Fraser Basin Council


4.4 Local Government

Local governments have significant roles to play in water and watershed management. In BC, local government includes municipalities, regional districts, and improvement districts. In order for local governments to have jurisdiction over specific subjects, they first need authorization from the Province under the Community Charter and the Local Government Act. It is important to note that municipalities and regional districts have somewhat different jurisdictions and procedures. For example, for some water-related functions such as drainage and flood protection, regional districts may need to first establish a specific function and service delivery area following a referendum to confirm (or deny) public consent.

In BC, local governments are gaining more discretionary powers over local matters, as demonstrated by changes to the Community Charter.7 The following are some of the key local government roles and responsibilities in water management and planning:

  • development and management of municipal water supplies, including treatment and distribution systems. This includes provision of safe drinking water in accordance with the Public Health Act;
  • development and management of municipal drainage and wastewater treatment systems;
  • responsibility for floodplain management under the Flood Hazard Statutes Amendment Act;
  • delivery of local water conservation programs;
  • responsibility for local land use planning and development on private lands, including the protection and management of riparian areas, wetlands and other sensitive habitats;
  • responsibility for the operation and maintenance of flood protection infrastructure in their local areas; and,
  • water and watershed planning.

Local governments have contributed to water management planning across the province by initiating, managing and participating in various activities related to water management and planning, including:

  • developing water conservation plans and drought management plans;
  • participating in or leading multi-sector water planning initiatives;
  • developing floodplain management plans and strategies;
  • developing liquid waste management plans and integrated stormwater management plans;
  • developing integrated watershed management plans; and
  • developing Official Community Plans and Regional Growth Strategies.2

Local governments also promote community and economic development, which has the potential to impact water resources.8

FBC_Pic5SMALL.jpgIn addition to the planning processes listed above (and those discussed in Sections 5, 6 and 7 of the guide), local governments across BC are drawing on other innovative tools and approaches to help protect watersheds and plan for water resources.

Regional Growth Strategies (RGS) are being used by many local governments across BC to help protect watershed values Regional Growth Strategies. For example, Metro Vancouver uses designated “green zones” within its RGS to protect both habitat and water supply, and the Fraser Valley Regional District addresses environmental stewardship, air quality, groundwater and surface water within its RGS
Fraser Valley Regional District Regional Growth Strategy.

The Comox Valley Regional District, newly established in 2007, has been mandated by the Province to develop a Regional Growth Strategy with a strong environmental focus and a Regional Water Supply Strategy (RWSS) Comox Valley Regional Water Supply Strategy, which is intended to identify how to supply bulk water to all communities and settlement areas in the CVRD. The development of the RWSS will enable the CVRD to develop plans, policies and actions related to regional demand management and watershed protection. Across the Valley, the RGS is being used as a tool to help promote the alignment of regional and municipal actions required for implementation of the Regional Water Supply Strategy.9

Sustainability strategies are another tool being used by local governments to help plan for water resources. In the Comox Valley, future water needs, which consider total supply capacity against projected population growth, are one element addressed within the CVRD’s Sustainability Strategy. The Sustainability Strategy also addresses both the need for water for people and water for animals, including fish, as well as the linkages between economic development and watershed health. Other communities, such as the City of Nanaimo, are opting to build sustainability measures into existing plans, rather than developing a separate Sustainability Plan.

Local governments also draw on the influence of high level, policy statements embedded in their Official Community Plans (OCP) to help protect water resource values. As noted by the Regional District of Nanaimo, OCPs can be effective in influencing how much new development can affect water supply on a lot-by-lot basis.

At a more operational level, municipal bylaws are often used to protect water and watershed values. Bylaws help to address issues such as: rainwater, flooding, source control, riparian management, preservation of natural areas, domestic watering, and green development. The Green Bylaws Toolkit for Conserving Sensitive Ecosystems and Green Infrastructure is a very valuable resource for helping to identify relevant bylaws and details therein. In some communities, such as Williams Lake, city bylaws have undergone a review process to integrate sustainability measures.

While not all BC communities have undertaken a Water Conservation Plan yet, many have introduced water conservation policy measures such as sprinkling bans, leak management programs, water metering, and public outreach, as well as incentive programs that encourage the use of rain barrels, low flush toilets, and xeriscaping Water Conservation Planning Guide.

First Nations and Local Government

From a planning perspective, local governments and First Nations share some things in common. In addition to geographical proximity to one another, both have limited resources relative to their responsibilities, and both are in regular dialogue with the communities that they serve. In this context, local government–First Nations relationships represent a significant opportunity to redefine the way in which Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people can partner with one another and work together to protect water resources.10

Currently, there is no formal legislative or policy framework that defines the nature and scope of relationships between local governments and First Nations; however, there now exist multiple catalysts for change in the relationship between these two levels of government:11

  • First Nations have gained increased power and authority due to legislative and policy changes at provincial and federal levels, such as through the First Nations Land Management Act, which provides increased land management powers to 36 First Nations across Canada (16 of which are in BC).
  • Increased development on reserve lands is leading to more service agreements between First Nations and local governments, thereby highlighting the need for improved communication and coordination around activities.
  • The treaty process is causing all levels of government to re-examine their relationship with First Nations in preparation for the post-treaty environment in which they will interact.
  • Political will is changing; both local governments and First Nations are showing more interest in putting an end to a “two solitudes” co-existence, and pursuing stronger intergovernmental relationships, with awareness of the benefits that better communication and coordination can bring.12i

As a result of these changing dynamics, the nature of the relationship between First Nations and local governments in BC varies considerably, ranging from informal voluntary arrangements to contractual agreements to formal government-to-local government arrangements that are structured under Memoranda of Understanding or Protocols. Increasingly, First Nations and local governments are signing formal agreements as a means of:

  • creating a new level of understanding between First Nations and local government in areas of governance;
  • allowing for coordinated communication;
  • encouraging strategic thinking regarding joint economic opportunities;
  • providing a degree of certainty for First Nation and local government aspirations;
  • avoiding conflict before it happens; and
  • assisting in the creation of a sustainable relationship based on mutual regard for each other’s history, culture, values, interests, perspectives, operating environments and vision. 11

There are several service agreements in BC between municipalities and First Nations for the provision of water and sewer services, such as the Agreement between T’Sou-ke Nation and the Capital Regional District (October 15, 2002), related to management of the Sooke River and reservoir. Another example is the Watershed Accord between Sechelt Indian Band and Sunshine Coast Regional District (September 18, 2003) and the subsequent Joint Watershed Management Agreement (October, 2005) related to activities in the Chapman and Gray watersheds on the Sunshine Coast. 

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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