Water Policy and Legislation

Share your views about BC’s proposed new Water Sustainability Act.

For more information visit:


  • Groundwater Protection Regulation
  • Water Act
  • Drinking Water Protection Act
  • Health Act
  • Environmental Management Act
  • Environmental Assessment Act

B.C. Guide to Watershed Law and Planning

People everywhere are more and more concerned about protecting habitat for non-human users, ensuring good water quality and making sure that development of resources leaves something for our children and grandchildren. The Guide focuses on the local level, the watershed, giving residents of British Columbia, Canada an overview all of the laws and planning processes that govern watershed management in B.C.

The Guide is organized into four main parts:

  • Accessing Government – A crash course to understanding government, law-making, planning and how to get involved in all of it as a watershed advocate. Good background for anyone who wants to influence government, whether on watershed issues or not.
  • Issues and Topics – Identify watershed issues and problems and learn about what laws and planning processes apply to them. This is a great starting point if you’re concerned about a particular watershed issue, but don’t know much about the legal or planning requirements.
  • Laws and Plans – A description of every piece of legislation and planning processes that the Guide’s authors thought might be useful to those engaged in watershed protection. This section is useful if you know what law or planning process you want information about.
  • Case Studies – Learn by reading stories. The case studies set out common watershed protection issues and then tell a story about how local citizens used advocacy, legal and planning tools to work for watershed protection. You can then move from the case study stories to more detailed information about the tools used.

There is also a Glossary to help you understand the information on the site.

West Coast Environmental Law is dedicated to safeguarding the environment through law.  Since 1974 WCEL staff lawyers have successfully worked with communities, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and all levels of governments, including First Nations governments, to develop proactive legal solutions to protect and sustain the environment.


Groundwater Protection Regulation

On November 1, 2004, a new regulation that affects all private well owners in B.C. came into force to improve the safety and quality of British Columbia’s groundwater resources. The Ground Water Protection Regulation (GWPR)  establishes standards to protect groundwater supplies by requiring all water wells in British Columbia to be properly constructed, maintained, and, at the end of their service, properly deactivated and ultimately closed.

The regulations also requires that certain types of work related to groundwater and wells need to be performed by qualified driller (PDF) and pump installers (PDF) to safeguard well water resources and prevent situations where ground water may be adversely affected. View the list of qualified drillers and pump installers who are registered with the province of B.C.

For information on the new GWPR and its impact on private wells (in plain language), view B.C.’s Ground Water Protection Regulation — What Private Well Owners Should Know (PDF)


Water Act

All water in British Columbia is owned by the Crown on behalf of the residents of the Province. Although the Water Act has conventionally only focused on surface water resources, the new GWPR (Part 5) have extended more protection to groundwater. In November 2004, water management plan provisions under Part 4 of the Water Act also came into effect. Approved plans have broad powers to assist communities in resolving conflicts between users, risks to water quality and conflicts between water users and in-stream requirements and are legally enforceable.


Drinking Water Protection Act

The Drinking Water Protection Act was enacted in 2001 and brought into force in 2003. It primarily focuses on public health and end of the tap water quality, but may provide a useful tool for source protection, such as sensitive groundwater areas. The DWPA contains provisions for preventing contamination of drinking water supplies and identifying potential risks and appropriate water quality improvements. It is administered by the Health Authorities via Drinking Water Officers. The Act regulates water supply systems, but does not cover private wells servicing a single residence. The Act does not provide strong measures for protecting groundwater per se, especially quantity. It does allow a local authority or water supplier to request that a drinking water protection plan be undertaken to prevent a drinking water health hazard where no other practical measures are available under the Act.


Health Act

The BC Health Act requires that septic systems and other potential sources of contamination are located at least 30 metres away from a drinking water well or watercourse, and that landowners believed to have caused a health hazard, cease activities causing the hazard.


Environmental Management Act

The BC Environmental Management Act was brought into force on July 8, 2004. The Act replaces the old Waste Management Act and the Environment Management Act and brings provisions from both of those acts into one statute. Under this statute, the Province can require environmental assesssments on contaminated sites.


Environmental Assessment Act

The BC Environmental Asssessment Act requires an environmental assessment to be conducted for a well or a well field extracting 75 L/s or more of groundwater.