[Community Watershed Guidebook Table of Contents]

1 Introduction

The Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act brings into effect new restrictions on forestry and range practices in community watersheds. This Forest Practices Code Community Watershed Guidebook provides information and recommended procedures for forest operations in designated community watersheds. This guidebook was developed by a committee of the following ministries:

Ministry of Health
Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks
Ministry of Forests
Ministry of Employment and Investment
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The Forest Practices Code regulations and the Community Watershed Guidebook replace the forest operations references in Guidelines for Watershed Management of Crown Lands Used as Community Water Supplies (1980).

Over 450 watersheds are classified as community watersheds in British Columbia. This list of community watersheds was defined by three criteria:

Other watersheds that do not quite meet these criteria can also become community watersheds through the process described in section 2, "Classification and mapping."

The regulations and guidelines in this document pertain only to Crown provincial forest land. Where a higher level plan is established, the area affected by the plan includes private land in a tree farm licence or woodlot licence.

A companion document, the Community Watershed Manual, which is not a Forest Practices Code document, is to be published in 1997. This manual will contain recommendations on activities, such as agriculture, residential and industrial development, that take place on private land.

1.1 Purpose of the guidebook

The community watershed guidelines in this guidebook recognize water quality, quantity and timing of flow as the principal values in community watersheds. The guidelines protect watersheds by guiding and regulating forest resource activities.

The purpose of this guidebook is to explain resource development practices that are intended to prevent long-term change to background water quality, quantity, and timing of flow. Short-term changes may occur within the natural variability of the water supply.

1.2 Background to the community watershed guidelines

British Columbia is a unique province in that most of the population derives its water from surface water. Approximately 86 per cent of the population uses surface water as its drinking supply. Small and medium-sized streams are the most common source of water for communities and serve over 75 per cent of the population. Table 1 shows the various types of water supply sources for communities in British Columbia and the estimated percentage of the population served by each source.

Table 1. Percentages of B.C. population served by various water supplies

In total area, community watersheds represent 1.5 per cent of the province. Community watersheds are unevenly distributed, however, as is the provincial population. Most are concentrated in the southern third of the province, and there are relatively few in the north (Table 2). Within each forest region, there is also a skewed distribution, with individual forest districts ranging from 0 to 24.4 per cent of their area in community watersheds.

Table 2. Percentage of forest region in community watersheds

Most community watersheds in British Columbia are quite small in area. The mean area is 5.5km2, and only 9 per cent of the watersheds are larger than 100km2 (Table 3).

Table 3. Drainage area of community watersheds in British Columbia

A small watershed area usually means the intake is close to potential contaminants, stream response times are short, and opportunities for dilution or settling are small. These watersheds are therefore sensitive and application of these guidelines is essential to maintain water quality and quantity.

1.3 Organization of the guidebook

This guidebook describes both the administrative and operational requirements for community watersheds. Sections 1 to 4 and 15 address the administrative requirements and guidelines. Sections 5 through 14 include mainly operational requirements and guidelines.

Sections 5 through 14 contain tables entitled "Target conditions." Target conditions provide measurable indicators for each resource activity in a watershed. Targets provide the basis for auditing or monitoring water resource protection.

While this guidebook provides guidelines for resource activities within community watersheds, it has also been necessary, in some instances, to refer to regulations associated with specific guidelines.

To ensure there is a clear distinction between regulations, which are legally binding, and guidelines, which are not legally binding until included in a plan, prescription or contract, the operations sections of this guidebook contain a subsection entitled "Requirements." This subsection summarizes the requirements specified in Forest Practices Code regulations. To ensure accurate referencing, please refer to the final approved regulations and amendments.

2 Classification and mapping

2.1 Classifying community watersheds


Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act

41 (8)     For the purposes of subsection (6) "community watershed" means

41 (9)   In subsection (8) "domestic purpose" and "waterworks purpose" have the meaning given to them in the Water Act.

41 (10)    The regional manager [1] may designate an area as a community watershed if

41 (11)   With the agreement of the designated environment official, the regional manager may by written order vary or cancel an area's status as a community watershed whether the area is defined to be a community watershed under subsection 8(a) or designated to be a community watershed under subsection 8(b).

2.1.1 Grandparented community watersheds

Section 41(8)(a) of the Act gives community watershed status to approximately 500 watersheds that met the following criteria on or before June 15, 1995:

These watersheds are grandparented community watersheds. In most cases, these areas have been recognized and managed as community watersheds for some time. Included in this list are watersheds licensed under the Water Act to:

2.1.2 Designation of non-grandparented community watersheds

Section 41(10) of the Act allows the Ministry of Forests regional manager and the designated environment official (i.e., regional water manager) to designate community watersheds. These include watersheds where:

Water licensing after June 15, 1995

For water licences issued for waterwork purposes and granted after June 15, 1995, or for water users' communities incorporated after June 15, 1995, the designation of community watershed status requires the agreement of the Ministry of Forests regional manager and the designated environment official (i.e., regional water manager). They assess a number of factors to determine whether community watershed designation is appropriate (see section 2.2.1 below).

Watersheds larger than 500 km2 in area

Where a watershed with a drainage area exceeding 500 km2 is proposed as a community watershed, both the Ministry of Forests regional manager and designated environment official (i.e., regional water manager) must agree, after examination of the watershed, that the designation is appropriate (see section 2.2.1 "Amending the community watershed list—assessment criteria").

