carbon and hydrogen, either straight-chain, or cyclic. They are constituents of our pollution (as a result of the burning of fossil fuels) or water pollution (contributed to by crude oil). Petroleum and its derived compounds are primarily hydrocarbons . Environmentally important hydrocarbons include PAHs.

Intertidal Area

The area between high and low tide levels.

Introduced Exotic Species

Those species which inhabit an area where they are not naturally found. For example, the Manila Clam was accidentally introduced to British Columbia with the importation of Pacific oysters from Japan in 1938.


Animals lacking a dorsal column of vertebrae or a notochord.

Land Use

The way land is developed and used in terms of the types of activities allowed (agriculture, residences, industries, etc.) and the size of buildings and structures permitted.

Marine Habitat Disturbances

Habitat disturbances in the marine system refers to disturbances associated with human activity which can cause environmental degradation , and includes alteration and reduction of freshwater flows and destruction and alteration of shoreline and estuarine habitat.


Elements such as mercury, lead, nickel, zinc, copper and cadmium that can be of environmental concern because they do not degrade over time. Although many are necessary nutrients, they are sometimes magnified in the food chain, and they can be toxic to life in high concentrations.


Usually, a (computer) simulation of a series of events used to predict the outcome of something that cannot be directly observed, such as the mixing of an exhaust plume in the atmosphere, an effluent plume in a receiving water body, or the movement of water through the soil.

Non-point Source Pollution (NPS)

Source of pollution in which pollutants are discharged over a widespread area or from a number of small inputs rather than from distinct identifiable sources (e.g., storm runoff, aerial deposition). NPS pollution is of particular concern in nearshore areas and ultimately comes from specific human products and activities, such as: poorly maintained septic fields, vehicle and boat maintenance, gardening products, wood preservatives, crop management, livestock handling, and road construction and maintenance.


Essential chemicals needed by plants or animals for growth. . Excessive amounts of nutrients can lead to degradation of water quality and the growth of excessive numbers of algae. Some nutrients can be toxic at high concentrations. In aquatic systems, nitrogen and phosphorus are the nutrients that control the amount of plant growth. In marine systems, nitrogen is generally more important in controlling plant growth.


A general term used to describe any substance, usually chemical, used to destroy or control organisms including herbicides, insecticides, algicides, fungicides, and others. Many of these substances are manufactured and are not naturally found in the environment. Others, such as pyrethrum, are natural toxins which are extracted from plants and animals.


Plant life, mostly microscopic, found floating or drifting in the oceans or large bodies of fresh water; forms the basis of most aquatic food-chains as the main primary producer.

Polycyclic (or Polyaromatic or Polynuclear) Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Chemical substances characterized by the presence of more than one benzene ring; a class of complex organic compounds, some of which are persistent and carcinogenic. These compounds are formed from the combustion of organic material and are ubiquitous in the environment. PAHs are found in fossil fuels such as coal and oil and are formed by incomplete combustion of organic fuels like gasoline, wood, and oil. They are commonly formed by forest fires, wood stoves, and internal combustion engines. They often reach the aquatic environment through atmospheric fallout, highway runoff and oil discharge.


The main pathway for dispersal of effluent within the receiving waters, prior to its complete mixing (also refers to smoke, gases, etc.).


A source of pollution that is distinct and identifiable, such as an outfall pipe from an industrial plant.

Pollution Prevention

To avoid, eliminate or reduce the creation, the use or the release of polluting substances.

Precautionary Principle

Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, the lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.


Activities undertaken to correct an existing condition (e.g., improve fish spawning habitat that was previously degraded).

Residence Time

Average time spent by a parcel of water in a basin before being flushed out to sea.


A measure of the quantity of dissolved salts in seawater. Formally defined as the total amount of dissolved solids in seawater - in parts per thousand by weight - when all the carbonate has been converted to oxide, the bromide and iodide replaced by chloride, and all organic matter is completely oxidized.

