Fraser Basin Council


4.1 Provincial Government

Under the Canadian Constitution Act, provinces and territories have primary responsibility for water management, with a number of ministries and agencies sharing responsibility for different aspects of water management. The Province is the lead jurisdiction for setting policy, legislating prices, permitting uses, and managing water sources in BC. Provincial jurisdiction includes public lands, municipal institutions, local works and undertakings, non-renewable resources, property and civil rights, and shared jurisdiction over agriculture.1 Typically, the Province devolves the responsibility of community-scale water management to municipalities or other local organizations such as water suppliers. In British Columbia, the BC Water Act (administered by the Ministry Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations) and the Drinking Water Protection Act (administered by the Ministry of Health) provide the basic regulatory framework for water management.

The following are some of the key provincial roles and responsibilities in water management and planning.

Ministry of Environment (MoE)
The MoE provides leadership for water stewardship and promotes responsible water use, community health and safety, maintenance of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and other priorities. The Ministry applies a stewardship approach based on the principles of integrated water resource management. The Ministry of Environment works in partnership with other agencies (such as the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations) to deliver this mandate and ensure the health of the province’s water resource. MoE roles include:

  • parks, wilderness and protected areas;
  • air, land and water quality standards;
  • pollution prevention and waste management;
  • species and ecosystem protection policy;
  • water protection and water sustainability policy;
  • water and air monitoring and reporting;
  • conservation and resource management enforcement;
  • Climate Action Secretariat;
  • Environmental Assessment Office;
  • state of environment reporting; and,
  • environmental monitoring.

The MoE also provides the following support roles in water stewardship, including:

  • assists with policy and plan development;
  • assists with continual evolution of legislation and policy;
  • develops innovative approaches to water governance;
  • assists with the development of regulatory and non-regulatory tools;
  • leads and reports on Living Water Smart implementation;
  • provides source water protection;
  • provides groundwater monitoring and protection; and,
  • provides water quality and quantity monitoring.

The Ministry provides information, research and knowledge about BC’s water resources:

  • collects water-related data;
  • provides scientific analysis and guidance in support of planning and stewardship;
  • provides forecasts and models to support risk management and decision making; and,
  • collaborates in water science research.

Ministry of Environment branches have responsibilities for protecting and restoring fish habitat, monitoring ambient water quality, permitting activities that affect water quality, monitoring aquifer levels, and enforcing water regulations.

Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations
Water-related responsibilities of the MFLNRO include:

  • administering the Water Act and the Water Protection Act and associated regulations
  • aquaculture licensing and regulation;
  • water use planning and authorizations;
  • aboriginal consultation and coordination – natural resource operations;
  • provincial hatchery and stocking program;
  • watershed restoration;
  • fish, wildlife and habitat management;
  • drought management;
  • dam and dyke safety and regulation;
  • floodplain management;
  • resource management compliance;
  • manages and protects water as a forest resource under the Forest and Range Practices Act;
  • Integrated Land Management Bureau considers water in regional land and resource planning; and,
  • Front Counter BC provides clients with information on water licences and approvals and assists with processing their applications.

Ministry of Health

  • administers the Drinking Water Protection Act and associated regulations;
  • mandate for drinking water protection under the Drinking Water Protection Act;
  • Interagency Memorandum of Understanding for the Protection of Drinking Water commits all provincial agencies to consider drinking water protection in their statutory decisions and approvals; and,
  • Drinking Water Protection Officers have statutory authority to ensure potable water supplies are protected.

Ministry of Agriculture

  • supports agricultural industry water requirements used in the production of food and agricultural products.

Ministry of Energy

  • develops energy policy and works to sustainably support industry water requirements.

Oil and Gas Commission

  • issues approvals for short-term water use and for changes in and around a stream in connection with authorizations for oil and gas development.

Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development

  • provides water infrastructure and planning funding;
  • supports local government activities under the Local Government Act;
  • assists with the development of Regional Growth Strategies and relations between local government and First Nations.

Ministry of Public Safety and the Solicitor General

  • coordinates response to water-related emergencies such as floods, and provides funding to mitigate hazards.

Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation

  • leads the negotiation of treaties that consider water as a resource of interest.

Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure

  • approves rural subdivision developments, including the assessment of potential risks and obstacles involving water supply and sewage disposal.

Environmental Assessment Office

  • coordinates the assessment of proposed major projects under the Environmental Assessment Act to ensure they are conducted in a sustainable manner.

In addition to these roles and responsibilities, new provincial plans and policies are emerging. The following are two key developments.