Waterworks systems on lakes

In most cases, waterworks systems use streams as sources of water. However, some are located on lakes. The water quality of lakes can be very different from that of streams. For example, lake area and volume can buffer changes introduced to the watershed. In addition, recreation and urban land use adjacent to a lake can mask impacts from forest or range activities.

The Ministry of Forests regional manager and the designated environment official must agree that the watershed flowing into the lake should become a community watershed. The criteria that should be examined are listed in section 2.2.1

Individual domestic licences on a single stream

There are some watersheds where the community water use of a stream may be less well defined than the waterworks systems described in section 41(8) of the Act, but where the concept of community water use is recognized. These include individual water users or joint waterworks systems (i.e., where two or more water users share a common water system) licensed under the Water Act for domestic purposes. For these watersheds, the Ministry of Forests regional manager and the designated environment official must agree that the watershed should become a community watershed (see section 2.2.1).

Concentrated domestic water use on several streams

Where a community watershed does not exist, but where there is high domestic water use, forest practice standards may be required to protect the water quality and quantity. These include areas in which individuals extract water from springs, seeps or small streams along the face of a valley or from geomorphically sensitive areas such as alluvial fans. For these areas, a landscape unit designation may be appropriate (see section 3 "Community watershed planning"). Once an area is designated as a landscape unit, the Ministry of Forests district manager establishes objectives for that area.


Under the Water Act, some springs are licensed for waterworks use. In most cases these spring sources are noted on maps by a point rather than as an area. Spring source areas are difficult to define, and many of the guidelines in this document are not appropriate for subterranean water flow. For these reasons, springs are not automatically included on the list of community watersheds. To protect a spring source area not classified as a community watershed, designation as a sensitive area may be appropriate (see section 3 "Community watershed planning").

For information on delineating spring source areas, refer to section 15 "Spring source areas." This section describes forest management practices that are appropriate for protecting water quality and quantity in spring source areas.

2.2 Community watershed list

The official list of community watersheds in British Columbia is maintained by the Hydrology Branch, Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks. For more information and a current community watershed list, contact:
Hydrology Branch
Water Management Program
Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks
765 Broughton Street
Victoria, B.C. V8V 1X4

Information on the history and definition of community watersheds, access to current lists, attribute files and maps, and recent developments about community watersheds are available through the Internet World Wide Web on the community watershed home page. The address is:


The list of community watersheds is revised periodically to include new designations, variations and cancellations. The official community watershed list will be updated during fall 1996. Following that, the list will be updated periodically.

2.2.1 Amending the community watershed list

Administrative process for revisions

Before a community watershed designation can be created, varied or cancelled, a referral and advertising process must occur. This process, illustrated in Figure 1, describes the addition of a new community watershed. The same process is used for varying or cancelling a designation.

An application for community watershed status or for change in status is usually made by a water licensee and submitted to the BC Environment regional water manager. The regional water manager then sends the application for comment to:

If the regional water manager supports the application after reviewing their comments, the water manager sends it with the review comments to the Ministry of Forests regional manager. Comments by the referral agencies help determine whether the proposed designation or change in status is appropriate.

If the Ministry of Forests regional manager supports the application, that manager must advertise in a local newspaper their intention to designate or change the status of a community watershed in 60 days. The advertisement must state:

See Appendix 1, "Community watershed advertisement."

Figure 1. Community watershed designation process with existing licence (i.e., WWKs, WUC).

The Ministry of Forests regional manager and designated environment official (i.e., regional water manager) review all comments received in the 60-day period. If they subsequently approve the designation, variation or cancellation, they must advertise in the newspaper that:

Assessment criteria

This section describes criteria for assessing watersheds for designation as community watersheds.

Water licensing after June 15, 1995

When the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks considers granting a waterworks licence or a water users' community certificate of incorporation, the water user's request for community watershed designation is referred to the Ministry of Health regional medical health officer, the Ministry of Forests district manager and the Ministry of Employment and Investment district inspector of mines.

The watershed can be evaluated on the following criteria:

Community watersheds on lakes

In addition to the criteria listed above, the following should be considered to determine whether watersheds using lakes as the water source are appropriately designated as community watersheds:

Individual domestic licences on a single stream

Often a stream is used as a water supply by a number of individual domestic users who are not part of a water users' community. The following criteria should be used to determine whether these watersheds should be designated as community watersheds.

Removing of community watershed designation

Section 41(11) of the Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act allows the Ministry of Forests regional manager, with the agreement of the designated environment official, to remove community watershed status from a land area. This can occur, for example, when a water licence is cancelled or if the purpose use code changes (e.g., where a community has switched to an alternate water supply and the watershed is now supplying water solely for irrigation).

Removal of community watershed status follows the process in Figure 1.

2.3 Mapping

Community watershed mapping, using 1:20 000 scale TRIM maps, was conducted by the Hydrology Branch, Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, during spring 1996. These maps will be available in digital format for use in geographic information systems (GIS) applications. The files are available in 1:20 000 TRIM ARC/INFO format. Information on accessing these files is available through the Hydrology Branch and regional offices, BC Environment, and through the community watershed home page on the internet (see section 2.2).

2.3.1 Location of water intakes

As defined in the Code, a community watershed is the topographic drainage area above the point of diversion (POD) for a community water supply intake. Information on community watershed POD locations, along with other water intakes or infrastructure locations, can be obtained from files or maps at BC Environment regional water management offices. Because some intakes have not been located using precise survey techniques, it is wise to field check water intake locations where possible.