Salinity Gradient

The rise and fall in salinity over a horizontal or vertical stretch of water.


Material, such as sand or mud, suspended in or settling to the bottom of a liquid. Sediment input to a body of water comes from natural sources, such as erosion of soils and weathering of rock; or as the result of anthropogenic (human) activities, such as forest or agricultural practices, or construction activities.


Shallow submerged pile of rock debris left across a basin by a retreating glacier; called a moraine on land.


Pertaining to a particular region or spatial area.

Soft-Bottom Community

A group of organisms which live in soft-bottom materials (i.e., mud, sand) as opposed to hard-bottom materials (i.e., rock). These organisms include benthic animals (bottom-living) such as worms, clams, amphipods, etc.

Source Control

To control the discharge of a contaminant at its point of origin.


Water that is generated by rainfall and is often routed into drain systems in order to prevent flooding.

Treated Sewage

Sewage which has been treated by physical (screening, settling), chemical (precipitation), biological (degradation), or other means to reduce the levels of potentially harmful pollutants.


Usually a smaller stream or river flowing into a larger one.


A measure of the amount of material suspended in the water as the result of stirred-up sediment from the bottom; from floating debris, plants, and animals; and/or from solids falling through the water (e.g., discharged dredged material). Increasing the turbidity of the water decreases the amount of light that penetrates the water column. Very high levels of turbidity can be harmful to aquatic life.

Water Use

see Human Water Use

Water Value

Human affinity for water and its environs.


Either the total area drained by a river and its tributaries, or the total area of land contributing runoff above a given point on a stream.


To designate, by ordinances, areas of land reserved and regulated for specific land uses.

Appendix 1: Saanich Inlet Study Component Reports

The following series of complimentary component reports have been prepared under the Saanich Inlet Study.

A documentation of water uses, values, concerns, cultural history and archaeological record of local First Nations people.

A documentation of input received at public open houses through short questionnaires, written comment forms, and discussions with Ministry staff and members of the Saanich Inlet Study Advisory and Technical Committees.

Comprehensive documentation of the current environmental status of the inlet. This component report also includes results from a field survey of non-point contaminant sources conducted in March 1995.

The proceedings of a workshop of marine environmental experts who presented and discussed early Saanich Inlet Study findings.

An investigation of nearshore and mid-channel surface currents in Saanich Inlet during the winter and summer by the BC Ministry of Environment, Lands & Parks, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Documentation of field surveys of potentially sensitive marine habitats and resources. The intertidal survey involved identification and assessment of the relative abundance of invertebrate and algal species at 38 sites. The eelgrass field survey also included the interpretation of aerial photographs. The Hexactinellid sponge survey was based on SCUBA surveys.

Reports, newsletters and additional information regarding the Saanich Inlet Study is also available online at http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wat/wq/saanich/sis.html

Appendix II: Synthesis Report Credits

The Saanich Inlet Study Synthesis Report Summary is based on the work of the consultants who prepared the six component reports (Appendix 1) and a multidisciplinary team of scientists led by EVS Environmental Consultants (Beth Power, Gary Mann, Michael Z'Graggen), and including Sea Science (Susan Davidson, Scott Tinis, Jennifer Shore), Frank Gobas Environmental Consulting (Frank Gobas, Michael Z'Graggen), University of British Columbia (Tim Parsons) and Tom Kessler. Input, information, advice, and critical review from the SIS Advisory and Technical Committees is much appreciated. The SIS Synthesis Report: Technical Version forms the basis for this summary.

Prad Kharé, Ben Kangasniemi and Alan Calder of the Water Quality Branch (BC Environment) assisted in preparing this document and were responsible for the overall management and coordination of the Study. Patricia Howie (Woodward Environmental Management) and Margot Daykin (EVS) provided valuable input and review comments. Paul Kennedy (EVS) produced the maps, Vickie Duff (EVS) compiled the document, and Donna Moreau (DoMo Communications Management) designed the document layout.

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Last updated: August 8, 2001