Living Water Smart

In June 2008 the provincial government released Living Water Smart: British Columbia’s Water Plan. The plan establishes new provincial water priorities to keep our water healthy and secure for the future by taking into consideration the challenging context of water management in BC today. In anticipation of continuing competing demands for water, a growing population, and the effects of climate change on our communities, Living Water Smart outlines 45 new commitments, divided into three categories:

  • Doing Business Differently
  • Preparing Communities for Change
  • Choosing to Be Water Smart

The plan sets specific commitments and targets to help ensure that a finite supply of water (or potentially a reduced supply) will go further without compromising nature’s needs. For example:

  • By 2012, government will regulate groundwater use in priority areas and large groundwater withdrawals.
  • Government will support communities to do watershed management planning in priority areas.
  • By 2020, water use in BC will be thirty-three percent more efficient.
  • Government will improve the quality and protection of drinking water sources.
  • Fifty percent of new municipal water needs will be acquired through conservation by 2020.

FBC_Pic4SMALL.jpgMany of these commitments and targets will have direct impacts on communities across the province. To help advance these commitments, the plan draws on a variety of policy “tools”, including planning, regulatory change, education, and incentives like economic instruments and rewards.3 See Living Water Smart for more information.

Communities across BC are implementing water initiatives that contribute towards the objectives and targets of Living Water Smart. These include implementing water conservation and efficiency measures such as establishing watering restrictions, providing low-flow toilet rebates, and implementing water-metering systems. See Water Conservation Planning Guide for British Columbia's Communities by the POLIS Water Sustainability Project.

A key message in Living Water Smart is that green development makes sense: “new thinking about development leads to new benefits. These include more green spaces, more water and fish in the streams, improved community vitality, reduced demand for water, and reduced expenditure on infrastructure”. 3 Communities in BC are now looking at changing building codes and or development permit guidelines to require or enable the construction of greener infrastructure. A goal of implementing green infrastructure policies and practices is to achieve water sustainability outcomes by maintaining livable communities and protecting stream health. Green infrastructure is typically designed to improve water quality through improved management of rainwater and use of features such as retention ponds, swales, permeable paving and rain gardens. Communities are also protecting aquatic habitat and stream health through partnerships with stewardship groups. In many cases, communities and regions are contributing towards water supply protection, water conservation and watershed health within watershed management plans, Official Community Plans, bylaws, Regional Growth Strategies, or other policies. In other instances, local governments are not yet considering how they might contribute to achieving the goals of Living Water Smart; they are waiting for further guidance and clarification on who has what roles in the implementation of Living Water Smart.

Looking Ahead – Modernizing the Water Act

As part of the commitment to Living Water Smart, and in response to new water management challenges including population growth and climate change, the BC Government is looking at ways to modernize the Water Act. Initiated in 2008, this significant undertaking is considering new arrangements to address water management challenges in BC, with the following goals:

  1. Protect stream health and aquatic environments;
  2. Improve water governance arrangements;
  3. Introduce more flexibility and efficiency in the water allocation system; and,
  4. Regulate groundwater extraction and use.


The initiative has included a public engagement process, distribution of a Discussion Paper, Technical Background Report, and a Report on Engagement. In December 2010, the BC Government released a Policy Proposal on BC’s new Water Sustainability Act for public comment. See for more information. 

At the time this Guide was published, Government was further refining the proposal and assessing implications. Every effort will be made to update this Guide to reflect any changes to planning related to the Water Sustainability Act if and when it is enacted. 

Key policy areas under consideration and relevant to water and watershed planning include:

  • Protecting stream health and aquatic environments through the protection of instream flows through enforceable terms and conditions in water licences;
  • Establishment of Provincial Water Objectives to guide decisions made by statutory decision makers under the new Act and other laws affecting land and resource use on Crown and private land;
  • Regulation of groundwater extraction and use for all large groundwater withdrawals across BC and smaller withdrawals in problem areas. All existing and new large groundwater users throughout the province will be required to obtain a licence or an approval;
  • Regulating water during times of scarcity using a staged approach that includes efficiency and conservation measures, priority date and proportional reduction targets;
  • Enabling a range of economic instruments, incentives and best management practices to improve water security, water use efficiency, conservation and beneficial use;
  • Additional requirements for measuring and reporting on water use;
  • Enabling a range of governance approaches to support increased collaboration and participation in activities and decision processes, including the ability to delegate responsibility for activities and decisions to others;
  • Water resource assessments that consider available and anticipated water supply and demand, and potential conditions for water use;
  • Watershed sustainability plans in areas where degraded watersheds require recov­ery action and will affect both land and water development and use.

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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