Fraser Basin Council


5.4 Water Allocation Plans

When planning for water allocation, a wide variety of human and ecosystem needs must be identified and balanced. Water allocation planning is an approach to achieving this balance in the future for a specified watershed or for a large water source. For example the Lemieux Creek Water Availability Report - 2004 is a water availability study that is used to some extent as a WAP. It is very important to undertake this type of planning before a watershed approaches its limits of available supply relative to future demands, and before drought or other extreme conditions threaten good relationships between stakeholders.

Water Allocation Plans were first developed on Vancouver Island, as a means to facilitate making water allocation decisions by the Regional Water Manager under the Water Act. WAPs for other regions of the province may follow. See Water Allocation Plans.

Characteristics, Benefits and Applications

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) may lead or provide assistance to the WAP planning process. The plan allows for information about the Ministry’s position on water allocation decisions to be made available to future water license applicants and the public. By providing greater clarity, consistency and transparency regarding water allocation decisions, Water Allocation Plans can help avoid or reduce potential conflicts related to future water licence applications.

Water Allocation Plans are considered regional policy, and the MFLNRO uses these plans while exercising its authority (e.g. issuing water licences) under the Water Act. The plans are operational tools developed and used by the Ministry to help determine the quantity of water required in a watershed to protect ecosystem health, and the quantity of water available to be allocated for human use.

Where developed, these plans have improved the efficiency of making water allocation decisions while protecting environmental flows. The plans have also assisted government agencies and water licence applicants as they ensure that their applications and actions align with environmental laws.11

The Shawnigan-Goldstream Water Allocation Plan describes these plans as “a means of anticipating and planning for water uses, identifying water demands and ensuring that water use is compatible with the goals of a sustainable environment.

Advantages of Water Allocation Plans include:

  • the provincial government’s position on water allocation decisions is available to applicants and the public;
  • response time for a water license application is reduced;
  • the need for individual studies and reports on each water licence application is eliminated;
  • decisions are made more consistently, and allocation directions are defined; and,
  • There is no need for referrals on individual water license applications.” 12


As of March 2011, 23 WAPs have been completed and three water management plans have been developed for watersheds on Vancouver and the Gulf Islands. One water availability study (to inform water allocation decisions) has also been completed for a water source in the Southern Interior. To view a list or to access the plans, visit

To date, all Water Allocation Plans have been prepared for surface water resources. As with water use plans, WAPs are unlikely to be applicable to groundwater resources because of the complexity of groundwater resources and because the Water Act does not presently require a licence to withdraw and use subsurface water. Therefore, Water Allocation Plans may be an inappropriate or impractical approach to planning for groundwater resources. However, some of the characteristics and benefits of Water Allocation Plans, such as area-based planning and consideration of future water demand, can be adapted to plan for and manage the allocation of groundwater resources. In addition, groundwater regulation is within the scope of the Water Act Modernization initiative.

Key Elements and Steps

The following are some of the key elements and steps in preparing a Water Allocation Plan:

  • planning is initiated by the regional water manager (or equivalent) of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations;
  • the planning process is led by Ministry staff when a business case has been established that demonstrates efficiencies in making water licence and allocation decisions;
  • assessments are conducted on a watershed basis to identify the available surface water resources, instream flow requirements for fish, existing and potential licensable water demands, and to provide direction regarding future water licence allocations;
  • significant resources may be invested in gathering required water flow information, undertaking assessments, and working with agencies and stakeholders to develop the plan;
  • the WAP is submitted to the regional water manager for approval;
  • the WAP becomes regional policy upon signature by the regional water manager; and
  • the WAP is reviewed when the regional water manager feels that it is appropriate to update or amend the plan.

Back to top


About Rethinking our Water Ways

This website is a guide to help BC communities learn more about planning for local watersheds and water resources, navigate current planning processes, consider relevant issues and challenges — including regional climate change impacts —  and build capacity to develop and implement plans.


The Rethinking our Water Ways guide and website are possible thanks to funding support from the BC Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Canada's Regional Adaptation Collaborative Program. The guide and website were launched and distributed through a series of regional workshops throughout BC, with funding contributions from the Fraser Salmon and Watersheds Program, Environment Canada and the Real Estate Foundation of BC. Learn more about our funders and advisors.

We want to hear from you

Share your suggestions for this website, and ideas for future water workshops, with:

Steve Litke
Senior Program Manager
T: 604 488-5358

About the Fraser Basin Council

Rethinking our Water Ways is an initiative of the Fraser Basin Council (FBC), a charitable non-profit society that advances sustainability in the Fraser River Basin, across BC, and beyond. Established in 1997, FBC brings people together from multiple sectors to learn about sustainability and find collaborative solutions to current issues. Learn more about FBC by visiting