Fraser Basin Council


6.1 Well (Aquifer) Protection Plans

Well Protection Plans can be developed to provide protective measures for minimizing and preventing undesirable impacts from land use activities on subsurface community water sources. Many wells that provide water to communities or municipalities are located in areas where human activities can affect water quality. The impact is most severe where these “community wells” draw water from shallow aquifers that are vulnerable to contamination from land use activities and non-point sources of pollution. Protecting source water through a well protection plan is one of the steps in the multi-barrier approach to drinking water protection. Approximately 40 Well Protection Plans have been established in BC. The Ministry of Environment is the lead agency for the Well Protection Toolkit.

Characteristics, Benefits and Applications

Well or aquifer protection plans focus on protecting groundwater quality from potential pollution sources. These sources of pollution may come from the land above or near to the aquifer or well, or they may infiltrate into the groundwater source from elsewhere. These plans examine water quality threats from a variety of sources, including residential, industrial, commercial, institutional and agricultural land uses as well as natural resource development. Aquifer-wide plans are more likely to be effective and deliver water quality benefits than a plan that is focused on an individual well without looking at the broader connections of multiple wells and pollution sources across an entire aquifer.

In BC, Well Protection Plans may be required under the following circumstances:

  • by health authorities when they review an operating permit for a large drinking water system that includes wells;
  • by the provincial government as a condition of granting infrastructure funding for new municipal/regional district wells; and,
  • as a condition of a provincial environmental assessment for proposed large withdrawals.3

Well protection plans are developed for an area that includes the recharge area for a well or aquifer. It is important to consider all land uses and associated threats to groundwater quality. Therefore, the use of a holistic approach to planning is encouraged. A more holistic approach may aim to address multiple aquifers within a region or community and it may also aim to address both quality and quantity issues. Depending on the water and land use pressures, and water-related vulnerabilities, a more comprehensive Groundwater Management Plan may be appropriate in some areas.

Key Elements and Steps

In partnership with the BC Ground Water Association, the Province of BC published the Well Protection Toolkit, which was updated in 2006. Over the last five years, communities in BC have been using the toolkit to develop protection plans for their wells and aquifers, and to prevent contamination of their groundwater supply.4 The toolkit presents a six-step approach to developing and implementing a protection plan to prevent well water contamination. The six steps, briefly summarized, are as follows: 

  1. form a community planning team;
  2. define the capture zone (recharge area) of the community well or aquifer;
  3. map potential sources of pollution in the capture zone;
  4. develop and implement protection measures to prevent pollution;
  5. develop a contingency plan for any accidents; and
  6. monitor, evaluate and report on the plan annually.

These six steps can be incorporated as a policy commitment into Official Community Plans or as part of Water Management Plans.4 However, there is some uncertainty about the authority of local governments to invoke the protection measures referred to above, as well as the resource capacity to enforce these protection measures.

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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